Athias, Joseph and Immanuel

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ATHIAS, JOSEPH and IMMANUEL (17th century), publishers and printers in Amsterdam. Joseph ben Abraham (Spain or Portugal, 1634/35–Amsterdam, 1700) was a man of considerable learning. According to David Franco Mendes, the Dutch poet Joost van den Vondel sought the opinion of Joseph before publishing a political stage play.

He founded a printing house, producing works in many languages, especially in Hebrew, Yiddish, Portuguese, and Spanish, which proved successful. In 1681, after the death of Daniel Elsevier, Joseph bought the stock and equipment of Elsevier's publishing house, which also included the non-Hebrew type cut by Christoffel van Dijck. Where the Hebrew material came from is not clear. Probably the Hungarian typecutter Nikolas Kis worked for Joseph, who also experimented with stereotypy and textile printing.

Joseph's first book, a prayer book according to the Sephardi rite, was published in 1658. The famous Hebrew Bible he produced in 1661 was prepared under the editorial supervision of the distinguished scholar Johannes Leusden; a second edition appeared in 1667, for which the States General awarded him with a gold medal and chain. He also published translations of the Bible, and in 1687 he announced that he had printed more than a million Bibles for England and Scotland. Athias' designs were also copied elsewhere. Joseph was accused of appropriating long-term copyright and reprint privileges that had been given by the Polish Jewish authorities in order to produce a Yiddish translation of the Hebrew Bible.

On Joseph's death in 1700 his son Immanuel (Amsterdam, ca. 1664–1714), who had been a partner since 1685, took over the business. He completed the elegant four-volume edition of Maimonides' Code which the elder Athias had begun. This edition, of 1150 copies, was dedicated to Moses Machado, army purveyor for King William iii of England, who had given economic support to the Athias business. After the completion of the Code, Immanuel began the production of Boton's commentary to it, the Lehem Mishneh, of which three volumes were published by the time of his death in 1709. Father and son published about 450 books.

The punches and matrices of the firm later passed into the possession of a distant relative of Immanuel, Abraham b. Raphael Hezkia (Amsterdam, ca. 1684–1746), who printed Hebrew books in Amsterdam from 1728. In 1761 the material was acquired by the Proops brothers, Joseph, Jacob, and Abraham, and used by them and successive members of this printing dynasty until 1917, when the so-called Athias Cabinet was sold by auction and acquired by the Tetterode firm (Typefoundry Amsterdam). In 2001 the Amsterdam University Library received the cabinet with its unique contents on permanent loan.


H. Bloom, Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam (1937), 48–52; J.S. da Silva Rosa, in: Soncino Blaetter, 3 (1930), 107–11; esn, 1 (1949), 32–36; Roth, in: rej, 100 (1936), 41–2. add. bibliography: I.H. van Eeghen, in: Studia Rosenthaliana, 2 (1968), 30–41; L. Fuks and R.G. Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography in the Northern Netherlands 1585–1815, vol. 2 (1987), 286–339; R.G. Fuks-Mansfeld, in: Een gulden kleinood. Liber amicorum D. Goudsmit (1991), 155–64; A.K. Offenberg, in: Lexikon des gesammten Buchwesens, 1 (1986), 160; idem, in: Studia Rosenthaliana, 35 (2001), 100–2; Lane-Lommen, Dutch Typefounders' Specimens (1998), 301–5.

[Abraham Meir Habermann /

A.K. Offenberg (2nd ed.)]