Jews occupy a prominent place among founders and owners of autograph collections. Although collections of Hebrew manuscripts, and of manuscripts of Jewish contents in other languages, have been in existence for many centuries, a special systematic Jewish autograph collection is of fairly recent origin. Its creation is largely the work of Avraham Sharon (Schwadron), who spent some 30 years on it, and by 1928 had succeeded in establishing a universal Jewish collection, consisting of over 2,900 autographs of c. 1,950 prominent personalities of Jewish origin. This collection covers, approximately, the period from 1480 to the present. In 1927 it was presented as a gift to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, which then proceeded to open an autograph and portrait section. The collection represents a valuable source for Jewish graphology, especially of the Hebrew script, and it contains documents which by their contents are of great significance for Jewish cultural history. Today the collection contains more than 12,000 autographs and 700 portraits.
The scientific value of a Jewish autograph collection is to be found in the means that it provides for the identification of manuscripts whose authors are unknown, as well as of forgeries (the latter being quite frequent in the case of rabbinical and ḥasidic autographs). Special difficulties were encountered in locating the autographs of Jewish personalities of Eastern Europe, particularly those whose activities were restricted to the Jewish sphere; among other reasons the reluctance to part with such autographs stems from the belief that a letter of a great rabbi or ẓaddik has the power of warding off evil, and often such a document would be buried with its owner. Autographs of the early Jewish socialists and revolutionaries in Eastern Europe are also very rare, as they were frequently destroyed, either out of fear of the police, or by the police itself. Older manuscripts originating in Eastern Europe, insofar as they have come to light, are usually in a poor condition. In the West, on the other hand, the systematic collection of autographs and the trade in them have tended to ensure their retention and proper preservation.
eiv, 1 (1962), 758 ff.; ej, 3 (1929), 748 ff.; B. Wachstein, in: Menorah (Vienna), 5 (1927), 689–94; A. Schwadron, Ketuvim (1927), nos. 29–31; idem, in: New Palestine, 14, no. 2 (1928), 35–36.
[Abraham Schwadron (Sharon)]