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Mintmasters and Moneyers

MINTMASTERS AND MONEYERS

In the Middle Ages rulers tended to lease the right of minting coins to mintmasters or to grant and sell the right to their territorial vassals, who themselves employed such mintmasters. Jews carried out this prestigious and profitable enterprise mainly either as suppliers of precious metals for minting purposes or as distributors of coins; very rarely were they the actual craftsmen. In general, in the later Middle Ages, the Jewish master of the mint or purveyor was superseded by a Christian.

The Jew *Priscus was probably master of the mint for King Clotaire of the Franks and issued the royal coins at Chalon-sur-Saône around 555 c.e. Some Czech numismatists consider that Omeriz, Mizleta, and Nacub, moneyers for Duke Boleslav ii in Prague toward the end of the tenth century, were Jews. This is also true of Zanta and Noc, who worked at the Vysehrad mint (near Prague). Ladislaus ii of Bohemia (1158–73) had a Jewish mintmaster in his province of Lusatia. In the 13th century a cleric complained that the Jews were still lessees of the mint and customs. For much of the 12th and 13th centuries the coinage of some Polish rulers was issued by Jewish mintmasters and often had Hebrew inscriptions on the coins. Boleslav iv (1146–73) used Jews to mint and distribute his currency. Shortly after, Casimir ii (1177–94) allowed a Hebrew inscription to appear on state coins. Mieszko iii (1173–77, 1195–1202) gave a life grant to the Jews to lease the state mint, and Polish currency in the last two decades of the 12th century was stamped solely in Hebrew. Most of the inscriptions were various dedications to Mieszko. Boleslav of Kujawy and Mieszko the Younger imitated their father. Boleslav permitted his own name to be stamped in Hebrew, while Mieszko the Younger allowed the names of Jewish mintmasters, such as Ben Jacob and Joseph ha-Kohen, to be inscribed; sometimes the names covered the entire face of the coin, as in the case of R. Abraham b. Isaac Nagid. Przemyslav i later continued this practice some 40 years, as did his son Przemyslav ii; Menahem, Jacob, and Abraham were mintmasters whose names were stamped on coins.

In later Polish history, Jews continued to be mintmasters, although no Hebrew appeared on their coins. In 1360 the Cracow mint was transferred to *Lewko, an important Jewish financier. Under Sigismund i, between 1509 and 1518, Abraham *Ezofowitz was minister of the exchequer and in charge of minting coins. In 1555 Sigismund ii leased the mint in his Lithuanian province of Poland for three years to a Jew in Vilna. He again gave the Vilna concession to the Jews Felix and *Borodavka in 1560. Because of their prominence in the fields of money changing, moneylending, and finance, Jews participated in minting activities in Poland almost without interruption from the early stages of the kingdom until its partition. From the 17th century, the Councils of the Lands, both in Poland and Lithuania, showed much concern and great reservation about coin minting and the coin trade.

Jews leased mints in Christian Spain as early as the 11th century. Bonnom (Shem Tov) made gold coins under the authority of Count Ramón Berenguer i of Barcelona. In 1066 the count's son sold the right to mint coinage to a syndicate which included David b. Jacob ha-Ivri. *Benveniste de Porta (d. 1268) leased the mint of Barcelona from James i of Aragon. Sancho iv of Castile gave a similar concession to Abraham el Barchilon in 1287. A century later, in 1331, Alfonso xi of Castile repeated this with Samuel *Ibn Waqar (Aben Huacar); Pedro iv of Aragon gave control of the royal mint to a Jewish company at about the same time.

As early as 1063 Queen Anastasia of Hungary permitted a Jew to mint his own coins at the royal mint. Hebrew appears on a coin of Andrew ii in the early 13th century. Andrew's Golden Bull of 1222 excluded Jews and Muslims from the office of mintmaster, but the prohibition was disregarded, for the coins of his son Bela iv and his grandson Stephen v bear Hebrew letters, apparently standing for the initials or signs of Jewish mintmasters.

The first Jew recorded by name in Austria was *Shlom the mintmaster, massacred by crusaders in 1195. The nobility obtained a decree in 1222 specifically excluding Jews from the post, but Jews were again employed in this capacity some 40 years later. Jewish mintmasters were found in other German states and principalities, particularly in the 12th century, though their role was much less significant in the centuries that followed. In the Wetterau region, thin coins stamped on one side only, known as bracteates, were issued between 1170 and 1180, with the name David ha-Kohen imprinted in Hebrew. In this same period Otto the Rich, margrave of Meissen, employed Gershon, who also struck his name in Hebrew on bracteates. Nearby, at Lausitz and Pegau, Jews operated mints for the local nobility. Twelfth-century bracteates from Saxony, made under both Count von Mansfeld and Duke Bernhard i, show Hebrew letters. Similarly Jehiel, the name of a Jewish mintmaster at Wuerzburg in the early 13th century, is clearly marked in Hebrew on numerous bracteates. The question of whether a Jewish mintmaster might operate on the Sabbath appears twice in contemporary responsa; he might do so only if he had a Christian partner. The number of Jewish mintmasters was restricted, however, both by the appearance of Christian symbols and formulas on coins and by guild regulations.

The 16th and 17th centuries witnessed political and economic developments in central Europe which enabled Jews to play an unprecedented role in purveying. The growing independence of the many petty German states, the mercantilist theory of the supreme value of precious metals for state economy, as well as the readiness of the unprincipled rulers to issue debased coin, combined to create a need for expertise and initiative. The increased demand for currency was thwarted by the depletion of the silver mines; the metals had to be imported from the Americas or bought at the entrepôts of Amsterdam, London, and Hamburg, where Sephardi Jews were prominent in the bullion trade. In Poland, too, Jews were experts in all aspects of the coin trade. The princes and rulers of the petty and larger states of the Holy Roman Empire and elsewhere turned to them for purveying, minting, and distributing currency. This was done by means of contracts (see *contractors) between the ruler and his Muenzjude ("mint Jew"), who was to be found at virtually every court. The purveying of silver was conducted by a sophisticated network of contractors and subcontractors reaching down to the level of the peddler (see *peddling), entrusted with the task of buying up foreign coinage, silver and copper wares, and anything else suitable. The actual minting was supervised by Jews, contractors of the mint. The coin dies were often made by Jewish seal engravers, a profession which Jews tended to monopolize, by virtue of its being free of medieval guild restrictions. The distribution of the freshly minted, often inferior quality coinage was often entrusted to military contractors, frequently Jews. While Muenzjuden were active throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, their activity increased even further during the unstable periods of intensive monetary activity, especially so from 1618 to 1623, the 1670s and 1680s, from 1756 to 1763, and at all times during war and turmoil. During these crucial phases the activity of the Muenzjuden brought them into a disrepute that aroused anti-Jewish feelings, reaching a peak during the Seven Years' War.

Among the more prominent Jewish mintmasters of the 16th century were Phybes of Hanover, a lessee of the mint at Wunstorf, Brunswick, in 1566, and Isaac Meir (Mayer) of Prague, who administered the mint from 1546 to 1549. The most famous was *Lippold, the mintmaster of Brandenburg, who ruled the electorate's Jewry with an iron hand. In the first decades of the 17th century, a number of Jewish mintmasters and contractors achieved fame, influence, and notoriety, such as Albertus *Denis (Alvaro Diniz), Jacob *Bassevi of Treuenberg, and Israel Wolf (Auerbacher) in Vienna. In Breslau Manasseh of Hotzenplotz gained a foothold to power through his services to the mint, and the number of Jewish silver purveyors in other minting centers in Austria and southern Germany was large. In 1627 they supplied 29% of the silver to the Breslau imperial mint and 50% in 1656. The dependence of the government on such purveyors increased in the 18th century to 78% in 1704, and to 94% in 1720. In the crisis of the 1670s and 1680s Jews were less prominent, although some *Court Jews were active in the precious metals and coin trades. Among such Court Jews was Jacob Mussaphia, of the duchy of Holstein-Gottorf. Jewish mintmasters reestablished communities in Saxony, from which Jews had been expelled. The nuclei of the Jewish communities of Leipzig and Dresden were formed by the Muenzjuden. Gerd Levi (1659–1739) received a license to buy and supply silver (1710) to the Leipzig mint; his son, Levi Gerd, continued in his father's footsteps.

The classical country of Jewish minting activity, however, was Prussia. Throughout most of the 17th and 18th centuries the Muenzjuden constituted the leadership of the Berlin community. Israel Aron, first head of the newly reconstituted (1671) community of Viennese exiles, was purveyor to the Berlin mint. His widow, Esther, married the court jeweler Jost *Liebmann and received (between 1700 and 1713) permission to mint large series of small coins as payment for the precious stones which she had supplied to the court. Levin Veit monopolized the purveying of silver in the years 1717 to 1721 and received permission to smelt and refine silver. In the 1750s two firms, that of Daniel *Itzig and members of the *Gomperz family, and that of V.H. *Ephraim and members of the *Fraenkel family, competed fiercely, one outbidding the other for the state minting contract. Frederick ii's growing and urgent demands for funds during the war forced the competing firms into a partnership (in 1758), which leased all Prussian and Saxon mints. The Saxon mints of Leipzig and Dresden had been occupied by Frederick, who turned them over to his entrepreneurs, who then issued successive series of millions of more debased Saxon coins. These were known as "Ephraimiten" and gave rise to the bitter popular refrain: "Pretty on the outside, worthless within; on the outside Frederick, Ephraim within." Frederick instituted similar proceedings with the currency of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Anhalt-Zerbst, and Anhalt-Dessau, and he was also forced to debase Prussian currency. The last Ephraim-Frederick contract was signed on Dec. 17, 1762. After the war Muenzjuden were employed in buying up the corrupt coinage and in supplying silver for the reconstituted currency. Ephraim and his sons were gradually overshadowed by the Itzig family, who were sole purveyors of precious metals between 1771 and 1786. One of Itzig's many agents was David *Friedlaender of Koenigsberg and his sons (David was the most talented). The last important mint entrepreneur was Liepmann Meyer Wulff of Berlin, who supplied the mint between 1799 and the Prussian debacle of 1806, after which thorough governmental reforms were introduced which abolished the need for the services of private silver and gold purveyors.

The tradition of Jewish moneyers and mintmasters in the Muslim world goes back to the Middle Ages. A certain Sumayr was die cutter and mintmaster for Abdalmalik (685–705), the Umayyad caliph at Damascus. Since the earliest Muslim coins were struck at this time, Sumayr was one of the technical founders of Islamic coinage. Jewish moneyers were known in Cairo from earliest times, possibly being successors to those previously operating in Alexandria. Japheth b. Abraham, in partnership with two other Jews, was administrator of the Fostat mint (see *Cairo) in about 1086. A brief mention is made in a document from the Cairo Genizah of two Jewish partners working the caliphate mint in the second half of the 12th century. The most noted Cairo mintmasters were Isaac *Sholal and Abraham Castro, who was appointed to the position after the conquest of Egypt by Sultan Selim (c. 1520). When the Egyptian viceroy, Ahmed Pasha, plotted independence, it was Castro who informed Constantinople. He was reinstated after Ahmed's defeat in 1524. In the 1660s this same position was held by the court banker Raphael Joseph, known as Chelebi. Under Murad iii (1574–95) the director of the Turkish mint was a Jew, Hodja Nessimi (or Nissim). In this same period, Moses *Benveniste – known to the Turks as Hodja Moussahibi – was involved in the currency "reform" which led to a revolt of the janissaries against "Jews' Money" in 1589. Samuel b. Abraham, head of the Crimean Karaites, was moneyer to the last Tatar khan in the mid-18th century. As the treasury minister, he held the official title of Aga. His son Benjamin succeeded him in both position and title. When the Crimea was conquered by Russia in 1783, Benjamin was permitted to retain his title. Yaḥyā b. Judah *Badiḥi (1810–1888) was minter for the imam of Yemen in the mid-19th century.

See also *Banking; *Court Jews; *Moneylending; *Medalists; *Numismatics; *Coins and Currency.

bibliography:

medieval europe: P. Grierson, Bibliographie Numismatique (1966); S. Stern, Court Jew (1950), 47, 157, 162–76, 211, 218; M. Hoffmann, Geldhandel der deutschen Juden (1910); S. Katz, Jews in the Visigothic and Frankish Kingdoms of France and Gaul (1934), 122f.; d'Amecourt, in: Annuaire de la Société française de Numismatique et d'Archéologie, 4 (1873), 128–31; J. Cahn, in: Zeitschrift fuer Numismatik, 33 (1922); Biographical Dictionary of Medalists, 8 vols. (1902–30); Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 146, 327, 131–2; 2 (1966), 29; Neuman, Spain, 2 (1942), 237, 245, 252; D.M. Friedenberg, in: Numismatist, 130 (1967), 1515–28; W. Gumowski, Handbuch der polnischen Numismatik (1960), 91–96; I. Schiper, Di Virtshaft Geshikhte fun di Yidn in Poyln Beysn Mittelalter (1929), 235ff.; A. Wolf, in: mgjv, 9 (1902), 24–25; L. Réthy and G. Probszt, Corpus Nummorum Hungariae, 71, 74, 77, 89. central europe and modern era: H.I. Bloom, Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam (1933); B. Brilling, Geschichte der Juden in Breslau 1754–1802 (1960); idem, in: jggjc, 7 (1935), 387–98; F. Redlich, in: Explorations in Entrepreneurial History, 3 (1951), 161–98; H. Kellenbenz, Sephardim an der unteren Elbe (1958), 210–44; H. Schnee, Hoffinanz und der Moderne Staat, 5 vols. (1953–67); A. Pribram, Urkunden und Akten zur Geschichte der Juden in Wien (1918), index, s.v.Muenzjuden; M. Koehler, Juden in Halberstadt (1927), 41–48; S. Stern, Preussische Staat und die Juden, 2 (1962), Akten: no. 46–71; no. 124–8; no. 144–69; no. 177; M. Grunwald, Samuel Oppenheimer und sein Kreis (1913), index. muslim countries: S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 1 (1967), 362, 365; S. Poznański, Babylonische Geonim (1914), 133; S. Assaf, in: Zion, 1 (1937), 256f.; A.N. Pollak, ibid., 24–30.

[Daniel M. Friedenberg and

Henry Wasserman]

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