Megillat Esther

Private Collection
Tel Aviv, Israel

An intricately illustrated early 18th-century manuscript scroll of the Book of Esther, reproduced on fine parchment in an exquisite hand-tooled silver case.

A symbol of the celebration and continuity of Jewish life from ancient times and for generations to come.

A strictly limited facsimile edition of 295 numbered copies.

ISBN 0 948223 251

Price: $3,995.00

purchase »

“And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.” - Esther Ch. 9.28.

The story of Esther is read aloud in Jewish communities the world over to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from evil. In kabbalistic and Hasidic literature, Purim is a day of friendship and joy when Jews are encouraged to drink wine merrily and to abstain from water!

Scene from the Megillah... enlarge »

The story of Esther has been retold since the Second Temple Period. Purim is a holiday of feasting and joy which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of Persia during the reign of King Xerxes (485-465 BCE). The word Purim is derived from ‘Pur’ meaning lots, literally the lots cast by the Persians to decide when to execute the Jews. This story, recounted in the biblical book of Esther, is read publicly in synagogues each Purim. The reader recites it from a parchment scroll, known as a megillah of which this is a charming and unusual example.

Over the centuries, Esther scrolls have become a symbol of celebration and continuity of Jewish life and they form the core of several major collections. The Gross family in Israel owns one of the finest collections in the world and they allowed their most treasured illuminated megillah to be reproduced in a fine limited edition.

Written scrolls of Esther are not rare, but it was only in unusual instances that they were illuminated. This megillah, written on fine parchment, is exceptional because the entire Purim story is illustrated in meticulous detail. Virtually every aspect of the Book of Esther is depicted in the miniatures, where heroes and villains are playfully painted around the clear, square text to illustrate the victory of good over evil.

There are scenes of baroque buildings and genteel characters in typical eighteenth-century dress; even Haman’s sons hang in droll positions from the gallows. The wealth of detail contained within the intricately-drawn buildings and costumed figures adds weight to the theory that it was written in Germany around 1700.

Scene from the Megillah... enlarge »

Although the exact date and location that the manuscript was commissioned remains a mystery, the words ‘STATT SHUSONN’ written in Latin letters above one of the illustrations at the beginning of the scroll reinforce the German provenance of the manuscript. Only one other Esther scroll, in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, is known to make use of Latin letters, and was written by the same scribe.

This megillah is unique in other ways too. The varying shapes of the eighteen text panels (18 is the numeric value of the Hebrew word Chai, meaning life), none of which are identical, indicate that unusually the text was written after decoration.

It is known that the manuscript was in Vienna in the late 1920s (an illustration appears in the 1928 issue of Menorah published in Vienna) and came into the collection of Eliahu Sachar, the first Israeli ambassador to Austria, around 1950. He brought it to Israel and later sold it to an American collector. The manuscript eventually returned to Israel where it is today in the Gross Family Collection.

Muzi Wertheim examining the first completed proof of the Megillah and its case. enlarge »

The Idea

Muzi Wertheim, a friend of the publishers and collector of Facsimile Editions’ books, proposed the idea to create a facsimile Megillat Esther. It was an idea that the Falters had considered from time to time throughout the years of publishing fine reproductions of rare Hebrew illuminated manuscripts but it was Muzi Wertheim’s enthusiasm and energy that finally brought the project to life. While Facsimile Editions have worked with silversmiths in the past, they had never made a silver objet d’art and considered it a fine and exciting project to celebrate twenty-five years of publishing. Muzi Wertheim’s close collaboration with the silversmith has resulted in a replica of extraordinary accuracy.

The Gross Family Collection

Bill Gross started collecting at the age of six and his extensive collection, focused on the field of Judaica in all its aspects, contains objects, books, manuscripts, reference literature, old postcards and even postage stamps with Jewish connections. They are part of what he calls his ‘window theory of Judaica’ through which we can view and learn about Jewish life of the past. This megillah provides an especially rich view.

 
Scene from the Megillah... enlarge »

Introduction

Every facsimile project presents a raft of new challenges, but this scroll demanded the development of so many innovative techniques that it would have deterred all but the most dedicated of publishers.

Craftsmen from England, Israel and Italy worked to combine the latest digital technologies with the age-old processes of parchment-making and lost-wax casting. The result is a facsimile which, according to Bill Gross, the owner of the manuscript, is virtually indistinguishable from the original. And because the materials used are parchment and sterling silver, the facsimiles look and feel exactly the same as the originals, and should last just as long.

Photography

Excellent photography is the key to accurate reproduction. David Harris in Jerusalem has worked with Facsimile Editions for nearly twenty years - he photographed the Rothschild Miscellany and Alba Bible manuscripts - and photographed the manuscript with digital equipment as the technology is now mature enough to deliver the level of accuracy required to capture the detail of the original.

Bill Gross discussing the first proofs with Linda Falter. enlarge »

Colour Separation and Proofing

Great attention was paid to the delicate colours, including the stains which give the facsimile the character of the original and contribute to the unique quality for which the publishers have gained world renown. Proofs on parchment were prepared by the team of colour separators in Milan who have worked on our facsimiles since 1980. These proofs were then compared to the original manuscript in Israel, corrected where necessary and re-proofed in Italy and Israel until the colours exactly matched the original.

Parchment

The Falters personally chose each skin for the facsimile. The parchment is hand-made in England, as it has been for generations, by one of the world’s finest parchment makers. It takes roughly two months to prepare each skin which, when ready, equals the quality of those selected by the original scribe.

The long manufacturing process is highly labour intensive. Hair is first removed from the sheepskin which is then scraped before being washed and softened in vats of lime. The soft clean skins are then fixed to frames and repeatedly wetted, scraped and stretched until a smooth, even finish has been achieved. When dry, the skins are cut from the frames into sheets and sanded. The skins are then graded and the publishers personally select only the very best.

How Parchment is made for Facsimile Editions

1. Skins are first cleaned and softened in the 'Paddle'. 2. The animal's fleece is then removed from the hair side. 3. The 'pre-fleshing' machine uses a knife to cut off grease, flesh and dirt from the skin side... 4. ...after which the skins are checked on the 'horse'. 5. During the fleshing process the skins are periodically washed and softened in vats of lime. 6. Skins are then fixed to frames and wetted... 7. ...before 'filling', the first of the finishing processes... 8. ...and 'scalding', where superficial dirt and interfibrillary protein is removed. 9. Once dry, the skins are 'scraped'... 10. ...and checked... 11. ...before being cut from their frames. 12. The parchment is taken for final finishing: hand-sanding to a silky-smooth finish... 13. ...and personal checking in a delicate north light... 14. ...before being cut to size and prepared for dispatch.

Printing

High definition colour printing on natural parchment is an extremely complex and costly process. We approached this project with trepidation remembering the considerable difficulties we had to overcome in printing the parchment edition of the Me’ah Berachot manuscript.

These curled sheets have only just been printed... more »

Being a natural substance, parchment is highly sensitive to the slightest change in humidity. The printed sheet will react immediately to the wetness of the ink and the difference in humidity between the warmer air inside the printing press and the cooler air outside. This does not happen with paper and makes printing on parchment very difficult. It has taken nearly two years to develop a series of new processes which enable us to print with confidence on parchment.

Reproduction

After printing, the sections are glued together in the same manner as in the original manuscript to make one long parchment (approximately 1.7 metres – 5½ feet) containing the entire text. Finally, the completed parchment is attached to the central winding spindle at one end and the ‘puller’ at the other end, and then wound back into the case. The scroll is reproduced at 1.17x original size.

The silversmith. enlarge »

Sterling silver hand-made scroll case

A megillah of this standing requires an exquisite case. In the Gross collection there is a fine silver megillah case which was made by Lorenz Pfalzer in 1824 in Vienna, Austria. This particularly delicate and elaborate style of case was favoured by Viennese silver workshops for nearly 80 years until the end of the 19th century.

A Russian silversmith living in Israel copied the original case by hand. Renowned for his fine craftsmanship, he was commissioned to make all 295 cases. Working in sterling silver he cast, finished and polished each one by hand. Each case is hallmarked and individually numbered, and the edition is accompanied by a signed and numbered certificate.

The result is a lavish work of art which will be treasured for generations to come.

The Making of the Silver Case

1. The reproduction of the parts comprising the case uses two processes – metal stamping and lost-wax casting. 2. The intricate detail first needs to be captured in a rubber mould. In the case of the central cylinder, a steel die is created from the mould which is then used, under a pressure of 100 tons, to stamp flat sheets of silver with the precise detail of the original case. 3. After trimming off the excess metal the flat sheets are made into cylinders using a special rolling press.
The remaining parts are made using the centuries-old lost-wax casting process, an ancient practice that is still in widespread use today. To reproduce the decorative crown that sits atop the megillah case, the original piece is held in a container which is then flooded with (blue) molten rubber.
4. When cool, the rubber is cut open and the original removed revealing the fine detail of the original. 5. The mould is then closed... 6. ...and through a hole, the hot molten casting wax is introduced under high pressure. 7. When set, the mould is opened... 8. ...to reveal an exact wax copy of the original part. 9. The decorative element sitting at the top of the case is made from three component parts.
Prior to casting, a number of identical parts are attached to a wax ‘trunk’ so that when completed the structure has the form of a wax ‘tree’, the parts being the ‘branches’. The structure is then encased in plaster of Paris. When set, the plaster cast is baked in the furnace during which time the wax inside melts completely and is lost - hence the name ‘lost-wax process’. The void is subsequently filled, under vacuum pressure, with molten silver which takes the place of the lost wax and forms a precise replica of the original part.
10. The container holding the plaster cast is removed from the oven... 11. ...and placed into the vacuum pot. 12. The silver is kept molten... 13. ...and poured into the cast... 14. ...before cooling in a bucket of cold water. 15. Once broken out of the plaster, the castings are assembled... 16. ...before polishing on the soft spinning brush-wheel. 17. The megillah case comprises 20 pieces. Each one is laboriously crafted by hand as the process cannot be automated. By the time the edition of 295 is completed, nearly 6,000 wax moulds and 6,000 silver pieces will have been made by hand. 18. Once assembled, the case will be hallmarked and the Facsimile Editions number will be added. 19. Finally, the silversmith admires the finished case. 20. The original and the facsimile, side by side.

Presentation

This megillah deserves to be elegantly displayed so a museum-quality acrylic case was commissioned in which the megillah is protected and can be displayed either horizontally or vertically. In addition a soft suede pouch is included for carrying the megillah.

The elegant presentation case. Click here to see the case in the vertical position.

Personalised Dedication

Whether the facsimile is intended as a gift to an institution or a private individual a personal inscription of your choice can be supplied. When the facsimile and case are displayed vertically, the inscription will show through the base.

Edition

The edition is strictly limited to 295 numbered copies. The number of each facsimile is discreetly blind-stamped on the silver case and every facsimile is accompanied by a certificate verifying its number and the size of the edition.

At the completion of the edition, the printing plates and moulds were destroyed thus protecting the significant investment value of each copy.

Hallmark

Once completed, the silver cases were submitted to the Standards Institute of Israel where they were tested, issued with a Certificate of purity and hallmarked. During this process a randomly selected number of cases were given a full Assay during which they were destroyed in order to establish beyond doubt the purity of the silver. Testing comprises a number of stages:

  1. In the ‘touch’ testing process, the cases are lightly rubbed onto a 'touchstone', leaving a thin smear of material on the stone. Chemicals are applied to the smear and from the reaction that takes place, an initial indication of the fineness is determined.
  2. Each case is X-rayed by fluorescence spectrometer which is used to determine the precise fineness of the silver used in making the case. The machine works by firing an X-ray beam which interacts with the case which gives out its own characteristic X-rays. These can be detected and used to determine the composition of the case. The technique is very accurate and non-destructive.
  3. Finally, one or two cases are selected at random for Assaying using the titration process. In this process a silver sample is weighed accurately, placed in a beaker and a fixed quantity of nitric acid added to form a silver nitrate solution. The beaker is placed into an autotitrator where a sodium chloride (common salt) solution is added in known quantities. The sodium chloride reacts with the silver nitrate solution to form silver chloride and the reaction is monitored using an electrode connected to a computer. From the electrode response, it is possible to tell when all of the silver has reacted and thus how much of it must have been present. A weight of pure silver can thus be calculated. Titration produces an accuracy of about 1 part per thousand.
  4. Once the cases have been assayed successfully, they can be marked. The most traditional method of marking is hand marking where the case is marked by striking it with a punch containing the SII symbol.

Shipping, Packaging & Insurance

As so much of this facsimile project originates from Israel, FrenkelCD, Israel’s leading packaging company, were chosen to design and manufacture the packaging in their state-of-the-art factory in Caesarea. The price includes robust protective packaging, worldwide courier delivery and insurance to your door.

We use UPS for our deliveries and in most cases can provide an international overnight service at no additional charge. Once your order has been placed we will send you an electronic invoice and UPS will contact you by email to enable you to track the progress of your order.

 

Emile Schrijver, Curator of the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana (Amsterdam University Library, Netherlands) and a specialist in eighteenth-century Hebrew manuscripts and printed books and Falk Wiesemann, Professor of Modern History at the Heinrich Heine University (Düsseldorf, Germany) and a specialist in German Jewish history and folk art, will take the reader on an illustrated guided tour through the megillah. Careful reading of the text of the biblical book of Esther is used as the basis for a discussion of the scroll’s illustration cycle which closely follows the Biblical text and can only be really understood and appreciated when simultaneously compared with the text.

The authors will intersperse their introduction with discussions of the materials used for the creation of the scroll, the nature of the Hebrew script used, the localization and the dating of the scroll, the delicacy of the silver case and the question of what came first, the text or the images. They will also provide, both through historical elaboration and additional black and white images, additional background information on the iconography of the scroll, parallel themes and motives in other scrolls, the printed sources behind the illustrations, customs pertaining to the Purim festival, and the cultural background of the scroll’s assumed patrons.

The commentary volume will highlight the literary quality of the Biblical Book of Esther, its importance to the festival of Purim and its significance in Jewish art leaving the reader with an understanding and appreciation of the artistic quality and cultural background of the megillah and its delicate silver case.

The commentary volume is introduced by Muzi Wertheim.

William Gross describes the significance of the manuscript to the Gross Family Collection.

The commentary volume is edited by Jeremy Schonfield, Mason Lecturer, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

 
Megillah
  • 10.8cm x 168 cm (4¼ inches x 66 inches)
  • Printed on both sides on the finest sheepskin parchment
  • Sections glued and attached to the central spindle and puller with silver clasps
Case
  • 27cm high x 3.7cm in diameter, (10½ inches high x 1½ inches in diameter)
  • Hand-made in sterling silver
  • Weight approximately 262 grams (9¼ ounces)
Cutting
  • Each scroll has been hand-cut to the exact outline of the original, prior to gluing and attaching to the case and puller with silver closures.
Dedication
  • A specially engraved dedication can be supplied at no additional cost if requested when ordering the facsimile.
Presentation
  • The megillah is presented in a clear acrylic display case which can be used either horizontally or vertically (with dedication if required)
  • Size horizontally: 32cm x 12 cm x 10 cm
  • Size vertically: 33 cm x 12.5 cm x 11cm
  • A soft carrying case is also included
Commentary Volume
  • 112 pages
  • Printed on 90 gsm Fabriano Ingres paper
  • Bound in 160 gsm Ingres to complement the megillah
Edition
  • This facsimile set is issued in a strictly limited edition of 295 numbered copies
  • Each scroll case is hallmarked and discreetly numbered by hand
  • A signed and numbered certificate accompanies each set
Shipping, Packaging & Insurance
  • Price includes robust protective packaging, worldwide courier delivery and insurance
  • We use UPS for our deliveries
  • International overnight service usually available at no extra charge
  • Electronic invoice and tracking details delivered to you immediately via email
Price
  • The price includes the facsimile, commentary volume, acrylic presentation case, shipping container, airmail or courier delivery, insurance and a dedication if requested at the time of ordering. Subscriptions are accepted only subject to our Conditions of Sale.
 
Purchase The Megillat Esther is priced at $3,995.00. purchase »