An Interesting Hamburg Medal with a Jewish Connection

The city of Hamburg had an ongoing problem between its Senate and Citizens’ Council in the late 17th century, with its local Jewish population a chief concern. Though a Sephardic Jewish population had more long-standing roots in the city, the Ashkenazi population had arrived much more recently and had no actual legal status regarding its ability to reside there. The Citizens’ Council (dominated by orthodox Protestants) and the Lutheran clergy sought to block concessions by the Senate to the Jewish populations, with the issue eventually reaching much further up in the hierarchy of the Holy Roman Empire. Emperor Joseph I appointed an imperial commission, led by Damian Hugo Philipp von Schönborn-Buchheim, to settle the dispute between the Senate and Citizens’ Council in Hamburg. Ultimately, the commission redefined the legal relationships of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish populations in Hamburg, with the regulations becoming part of the new Hamburg constitution in 1712. This resolution seemingly didn’t sit well in Hamburg, with medals produced by a few different medalists with a similar overall design. These pieces feature, on one side, a hand extending a fistful of coins and, on the other, a facing bust with a hand held up as if to hide from the viewer. The German legends essentially read "you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours." As such, they imply that the Jewish citizenry had bribed the commission for recognition of their status, furthering an anti-Semitic viewpoint among the largely Protestant populace.

Our current June Collectors Choice Online (CCO) sale features one such medal from this interesting series, paralleling another offering from our January 2021 auction (a PCGS AU-53 that realized $660). This rather brilliant and dazzling issue exhibits some scattered marks in the field of the side with the hand proffering coinage, but nevertheless is quite prooflike and, like all with this theme, extremely thought-provoking and unusual.

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