Sterling Silver Besamim Fish Container, circa 1849
This is an incredible sterling silver besamim fish container, circa 1849. This piece contains a mark that is German, however it is very small and hard to make out. This piece was most likely made in Berlin. This lovely Jewish artifact had previous gold wash, the remnants of which can be seen on the tail and fins. This piece is incredibly detailed and articulated. It features its original handmade nails, which still work perfectly. The head of the fish opens on a hinge and has a good range of motion. The fish’s mouth also opens and closes securely. On the bottom of the fish’s head there is an engraving that reads, “Ch To GKB 1849”. The eyes are bezel set in sterling silver and are made of an organic material. They are approximately 5.85 mm each in size. This inscription was done by hand and has stood the test of time.
As with most religions, the practice of Judaism calls upon the use of various ritual objects. These objects are articles of faith and enhance the religious experience by ways of expression. Shabbat is a centerpiece of Jewish life. Shabbat is a day of rest and celebration that occurs each Friday evening. The Havdalah ceremony closes Shabat. This final piece is a multi-sensory experience that involves: a prayerbook, cup, wine, a candle, and aromatic herbs. The herbs are known as besamim and are kept in a special, artistically decorative spice container in order to honor the ceremony. The besamim container is passed around the table so each person can smell the fragrant herbs. The Havdalah ceremony involves all five senses and is a cornerstone of Jewish life.
A Besamim box in the shape of a fish was a typical design of the 19th century. These pieces were handmade by artisans out of sterling silver. Typically, when finished, the maker would put a gold wash over the piece. These pieces were incredibly detailed and well articulated. One may notice that these fish besamim containers resemble articulated Koi Fish figurals from Japan. However, these early besamim boxes differ in that they are more crude in design. Additionally, besamim containers open and have at least one compartment to hold the herbs used in the Havdalah ceremony. In Judaism fish symbolize a number of things. They are thought to be an amulet for fertility as well as protection from the evil eye. The fish also plays an important part in Jewish traditions, for example it is customary to eat fish during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.
This piece is approximately 4 1/2 inches long and 2 inches at its widest point. This piece weighs approximately 80 grams, or 2.60 troy ounces.
DIAMETER: 2 in | HEIGHT: 4½ in
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