Lot 182
  • 182

Taschenbuch von dem Jahre 1845 (A Beautifully Illustrated and Calligraphed Autobiographical Almanac), David Joseph Curländer, Berlin: 1845

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  • paper, ink
  • 8 3/8 x 5 1/4 in.
  • 213 x 133 mm
[iii], 203, [lxviii] = 272 pages (100 blank) (8 3/8 x 5 1/4 in.; 213 x 133 mm) on paper; contemporary pagination in ink (pp. 3-117, 120-125) and modern pagination in pencil (pp. 118-119, 126-203) in Arabic numerals; written in multiple elegant German and Hebrew square and cursive scripts in black ink; lightly ruled in pencil; Hebrew sometimes vocalized; no catchwords. Enlarged chapter headings; manicules on pp. [i] and [iii]; architectural title page on p. [ii] featuring pillars supporting an archway with a flower vase beneath; frames of most pages painted yellow, gold, blue, or green; numerous illustrations and decorations frequently throughout. Scattered light staining and foxing intermittently throughout; small amounts of paint chipped; ink seeps through on several pages; pp. [ii] and 3 reinforced along gutter. Modern quarter leather marbled binding; gilt title, date, and author name on spine; spine in six compartments with raised bands. Housed in a slipcase with identical marbled design.

Catalogue Note

David Joseph Curländer, born January 16, 1752, in Hasenpoth, Courland (present-day Aizpute, Latvia), was a Jewish calligrapher and illustrator who lived most of his adult life as a bachelor in Berlin. The present manuscript, which was completed when he was almost 93 years old, contains unpublished autobiographical material that provides insight into the author’s life and times at the height of the Berlin Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment). In addition, this codex is beautifully calligraphed and illustrated, demonstrating Curländer’s professional skill and virtuosity. 

Curländer created this Taschenbuch (pocketbook) as a type of almanac in the Biedermeier mode “for my worthy students, friends, and forgiving readers,” as he writes on the title page. His artistry is evident in the book’s calligraphy, illustrations, and portraits, which are so skillfully executed that one could, at times, easily mistake them for prints. The author uses multiple German (Fraktur, Antiqua, and Kurrent) and Hebrew (square, cursive, and Rashi) scripts for the text of the codex (pp. 101, 118-119 seem to model his own original German cursive font) and paints numerous illustrations in vibrant colors that further enhance the visual appeal of the work.

From the time he arrived in Berlin in February 1781, Curländer made the acquaintance of many of the city’s Jewish luminaries, including Hirsch Loebel Levin (1721-1800), chief rabbi of Berlin; Solomon Maimon (1753-1800), a fellow Eastern European immigrant who became a prominent philosopher; Sara Levy (1761-1854), Henriette Herz (1764-1847), and Amalie Beer (1767-1854), the heads of some of the most famous Berlin literary salons; and several other important figures in the Berlin Haskalah: Daniel Itzig (1723-1799) and his son Elias (1756–1818), Benjamin Veitel Ephraim (1742-1811), David Friedlaender (1750-1834), Aaron Halle-Wolfssohn (1754/1756-1835), Baruch Lindau (1759-1849), and Abraham Mendelssohn (1776-1835), the son of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). He taught the children of many of these personalities calligraphy and drew especially close to the Herz and Beer families, who, together with Sara Levy, became his most devoted patrons. (Henriette Herz enabled him to attend the famous Jüdische Freischule Berlin and sponsored drawing lessons for him at the Royal Prussian Academy of the Arts, while the Beer family helped him join the Gesselschaft der Freunde, a local Jewish mutual aid society, in 1795.)

In his time teaching the Beer children, Curländer grew especially close to one of Amalie’s sons, Jacob Liebmann, who would later, under the name Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864), go on to become a famous composer. Indeed, Curländer includes in the Taschenbuch a portrait of Meyerbeer in pencil (p. 126), two anecdotes about him (pp. 127-128), and reproductions of posters advertising several of Meyerbeer’s operas (pp. 129-130, 198-199): Il crociato in Egitto (1824), Robert le diable (1831), Les Huguenots (1836), and Ein Feldlager in Schlesien (1844). Also included is a poster (p. 130) for a play by Meyerbeer’s brother, Michael Beer (1800–1833): Schwert und Hand (1835); as well as a copy of a letter (pp. 131-135) written by Curländer to the Beer family thanking them for their friendship and financial support over the years.

Important historical events also find their way into the manuscript. Having lived through the Napoleonic Wars, Curländer devotes a number of pages to that subject, including a portrait of Napoleon in pencil (p. 152) and five related poems: “Die Pseudo-Kameraden” (p. 124), “Die jüdische Rekruten” (p. 125), “Naumann” (p. 136), “Die letzten 10. vom vierten Regiment” (pp. 137-139), and “Die nächtliche Heerschau” (pp. 153-155). He also reproduces a newspaper article reporting on the attempted assassination in Berlin of King Frederick William IV of Prussia (1795-1861) and his wife on July 26, 1844 (pp. 142-143).

The literary sections of the text include original pieces by Curländer himself, as well as works by Friedrich Schiller (p. 3), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (pp. 5, 107), Ludwig Rellstab (pp. 97-100), Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (p. 104), Wilhelm Gottlieb Becker (pp. 105-106), Karl August Engeldhardt (pseudonym: Richard Roos) (p. 114), Martin Luther (p. 119), and Joseph Christian Freiherr von Zedlitz (pp. 153-155), demonstrating Curländer’s extensive familiarity with general German culture. He also quotes the writings of David Friedlaender (pp. 119, 140, 145) and reproduces Moses Mendelssohn’s German translation of Psalm 71, facing the Hebrew original in the frame of an open psalter, on four illuminated pages (175-178) of the Taschenbuch, indicating his indebtedness to, and longterm association with, the Berlin Haskalah. In fact, the Psalms translation is preceded by a portrait of Mendelssohn in pencil (p. 174) and followed by an excerpt (transliterated into Hebrew characters in Rashi script) from an autobiographical letter the famous philosopher penned to Johann Jacob Spieß on March 1, 1774 (p. 178).

The text also has a light side to it. In a four-page spread, set in the frame of the periodical Die Stafette (The Courier), Curländer transcribes a humorous dialogue between himself and a younger calligraphy teacher lamenting the “spirit of the time” (pp. 146-149). Elsewhere in the Taschenbuch (p. 171), he draws a theater poster for a play entitled Der alte Junggeselle (The Old Bachelor), based on a novella by Paul de Kock, with himself cast in the title role. And in between the various autobiographical segments of the text, he sprinkles sheet music (pp. 110-113, 150-151), humorous proverbs (pp. 114-115, 122-123), puzzles (pp. 116-117), and other textual and pictorial elements (pp. 108-109, 118-119, 166-167) that highlight his artistry and playfulness.

The last two documents in the manuscript contain the text of a request by Curländer to the Prussian King, penned October 15, 1844, to include the artwork that he had created over the course of his career (including the present Taschenbuch) in the royal art collection (pp. 200-201), followed by a copy of the response, dated January 2, 1845, in which his request was denied (pp. 201-202).

All in all, the manuscript before us is a masterpiece of calligraphic and artistic achievement by an experienced virtuoso that includes fascinating information of particular interest to historians of both the Biedermeier period and of the Berlin Haskalah.


pp. i-32 (frontmatter plus Chapters 1-21): introductory remarks by the author, title page, poems, a list of some of the most prominent among the author’s students over the course of his long career, and autobiographical narrative about his youth, arrival in Berlin, and the beginning of his employment. 

pp. 33-96 (Chapters 22-75): a tragic narrative about a Jewish mother and her children living in Berlin, whom Curländer had supported financially for many years (1828–1844) without receiving any compensation from the children’s non-Jewish father. The section is bookended (pp. 35, 96) by illustrations of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew and German with a hand raised in oath and God’s watchful eye above, as if the author were solemnly affirming the veracity of everything included herein. On p. 102, Curländer drew a portrait of one of the children, his beloved Marie Emilie Wilhelmine (Minna) Hoffmann (1823-1841), in life, followed on p. 103 by a sketch of her tombstone at the Luisenstadt Cemetery in Berlin. An introductory note on p. [i] actually asks the reader to skip over these pages entirely unless he receives permission to read them directly from the author.

pp. 97-202: miscellaneous documents, illustrations, portraits, anecdotes, poems, proverbs, puzzles, epigrams, and pictures related to Curländer’s autobiography.


A. Rosenstein (upper flyleaf)

Georg Lippmann (upper flyleaf)


David Joseph Curländer, Skizze meines Lebens: mit reiner Wahrheit in humoristischen Style geschrieben und mit Knittelversen versehen (Berlin: David Joseph Curländer, 1846).