Traditionally, the parents of a Jewish couple planning to wed would draw up a contract committing them to marry by a specific date and outlining the financial and other terms under which the marriage would be celebrated. This document, referred to as tena’im rishonim (lit., initial terms), would generally include a clause specifying a penalty to be paid in the event the contract were breached. The present lot, a betrothal document for the marriage of Falk ben Herz Segel of Homburg and Henleche bat Wolf of Galhausen, stipulates that the couple must wed by 1 Tammuz 5562 (July 1, 1802) and imposes a fine of 300 gulden for failure to abide by the agreement. The guarantor on the fine for the groom’s side was Zalman Landau of Homburg, and for the bride’s side Mayer Amschel (in Hebrew: Me’ir ben Anshel) Rothschild of Frankfurt am Main (1744-1812) was chosen. The latter, patriarch of the most prominent banking family in Jewish history, signed his name in Hebrew at the bottom of the tena’im on Wednesday (night), 30 Sivan 5561 (June 10, 1801), in Frankfurt. Specimens of Rothschild’s Hebrew autograph are exceedingly rare; the Rothschild Archive in London has none, and the National Library of Israel holds only two items bearing his signature.
Fritz Backhaus, Mayer Amschel Rothschild: Ein biografische Porträt (Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag Herder, 2012).
Amos Elon, Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time (New York: Viking, 1996).
Niall Ferguson, The House of Rothschild, vol. 1 (Money’s Prophets 1798-1848) (New York: Penguin Books, 1998).
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