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The history of these censer pieces, has never been thoroughly documented. The best monograph on the subject was written by Dr. Bruno Kisch of New York city in 1941. -- 1  His essay on the subject classifies and illustrates 81 tokens from German, United States and private museums as well as his own extensive collection of 61 shekel tokens. However, much of the most recent research is not included in this work and the very important English-made, tokens and the religious organizations connected to them is entirely overlooked. As well, one of the more recent pamphlets on the censer pieces, titled Jewish Shekel Tokens, a 1972 privately published brochure by Frank Lapa of Los Angeles, is only a loose catalog of 24 types and it contains very little new information

According to historians, the earliest dated, censer piece was supposedly made in 1584. This date appeared on the obverse, in pseudo-Hebrew numbers below the vessel, of a unique token, last reported in the possession of Mr. Guido Kisch of New York. This token was supposedly made in Prague at the time when eminent Mordecai Meysel, 1508-1601, was the leader of the city's Jewish community. For this reason, the owner of the medal in 1893 called it the 'Meysel Shekel', The purpose of this medal can only be speculated upon but such shekel-like tokens usually served in the European Jewish communities as sentimental reminders of the ancient Jewish homeland or as Pidyon Haben coins for the ceremony of the redemption of the first-born son. Other similar, shekel tokens were used as receipts for charitable payments to the synagogue, as Chanukah Gelt, as badges of self- help societies, or as admission tickets to holiday events. As many of these medals are found with suspension loops attached, they may have also been worn as good luck charms or as amulets to ward of sickness and the 'evil eye'. The Meysel token resembles the authentic Shekel only slightly. As usual, the designs of the chalice and pomegranate branch are stylized or misinterpreted so that fames seem to be rising from the vessel and the pomegranate branch looks like a leafy limb. The legends are the same as those on the authentic shekel but are given in the so-called modern, Hebrew, square or block lettering. A suspension loop was later attached to the top of this unique medal. Numismatists have determined that this token is actually a cast copy in silver, 38 millimeters in diameter, supposedly of an earlier, struck medal but with the date added to the mold used to make the later copy.

The earliest dated censer piece, the 'Meysel Shekel', 1584. Type 'A' in Dr. Bruno Kisch's work, 'Shekel Medals and False Shekels'. (Hereafter cited as 'Kisch').

Despite this data, most historians believed that the Meysel Shekel was not the first censer piece ever made and that some probably existed as early as 1480. They connect the earliest pieces with George Emerich, 1422-1507, the burgomeister (mayor) of the city of Goerlitz, in Prussia. It was believed that he fabricated the first censer tokens after his return from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1465 and sold them as souvenirs at a repro- duction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher he built in Goerlitz in 1480. This assumption cannot be confirmed from the burgomaster's biography but the Municipal Art Collection in the Museum of Goerlitz contains 36 examples of the various tokens which were sold at the shrine during the past centuries. Some of these are quite primitive and can easily be recognized as early, crude prototypes of a design that probably inspired the Meysel Shekel

A crude Censer piece, perhaps the earliest type manufactured in Goerlitz after 1480. Cast in bronze, 30.5 mm in diameter, weighing 16.8 grains. 'Jewish Shekel Tokens' by Frank Lapa (hereafter cited as Lapa), no.'19.

Some authorities believed that the earliest graphic representation of the censer pieces appeared as an illustration of the biblical 'Thirty Pieces of Silver' in a painting, now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.2 This painting was attributed to Lucas van Leyden who died in 1530. However, many experts believed that it was done by a much later artist, in the style of van Leyden, so it does not prove conclusively that such tokens had been made earlier than the Meysel Shekel of 1584. Also, the design of the tokens in this painting are exactly the same as one illustrated in a book published in 1604. This illustration is the first literary record of a censer piece and it appeared in a book by J. B. Villalpandus.3 A detailed line drawing of the token was produced in this book and the author stated that it was a genuine, ancient shekel struck by the Jews. Physical proof that the Villalpandus type of token circulated in the 17th century is given by casts of these same pieces which were used by the English bell founder, John Palmer of Gloucester, from 1650 to 1663, to decorate some of his bronze church bells -- 4.

The plate from Villalpandus' book, 1604, showing the censer piece he believed to be an authentic ancient shekel despite the modern Hebrew letters in the inscriptions. It is exactly the same design as the tokens on John Palmer's bells. It is cataloged an Kisch. B4.

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