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Judaica by Canada's Silversmith Robert Hendery

by Ross Fox

ROBERT HENDERY OF MONTREAL STANDS UNRIVALLED as the preeminent silver manufacturer in Canada during the second half of the 19th century. Originally from Scotland, he launched his enterprise in 1856 after a short-lived partnership with Peter Bohle. His coterie of highly-skilled workers enabled his meteoric ascendancy in the Canadian trade. The unprecedented range and volume of his production allowed him to supply retailers far and wide across the expanding country until the century’s close. Robert Hendery is truly “Canada’s silversmith.”

A paper label with a woodcut of silver dishes.
John Henry Walker illustration of Robert Hendery wares on a printed receipt, 1857. Ink on paper. McCord Stewart Museum

A printed receipt form from 1857 illustrates something of the profusion of his wares. They include candelabras, candlesticks, epergnes, serving dishes, claret and water jugs, tea and coffee services, trays, cups and goblets, flatware of all kinds, and trophies and medals. Liturgical wares figure considerably, especially communion services for Catholic and Anglican churches. Although comparably small in output, Hendery’s Judaica for Montreal’s Jewish community demonstrates his high accomplishment both in terms of quality and diversity.

The first Canadian census of 1871 enumerated a total of 409 Jews in Montreal. Despite this low number the city supported two synagogues: one Sephardic and the other Ashkenazic (Shaar Hashomayim after 1886). The Judaica by Robert Hendery has either direct or indirect associations with the Ashkenazic congregation.

Hendery’s most prevalent type of Judaica is the Kiddush cup, of which six are known. A Kiddush cup is a wine vessel blessed in the ritual of sanctification (Kiddush) that marks the beginning of Sabbath in a Jewish home. Any cup could serve this purpose, though silver goblets are preferred, and inscribed silver Kiddush cups are a customary tribute of respect or gratitude.

The earliest example of a Hendery Kiddush cup the Ashkenazic congregation presented, along with a silver salver, was to Rabbi Samuel Myer Isaacs for presiding over the consecration of their first synagogue on May 22, 1860. Isaacs, rabbi of Shaaray Tefila Synagogue in New York City, was a leading exponent of Orthodox Judaism in the United States.

Two silver-gilt Kiddush cups.
Silver-gilt Kiddush Cups by Robert Hendery. L: 1860, R: 1863 (Private Collection)

The Montreal Herald claimed the Isaacs cup’s maker was its retailer, Abraham Hoffnung. While the large “A.H” mark stands for Hoffnung, the adjacent pseudo-hallmarks of a lion passant and sovereign’s head are those of Robert Hendery. Hoffnung operated a jewellery business in Montreal; he was also secretary of the congregation and son of its rabbi, Samuel Hoffnung.

Entwined sprigs of maple leaves encircle the cup. For over a decade prior to nationhood in 1867, the maple leaf proliferated as a popular Canadian emblem. Hendery adorned much silverwork with this motif, which suggests the Isaacs cup was an off-the-shelf piece.

Another similarly adorned Hendery Kiddush cup the congregation conferred in 1863 to chazzan (cantor) Wolf Sternberg upon his departure to lead a synagogue in Quebec City. In addition to maple leaves, this cup shows beavers building a dam, an image taken from an engraving printed thirty years earlier in Le Magasin pittoresque (Paris).1

Parisian influence is also found in a silver coffee and tea service with tray given to David Moss. Moss, together with his brothers Edward and Lawrence, were leaders in the foundation and financial benefaction of the congregation.2 The design of the service takes from “original patterns procured in France by D. A. Ansell.”3 Prominent in Montreal’s Jewish community, Ansell was an importer of general goods for the domestic wholesale market. His network of business contacts in Europe kept him informed of current fashion trends. Hendery’s coffee pot echoes a famous example made by the prestigious Parisian firm of Maison Odiot and displayed at the International Exhibition of 1862 in London.4

Silver-gilt tea service
Robert Hendery, Coffee and Tea Service, 1865. (The jug on the right is not part of the service.) Silver, gilt. Private Collection

The Orientalist style (also called Ottoman and Turkish) of the Hendery service attained its zenith in France during the 1860s. The pots’ slender, elongated necks and spouts and bulbous bodies follow Islamic forms. Rather than engraved arabesques typical of French Orientalist silver, Hendery’s pieces have his characteristic chased naturalistic floral and foliate motifs. This service provides a rare insight into his design sources. In this case, the customer furnished the design, which Hendery’s designer, Felix Louis Paris, likely modified to suit more familiar tastes and techniques.5

Paris entered Hendery’s employ by 1857 along with his father Louis Felix Paris. The father was a specialist silverchaser (decorator) who worked in London, England, for almost two decades before the pair emigrated to the United States to work for the famous American silver manufacturer Gorham & Company. These two craftsmen provided Hendery with indispensable skills not available locally that were key to his success.

So much so that in a contract dated October 31, 1865, Hendery took Felix Paris into co-partnership under title of Robert Hendery & Co.7 However, in 1871 the firm went bankrupt; Hendery and the Parises went their separate ways, and Hendery continued to operate his own silver workshop. Silver produced by the partnership is usually stamped “R. HENDERY & CO” along with the standard Hendery pseudo-hallmarks. These marks provide a convenient window of time for dating Hendery silver.

An Elijah cup is a stunning example of Judaica from this period of the firm. The cup is part of the seder, the ceremonial meal which commences the major religious festival of Passover in Jewish homes. It is the last of ritual wine cups by Hendery, but unlike the others, wine in the Elijah cup is not drunk. Themes of deliverance and redemption dominate the seder: the exodus of Jews from Egypt in antiquity and the coming of the Messiah, with Elijah as herald, in the future. This cup symbolizes the anticipation of the latter.

A silver-gilt Elijah cup.
Robert Hendery & Co., Elijah Cup, c. 1870. Silver, gilt, amethysts. Collection of Sébastien Hudon. Photo: Idra Labrie

The earliest known Elijah cups date from the 18th century, but a cup for Elijah as part of the seder was first recorded in 9th-century Babylon. It was not until 15th-century Germany that it gained increased acceptance and became part of Ashkenazic tradition.6 However, it remains uncertain whether a special cup was reserved for this purpose, because Elijah cups do not have codified attributes. Like the Kiddush cup, almost any drinking vessel could do. Identification chiefly comes from a designatory inscription, a feature that only became common during the 19th century. For example, the rim of the Hendery cup has a Hebrew text that translates as “Cup of Elijah the Prophet.”

By mid-19th century the range of Elijah cup forms and their decorative elaboration expands exponentially. They are larger in size and grander in appearance. Among the more imposing are covered standing cups modelled on secular ceremonial cups popular in Germany and central Europe.

The design of the Hendery cup is somewhat of a departure from the norm. Its shallow bowl echoes a renaissance tazza, as do the classical motifs, such as the egg-and-dart bands and the bosses of the knop. The looped handles recall French neoclassical silver earlier in the century. Its eclecticism is most evident in the handles’ decoration of naturalistic vine tendrils with maple leaves. Its idiosyncratic hybrid style reaffirms the likelihood of Felix Paris as designer, for in the same period he designed a standing cup in Elizabethan style with a stem of twisted maple branches and leaves.

While Elijah cups occasionally have a figurative scene, the Hendery cup is unusual in having two. The source for their imagery comes from Haggadot: texts that describe the various components of seder ritual and its meanings. One of the cup’s scenes illustrates persons seated at a seder meal. It derives from a woodcut in the Prague Haggadah of 1526, one of the first printed Haggadot. The Hendery version modified this scene by reversing the image and substituting men for the woman and child.

Two scenes from the Elijah cup and their sources in the Haggadah.
Top: Scenes from the Elijah cup. Photos: Idra Labrie. Bottom: Seder meal illustrated in the Prague Haggadah, 1526, and the Messiah and Elijah at Jerusalem's Gate of Mercy illustrated in the Mantua Haggadah, 1560.

The second scene is The Messiah Riding a Donkey While Elijah Walks Behind Blowing a Shofar. It depicts their arrival at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate or, as Jews call it, the Gate of Mercy. The source is a woodcut in the Mantua Haggadah of 1560. On the Hendery cup, the designer again reversed the image and replaced the architectural structure on the left with a sketchy rendition of the gate as it looked during the 19th century, identifiable by its parapet crenellations and double-arched gateway. The Elijah cup’s complex iconography suggests that a person versed in Jewish tradition advised the designer.

While not as much Judaica dates from Hendery’s post-1871 phase, it does include rimonim (torah finials), which were a gift from Hyam David Moss, son of David Moss. Previously, Canadian synagogues imported these items, no doubt because of their intricate design and requisite adherence to ritual standards.

The pavilion form of the Hendery rimonim is Orientalist in style: the trilobate arches reflect those of Spanish mosques, and the engraved arabesques recall Moroccan rimonim. The design’s Islamic character reminded the congregation that their roots, no matter how far removed, are in the Middle East. This reference is even more overt in the congregation’s second Moorish style synagogue.

A Rimon, photo of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, and a silver trowel
Robert Hendery, Rimon , 1878. Silver, gilt. Photo: Sotheby’s, New York. Center: Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, 1886-1922; and right: Robert Hendery, silver trowel, 1877

For the new synagogue, Hendery supplied the silver trowel used to lay the cornerstone at its dedication in 1885 The trowel’s distinguishing feature is a cast maple leaf at the juncture of handle and blade. The synagogue received other Hendery silverwork at this time, including a pair of rimonim and a yad (torah pointer) from Mrs. Clara Moss, widow of Hyam.

Silver rimon and yad
Robert Hendery, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim's silver Rimon and Yad, 1887

The acanthus leaves that make up the openwork form of each rimon impart a classicizing character, while a band of maple leaves at the top of the cylindrical holders for the wooden staves of the torah scroll indicate its Canadian context. The yad has an identical maple leaf frieze around the base of its arm. Although the rimonim bear Hendery’s maker’s mark, the yad does not; but the maple leaves suggest both pieces are his work.

No doubt other Judaica by Hendery remains to be identified. The pieces here testify to the commitment of Montreal’s Ashkenazic community to traditional beliefs. The inclusion of the maple leaf, on the other hand, expresses the desire of this mostly foreign-born congregation to show they also belong to their adopted country.

Ross Fox is an art historian and decorative arts specialist who has served on the curatorial staffs of museums in Canada and the United States, notably the Detroit Institute of Arts, National Gallery of Canada and, most recently, the Royal Ontario Museum. He is an Assistant Professor (Sessional Instructor), Department of Art History, University of Toronto. Fox has a PhD in Art History & Archaeology (University of Missouri).

____________________________________ 1 Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 30 June 1863. 2 Immigrants from England, the brothers were in Montreal by 1836, where they soon dominated the export garment industry. 3 Montreal Herald, 15 August 1865. 4 David Allan, French Orientalist Silver of the 19th Century (Paris: Galerie Berko, 2003). 5 For instance, during this period the Hendery workshop preferred chased work of naturalistic motifs rather than engraved, abstract arabesques, which require different skill. Chasing works the exterior surface of metal with hammer and punches to enhance low relief decoration. 6 Joshua Kulp, The Schechter Haggadah: Art, History and Commentary (Jerusalem: The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2009): 175-76; Chana Shacham-Rosby, “Waiting for Elijah,” Segula 64 (March 2023): 28-41.

Unless noted, objects are in the collection of the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim Museum & Archives, Montreal, with photos by Spencer Halickman of PBL Photography.


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