David Gabay’s 1660 Letter from London

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The Parnassim of the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam had many functions during the seventeenth and eighteenth cen? turies. One of these was to act as the executors of the estates of deceased members. This situa? tion arose if a man died without heirs and left his property to the community, or if he left orphans and no relative to protect their interest. Such a testator might himself be the executor of other such estates, in which event these too would fall to the care of the gentlemen of the Mahamad. Thus in the course of time the archives of the community acquired business papers and account books which concerned the private affairs of various deceased individuals, and it is in just such a collection that the letter which we are going to examine has been found. For the present-day Portuguese Jewish community has very sensibly lodged its papers in the Amsterdam Gemeinte Archief, where they can be properly looked after and are now accessible to serious students.

Moreover, Dr. W. Chr. Pieterse has pub? lished a most useful inventory of this archive. I went there during the summer of 1973 to inspect the private and business papers of the seventeenth century, because I am interested in commercial history, and while I was there, I obtained Xeroxes of some promising-looking letters from England.

The subject of this talk is one such letter written in London on 9 July 1660 by one David Gabay, a young unmarried man who had recently started in business in London, to Manuel Levy Duarte, one of two partners in a recently established wholesale jewellery business in Amsterdam. Most of the letters which Manuel Levy kept were of the period between 1680 and his death in 1713. This one is exceptionally early and it was probably kept for sentimental reasons because of its refer? ences to his marriage.

We know little of David Gabay. He appears in the 1660 informers' lists as one of six single Portuguese Jews living in lodgings with John Lingar, a master plumber in Greechurch Lane next door to St. Catherine's Church.1 In the letter he tells us that he had only been in London for a year and he traded in partnership with his brother in Amsterdam, whence he himself had apparently come.

David Gabay's letter, which is the first of three sent by him to Manuel Levy in 1660, is written in Portuguese,2 and is in two parts. The first is a market report on the prospects for the jewellery trade just after Charles II's Restora? tion, and refers to Manuel Levy's own impend? ing marriage. The second deals with the general news of the day. Both parts are of historical interest. The information that jewellery was only worn by the nobility and gentry and that women of the middling sort never wore jewels is most intriguing. This was certainly not the case twenty years later, when such fashions had been influenced by the example of an extravagant Court.

The second part of the letter,

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