Postcards for Paige: Spring 2018

Posted on May 18th, 2018 by

Welcome to the second edition of our quarterly feature, “Postcards for Paige”, giving us a chance to answer commonly asked questions about how to make the most out of your visit to the Jewish Museum of Maryland. (All the answers are real, the postcards are dubious… but these days, who knows?) Click here to read previous editions.

Postcard reads:

Hey Paige,

My husband and I have been members of the JMM for the past six years. One of my favorite benefits of being a member (other than the 10% discount at Esther’s Place) is having free admission to the regular programs. I attended the Book of Joseph event on April 26th and saw how popular it was – sold out in fact! A little digging on Facebook informed me that programs at the JMM have been selling out recently. Do I need to reserve seats for programs even if I am a member?

Seat-Seeking Susan

Hi Susan,

Thank you for being loyal members to the Museum. I am glad to hear that you have been enjoying our recent programs. It has been an exciting past few months at the Museum and we have been thrilled that numerous events have sold out. In April, we had 351 people attend 6 programs!

Since our programs have been showing such popularity, and seating is limited, I strongly suggest that you reserve a seat for any program that you are interested in attending to avoid disappointment.

You can do this online to our website by following these steps:

– First, head to our events calendar.

-You can find the event that you are interested in and click on it. This will take you to that event’s dedicated page.

-Select “JMM Member – Reserve Your Seats.” This will take you to the shopping cart.

-Sign in at the top, right corner of the screen.

-Enter the number of tickets you need and click “Add to Cart” on the bottom left of this screen. Remember, the type of membership you have will determine how many seats are discounted.

-It’s important to remember that your member discount will be applied on the next screen.

-You will receive an email confirmation with a link to your tickets. Don’t forget to bring your ticket to the front desk when you arrive.

If you need some help or you aren’t too fond of computer, please give me a call at 410-732-6400! I am happy to walk you through how to do it online or make your reservation over the phone.

With your tickets reserved, you can rest easy knowing that there is a seat for you.


Postcard reads:

Hi Paige,

My three children are all budding magicians and are always surprising me with new tricks. It’s my turn to impress them and I need something that is going to be memorable for years to come. I saw that the JMM has a new exhibit opening on Sunday, June 24th about Harry Houdini. Can you help me to inspire and amaze my magicians-in-training? 

Illusion-less Mom

Dear IM,

On Sunday, June 24th the JMM is opening our newest exhibit, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, in a way that is sure to be memorable. Bring your budding magicians to see professional escape artist, Dai Andrews, who will recreate Houdini’s 1916 Baltimore escape from a strait jacket while suspended upside down from a 50-foot crane! Once you have amazed them, bring them inside the JMM for a first look at the exhibit that is guaranteed to be inspiration for magicians of all ages.

But that’s not all: Just like in baseball, the JMM has a double-header on Sunday, June 24th! Along with our special exhibit opening, you can celebrate Baltimore’s oldest neighborhood at the “The Magic of Jonestown” Festival. From 12:00pm to 4:00pm join together with our community’s cultural organizations and businesses to celebrate our shared heritage. This FREE event is perfect for families and friends of all ages.

Lloyd Street between Baltimore and Lombard Street will be closed to traffic and instead will be host to entertainment, craft activities, and giveaways. Along with the Jewish Museum of Maryland, you will find the National Aquarium, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, and many more. The event is free for all to attend, but don’t forget to register when you arrive for a chance to win some amazing door prizes!

Don’t miss out on the magic! I hope to see you there.


Postcard reads:


I’m a camp counsellor seeking creative, clever, and cool activities for my campers to do this summer. I want to amaze, astound, and awe the adolescents. Do you have any tricks you can pull out of your sleeve to help me?

Charismatic Counsellor

Hey Charismatic!

I have two words for you: Harry Houdini. Well I actually have eight words for you: Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini. There is no better way to wow your campers than by bringing them to our special exhibit opening on June 24th. They can be delighted by the magic and hands-on illusions the exhibit holds, while also learning about the man behind the performer.

Alternatively, let us bring the magic to your camp with Houdini’s Trunk, our newest living history performance. Your campers will be fascinated by this storytelling performance about Harry Houdini that uses magic to enhance the story.

Don’t let the fun be just for your campers, both the exhibit and performance are great for adult groups as well! Learn more here:

Call 443-873-5167 to book your group or schedule Houdini’s Trunk.


Postcard reads:

Salutations Paige, 

I volunteered to plan my book club’s summer reading list. June is just around the corner and I have the planning equivalent to writer’s block. Can you help me to impress my club with my selections?

Books & Babka Bibliophile


Hello Fellow Bibliophile,

I have just the remedy that is certain to win you brownie points with your group. Our upcoming programs for June and July are filled with a selection of talented authors speaking about their books. Take your book club to the next level and bring them to hear one (or all) of these talks. The JMM is even offering a discount to book clubs for these programs – no matter how big or small your group is! Call 443-873-5167 and reserve tickets for your group in advance to receive the discount.

Learn more about the programs, authors and books here:

Thursday, June 28th at 7:00pm – American Ambassador Alfred Moses will speak about Bucharest Diary: Romania’s Journey from Darkness to Light

-Sunday, July 1st at 1:00pm – David Jahr will speak about his first book The Witch of Lime Street. Followed by a book signing.

-Sunday, July 15th at 1:00pm – Author David Saltman will share discoveries he made while researching for his book Houdini Unbound: Espionage in Russia. There will be a book signing to follow.

-Sunday, July 29th at 1:00pm – Victoria Kelly will talk about her research into Bess Houdini for her novel Mrs. Houdini

I look forward to hearing your reviews and recommendations at the front desk!


Have a question for Paige? Send her a (digital) postcard at!

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A Slightly Belated Straw Hat Day Appreciation Post!

Posted on May 17th, 2018 by

Did you know, May 15th is Straw Hat Day?

Straw hat with black band made by the M.S. Levy Co. as a sample, n.d. The sample was sent to Harry Levinson in Indianapolis, in a brown cardboard box with internal components designed specifically for this hat and returned to the company at a later date. Gift of Ellen Levy Patz, JMM 1997.93.1a

Straw Hat Day is the traditional day to switch from felt hats to straw! You can read more about Straw Hat Day here (and about the Straw Hat Riot of 1922 here).

You should also check out this early blog post from JMM Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church on some of the fabulous straw hats in our collections.

If that’s not enough for you, we’ve got two great titles on the Levy family, Baltimore’s premier straw hat manufacturers, for sale at Esther’s Place!

The Levys were active in leadership and volunteer roles in the Baltimore Jewish community and leaders and innovators of Baltimore’s once-thriving straw hat industry. Each book is authored by a member of the Levy family, one by Alfred H. Moses and the other by Lester S. Levy.

Betsey and Michael Simon Levy. Gifts of Mrs. Lester S. Levy, JMM 1972.15.4-5.

Michael Simon Levy, the founder of M.S. Levy & Sons, was born March 11, 1836, in Mur-Goslin, Germany. Early on, after running away from his tailoring apprenticeship, Michael met up with his brother Ralph in Manchester, England who was manufacturing hats. Michael joined the business and learned the trade quickly, opening his own shop by the age of 20. It was in Manchester that he also met Betsy Jacobs, and they were married in March of 1856.

After losing everything in 1860 due to a bad speculative investment, Michael emigrated to the United States. His family soon joined him in New York before all heading to Baltimore in 1866, where the opportunities for work were brighter. Baltimore proved to be a welcoming new home for the Levys and their hat business. (See the Maryland Historical Society’s Introduction to “M.S. Levy and Sons Account Books, Records, 1884-1958, MS 1091″ for more info.)

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An Efficiency of Seal Presses

Posted on May 17th, 2018 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

There are arguments to be made in favor of collecting multiple iterations of an artifact.  Our focus here is history, not decorative arts, thus manufacturing techniques, stylistic development, and change over time are not as much our concern as is the story each individual artifact can tell about its creation, owners, and uses. But the opportunity to compare similar items can be useful to a history museum, allowing us to look at them across a broader spectrum, and to combine those individual elements into a larger context. Think of wedding gowns, for example, or sports trophies: On their own they can help us share a single story; shown as a group, they can illustrate the varying choices made by brides from different cultures, classes, or religions, or the shift in a community from one favored athletic activity to another.

Those might be obvious choices for ‘they’re-the-same-but-different’ artifacts, but I’ll offer another: the humble embossing or seal press.

What do you call a group of vintage office supplies like this – a herd? A flock? A flotilla? Then it came to me: of course, this is an efficiency of seal presses.

We recently accepted a seal press from the Jewish Convalescent & Nursing Home of Baltimore. By itself, it can serve as a material introduction to this long-standing institution. But that will have to wait for another blog post! For our purposes today, it has joined its friends. We have fifteen embossing presses in the collection, covering many decades and representing an impressive variety of social, religious, and charitable organizations, as well as businesses.

Back row, table-top presses, left to right:

-“Hebrew Education Society, Baltimore City, 1860 amended 1900.” Anonymous gift. JMM 1997.051.001

-“Jewish Convalescent & Nursing Home Society, Maryland, Incorporated Nov. 6, 1936.” Gift of Michael Moranz. JMM2018.018.001

-“Chevrah B’nai Abraham, Incorporated. Organized Jan. 25, 1916.” Gift of Lillian Sapperstein. JMM 1999.164.002

-“Tifereth Israel Congregation of Forest Park. Incorporated 1926. Maryland.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.007

-“Hebrew Orthodox Free Burial Society, Baltimore, Md.,” with the organization name in Hebrew in the center. Gift of Victor Resnick. JMM 2001.105.001

-“The Hebrew Ladies Free Loan and Charities of Baltimore, Md. Incorporated 1902.” Gift of Roslyn Tamres. JMM 2003.042.001

-“Twentieth Century Athletic and Literary Club, Organized Dec. 16, 1901. Incorporated Oct. 20, 1903.” Gift of Edwin B. Early. JMM 1991.161.001

-A long-reach press. “Grand Order Brith Shalom [sic] of Baltimore City, Incorporated Aug. 16, 1902.” Gift of Paul Miller for Brith Sholom. JMM 1995.209.021

Front row, hand-held or pocket presses, left to right:

-“Pickwick Cemeteries, Inc. Incorporated 1985.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.009

-“Ruth Kessler, Notary Public, Baltimore, Maryland.” Gift of the Kessler family. JMM 2005.055.002

-“Har Zion – Petach Tikvah – Tifereth Israel Cong. Maryland 1972.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.008

-“Petach Tikvah Congregation, Incorporated 1921.” Gift of Howard L. Cohn. JMM 1999.014.006

-“Rodfe Zadek [aka Rodfe Tzedek or Zedek] Congregation of Baltimore,” with the congregation name in Hebrew in the center. Gift of Ken Zajic for Rodfe Zedek Cemetery. JMM 1996.168.001

-“Anshe Beth Jacob Congregation, Maryland. Incorporated 1922.” Gift of Ruth Mandle. JMM 1982.014.003

-“Hebrew Friendship Cemetery Company of Baltimore City, Incorporated June 20, 1902.” Gift of The Associated. JMM 2015.003.001

So what is a seal press? Each of these, whether designed to sit on/attach to a table (the large, heavy, cast-iron presses in the back row) or to be held in the hand, contains a pair of metal die.  Slip a piece of paper between the die, press down the handle, and you end up with an embossed imprint of your desired text or image.

Samples of three of our seals, made for curator reference.

The incorporation dates of the organization do not necessarily mean that’s when the press was purchased, though it does provide a handy terminus post quem, the earliest date it could have been produced (i.e., it wasn’t made before the organization was incorporated).  It is also possible to change out the seal imprint, meaning an older press might hold a newer seal. However, other info can help us narrow down the dates during which a particular press was made, purchased, and used.  Several of the hand presses have patent dates, ranging from 1895 (the Rodfe Zadek Congregation press) to 1961 (Pickwick Cemeteries). None of the table-top presses have patent dates or maker’s marks, unfortunately, and like their smaller friends, this basic design was used from the 19th century well into the 20th. This example, from suburban DC, looks old-school but its seal dates it fairly specifically to the 1960s; similar tools were used as early as the 1780s.  In the case of these presses, the dates of the organization are our best bet for determining dates of use.

At least one Baltimore firm is known to have made the cast-iron presses; here’s an example by the Pearce F. Crowl Company of Baltimore, at the Museum of Vancouver.

This may be the same company (under a mis-read name or taken over by a relative?) as the Pearre E. Crowl Company, Engravers, Printers, Stationers and Rubber Stamps, found in the 1905 Baltimore directory.

The same directory includes several firms that could make the die for your press.

So what do these artifacts, as a group, tell us?  Several of the hand presses are the same brand, “Official Pocket Seal,” with successive patent numbers proudly stamped on the handles: the earliest example boasting the 1937 patent, with later presses adding patents from 1939, then 1953, then 1961.  That’s a nice little material culture comparison exercise right there.  Of more specific use to us, three of the seals – one table-top, two hand –  trace the merger of congregations: separate seals for Petach Tikvah (founded 1921) and Tifereth Israel Congregation of Forest Park (founded 1926), and a later seal for the now-combined Har Zion – Petach Tikvah -Tifereth Israel Congregation (founded 1972).

Even though the rest are not directly related to each other, altogether they provide an overview of the types of organizations and businesses that were important to Baltimore’s Jewish community: a sampling of the broader JMM collections, in one tidy batch.

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