An Obituary to Arnold Spaer

March 17, 2011 – Arnold Spaer a renowned collector of ancient coins passed away in Jerusalem on Friday March 4, 2011. Haim Gitler has send us his biography, which was written by Dan Barag and Boaz Zissu and appeared first in INJ 17, which was dedicated in honor of Arnold Spaer.

Arnold was born to Mark and Ada Spaer in the Free State of Danzig on March 28, 1919. In 1933 the local Nazi party achieved dominance in the city government and demanded the return of Danzig to Germany. This development convinced many Jewish families to leave the city. The Spaer family arrived in Tel Aviv in 1934, and young Arnold enrolled in the Ben-Yehuda Gymnasium. In 1937 he started to study law at the Government School of Law in Jerusalem. While still a student, he began an internship in the office of Bernard (Dov) Joseph, later a prominent statesman and minister. Spaer settled in Jerusalem, which has been his permanent home ever since.

Arnold Spaer. Photo by Danny Spaer.

During World War II Spaer joined the British war effort. Inter alia, he served as a VCO (Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer) with the Second Indian Division and traveled around the Middle East to work on censorship. He served in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and Tripoli (Libya).
In 1944 he was called to the Bar, and from that year on he practiced law, enjoying a long, successful career as a lawyer that continued almost to his last day. At the age of 92 Spaer still worked daily in his office.
During Israel’s War of Independence he served as an officer and lawyer, assisting Dov Joseph, who was then the military governor of besieged Jerusalem.

Arnold developed a zeal for collecting from an early age, starting with postage stamps – an excellent tool for the study of geography. His first acquisition of ancient coins, at the age of eight, consisted of three late bronze issues of Constantine, apparently discovered in a hoard in the Danzig area.
While he was a student in Jerusalem, he continued to buy coins and eventually became particularly interested in Seleucid and Crusader coinage. The Seleucids and their monetary system, especially in the Middle East, form the basis for his long association with this field. Judicious buying over a period of more than five decades resulted in a major collection of coins from Seleucus I (312-280 BCE) to Antiochus XIII (66/5-64 BCE). His first Seleucid coin was a silver tetradrachm, bought in 1940 on the erroneous assumption that it was of Alexander the Great. It was this coin that turned his attention to Seleucid coinage.

“At that time I was an articled clerk in a law office,” said Arnold. “To get to work I had to pass by Steimatzky’s book shop in downtown Jerusalem four times a day. Outside this shop sat an elderly bearded gentleman on a wooden orange crate. His official occupation was the sale of small Hebrew pocket diaries for about one penny each. He used to wear two waistcoats beneath a black frock-coat, as was the custom of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. In each of the eight pockets of the waistcoats he kept ancient coins of all types and the implements to clean them (a screw and some sand). During each of my first three daily passings, we negotiated about the possible acquisition of coins. At the time it was quite customary to bargain for a fortnight about whether a Roman denarius should cost an English shilling, or perhaps 13 pence. His coins came mainly from Arab peasants living around Jerusalem, and quite frequently he would buy hoards of coins of all periods.”

Arnold purchased his coins on the local market, mainly in Jerusalem, but at times in Turkey, Central Europe and elsewhere. He indexed them all meticulously on cards, with information on their source of acquisition and provenance, when available. His collection includes more than ten thousand ancient coins.

Arnold Spaer’s most important contribution to numismatics is the publication of his collection of Seleucid coins. A long, friendly association with Arthur Houghton, a leading authority in this scholarly field, led to the publication of The Arnold Spaer Collection of Seleucid Coins (London, 1998). This fascinating 389-page volume, displaying 2919 coins on 189 plates of excellent photographs by Zeev Radovan, is a work of lasting value for scholars as well as collectors. The book presents Seleucid coinage in general, with great detail about minting and circulation in ancient Palestine, southern Phoenicia and Syria. It is thus a useful research tool in the field of Seleucid coinage.

In the introduction, Arthur Houghton describes the collection as “more than a dry catalogue of Seleucid coins. It benefits from, but corrects and extends, research on Seleucid numismatics of the past half-century, in a manner that gives reasonable certainty to the attribution of most coins in the collection, including, because of Arnold Spaer’s meticulous notes, most of the unknowns” (p. 5).

Arnold Spaer in 2010. Photo by Boaz Ziss.

Arnold Spaer’s numismatic collection and interests expanded into ancient Phoenicia, Samarian coinage and the Crusader series. In addition, he assembled a collection of antiquities, including fine glass vessels, ossuaries, and early pottery.

Arnold was a member of the boards of the Hecht Museum in Haifa and the L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem.
After the sudden death of Leo Kadman during the opening of the International Numismatic Convention on December 27, 1963, Arnold Spaer was instrumental in bringing about the publication of volume 3 of INJ (1965/6); he was also involved in the resumption of the series in 1980 and continued to be of assistance to the Journal.

Arnold is survived by his wife Maud Spaer, a renowned scholar in the area of ancient glass and author of Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum: Beads and Other Small Objects (Jerusalem, 2001); by three sons (Michael, Daniel and Uri) and nine grandchildren.

The text was written by Dan Barag and Boaz Zissu and appeared in INJ 17, which was dedicated in honour of Arnold Spaer.

The Israel Numismatic Society would like to honor one of its senior members, Arnold Spaer by creating a grant to promote research in the study of coins of ancient Israel and the Levant. If you want to know more about it, click here.