Fifty to sixty pounds of chocolate

One of my favorite research books for True Pretenses was The Jews of Georgian England 1714–1830 by Todd Endelman. Check out this excerpt (which, by the way, gives a pretty clear demonstration of how what we would consider “bribes” were a normal and accepted part of Regency civic and political operations):


Because of the opposition of the great London merchants, the number of licensed Jewish brokers continued to be limited to twelve until 1830. Whenever one of the twelve Jewish brokers died or resigned, there was intense competition to obtain the vacated position. [Would this be a great plot for a romance or what?] This allowed the Lord Mayor, who had the right to nominate a successor, to exact a substantial fee from whomever he nominated. In 1815, for example, Moses Montefiore’s uncle paid £1,200 to obtain a broker’s medal for him[…]

At a meeting of the Court of Common Council in May 1830, Pellatt suggested that the Court increase the Lord Mayor’s allowance by £100 annually to compensate him for the loss of income that would result from abolishing the restriction on the number of Jewish brokers. Interestingly, he mentioned that he had discovered a precedent for such an increase. In 1782, the Lord Mayor had been granted an additional £50 a year for abandoning his right to an annual gift from the Spanish and Portugeuse Jews’ Synagogue[…] The records of the Sephardi congregation reveal that, from very early on, the Jewish community made an annual gift to the Lord Mayor. In 1671, it was a pipe of wine, costing £48; some years later it became the practice to present him with a purse containing fifty guineas; ultimately the money gift was replaced by a specially designed silver salver. (In 1679, the salver contained sweetmeats; in 1716, fifty to sixty pounds of chocolate.)

One such salver, in the collection of the Jewish Museum. “This lord mayor’s tray was fashioned by John Ruslen, a well-established English silversmith who had for twenty-eight years provided Jewish ritual objects for Bevis Marks. Aside from his five existing presentation salvers, records indicate commissions for a sanctuary lamp in 1682; a pair of Torah finials (rimmonim) in 1702; and the Hanukkah lamp of 1709, depicting Elijah and the ravens.” From

Offering bribes to powerful and arbitrary officials was, of course, the practice in every Jewish community in the premodern world. The Dutch and French Protestant communities in London also presented the Lord Mayor with an annual tribute—a pair of silver flagons—but they gave up this practice in 1739, when they considered it unnecessary. The Jews, on the other hand, continued to make an annual offering for another forty years.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.