A Tiny Piece of the Diamond City

The 1877 advertisement that was a chip off a diamond block

Diamond fields discovered in Brazil:
1725
Diamond-cutters’ union established:
November 18, 1894
Early 20th-century photo at a workstation in the Asscher Diamond Factory
Stadsarchief Amsterdam

A Tiny Piece of the Diamond City

The 1877 advertisement that was a chip off a diamond block

Diamond fields discovered in Brazil:
1725
Diamond-cutters’ union established:
November 18, 1894
Early 20th-century photo at a workstation in the Asscher Diamond Factory
Stadsarchief Amsterdam

A Tiny Piece of the Diamond City's Connection to this Location

Facade of Zeedijk 22, as seen from the street

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A Tiny Piece of the Diamond City

Like many of its neighbors, Zeedijk 22 has seen centuries of history. The building and its occupants remained largely unknown as the area went from a sailor’s port to a slum to an illicit nightlife center to a Nazi-occupied no-go-zone to the epicenter of a heroin epidemic to a tourist area. However, the address did pop up in a small 19th-century advertisement, one that told a story about Amsterdam’s Jewish community.

The Story

In the late 19th century, a Jewish metalworker named Vogel lived at this address. By itself, this isn’t noteworthy. By the 19th century, more than 40,000 Jewish people lived all over Amsterdam, about 12% of the population. However, the metalworker who lived here placed a small ad in the paper saying he could supply the tools needed for diamond cutting, which means he was important to many people’s jobs. You see, Amsterdam was known as the Diamond City, thanks in large part to its Jewish community.

In the last stop, we mentioned how Jewish people were kept out of most trades. This practice continued long after the actual guilds disappeared. While wealthy Jewish people were eventually able to gain (some) access to economic institutions, everyone else had to find jobs they weren’t barred from. One was cutting gemstones, a trade that boomed when 18th-century Amsterdam got a monopoly on importing Brazil’s newly discovered diamonds. In the 19th century, South Africa replaced Brazil as the main source of diamonds, but Amsterdam was still a hub.

Until the late 19th century, converting raw diamonds into polished stones was almost entirely done by Jewish workers. Men had two skilled roles, either cutting raw diamonds or shaping their facets. In other parts of Europe, women worked on lace or assembled matchbooks in between household chores to earn a little income from home. Jewish women in Amsterdam polished small unfaceted diamonds. Can you imagine if your boss gave you diamonds to take home?!

So, what happened when Christians entered the trade en masse in the late 19th century? Believe it or not, workers of both faiths joined together to go on strike for better conditions. They formed the ANDB, the first union in the Netherlands to include Jewish and Gentile people – and to include both sexes. The ANDB got the first eight-hour workday, built an education system, and created pensions and unemployment benefits for members. It was a model for the quality of life that Dutch people enjoy today.

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