It may not look like much on the outside, but this antique dealer has an extensive specialty and an even more interesting past. It’s one of sixteen Amsterdam businesses designated Hofleverancier, or Purveyor to the Court. For almost 200 years, this business has specialized in jewelry, eventually adding antiques and works of art as well. As a member of the Koninklijke VHOK, the Royal Association of Traders in Ancient Art, Premsela & Hamburger appraises valuables, as well as fixing them and trading in them. Meanwhile, its history tells the story of Amsterdam’s Jewish community.
Sometime before 1811, a Jewish family made their way west. Given the name they chose upon registering in Amsterdam, it’s likely that they were coming from an area near the borders of modern-day Poland and Ukraine. (Premsela was a Dutchification of the name of the town of Przemyśl.) Shortly before the births of their son and daughter, their homeland had been annexed by the Russian Empire as part of the Partitions of Poland. In addition to destabilizing their society, the Partitions hurt the legal standing of Jewish people and ultimately resulted in increased violence towards Jewish communities.
In 1823, their son Jacob Meijer Premsela founded a gem-grinding business with an Amsterdammer named Jacob Hamburger. The following year, Jacob Meijer married Pauline, a descendent of one of the first Ashkenazi Jewish groups to arrive in Amsterdam all the way back in 1639. Their son Meijer took over the thriving business and refined it, adding jewelry, gold and silver works to the grinding.
Meijer’s work was so appreciated that he showed his wares to the crown prince, and the queen made Premsela & Hamburger official gemstone cutters to the court. Meijer’s two eldest sons continued the business, but he also had several notable descendants. His son Sem was a doctor who volunteered every day to care for Jewish invalids. Two of Meijer’s grandsons were also noted doctors. One moved to Jerusalem in 1939 and wrote about Dutch Jewish life under the name Perath. The other, Bernard, was founding director of the Aletta Jacobs House, promoting healthy sexual practices and birth control. Bernard was also the father of renowned designer Benno Premsela.
The violence the family had fled so long ago returned when the Nazis invaded. Throughout the first part of the invasion, the family smuggled away cash and goods, hoping to save some of the stock. The eldest daughter, Jenny, was a certified goldsmith who escaped with her husband to Switzerland in 1942. They went through occupied Belgium and France with the help a “passeur”, someone who smuggled people. When she returned after the war, she discovered that her family had been killed and the business had been looted. She had to file a lawsuit to get her own building back. Her son Wiet now runs the business, the sixth generation to do so.
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