Manuscript, single leaf folio (66 x 52 cm / 26 x 20.5 inches): pen and ink and watercolour, heightened in metallic hues, on light card (Very Good, resplendent colours, overall lovely, just some light toning, minor specks of discoloration and a very small closed tear lower-left).
This unique and extremely well-executed, large format manuscript is a certificate made to honour Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the modern German state, especially commissioned by the Der Deutche Verein (The German Society) of San Francisco, California, and drafted by the Austrian Jewish calligraphic artist and renown forensic handwriting expert, Carl Eisenschimel. The certificate honours the retired German chancellor with its felicitations and confers upon him honourary membership in the Verein. At that time, Bismarck was by far and away the most internationally known and revered German figure, considered by many to be one the most successful political and military leader of the 19th Century.
The sumptuous Victorian-style composition features a border that, upon close examination, reveals itself to be largely composed of free style penmanship, an astoundingly difficult artistic feat, revealing Eisenschimel’s rare mastery of the calligraphic arts. The borders are elaborately coloured and heightened with metallic pigments, featuring the graceful figure of a German lady amidst Cherry blossoms. Masterly calligraphic text dominates the centre of the composition, along with the Bismarck coat of arms. Carl Eisenschimel’s signature appears in the middle of the lower blank margin.
The text of the manuscript reads:
Der Deutsche Verein in San Francisco, Californien, giebt seiner Verehrung und Dankbarkeit für den Schöpfer deutscher Grösse und Einheit bescheidenen Ausdruck, in dem er gestattet Seine Durchlaucht den Fürsten Bismarck zu seinem Ehren Mitgliede zu erwählen.
The German Society in San Francisco, California, expresses its reverence and gratitude to the Creator of German Greatness and Unity, in which it elects His Highness Prince Bismarck to be an honorary member.
Below, the certificate is signed by the Verein’s president, Dr. C. M. Richter und its secretary, H. Daseking, and is dated August 15, 1893.
The present manuscript was duly sent to Germany and presented to Bismarck, likely by way of the German diplomatic corps. It remained in the possession of the Bismarck family until the spring of 2017.
Otto von Bismarck: The ‘Iron Chancellor’
Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898) was perhaps the most consequential and successful leader of the 19
Century, and the founder of the modern German state. He was born into an affluent Junker (landed noble) family at their seat of Schönhausen Castle (Elbe), in Prussian Saxony. He originally planned to join the Prussian diplomatic corps, but was expelled from his training programme after mysteriously vanishing for some weeks to pursue two wealthy English women. After a brief career in the military, he returned to run his family estate at Schönhausen.
Bismarck became involved in politics in 1847, serving in the Prussian legislature and later as that country’s ambassador to St. Petersburg and Paris. He became fluent in many languages and was viewed an eccentric, although extremely charming and clever diplomat.
In 1862, King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck to the dual roles of Minter President (Prime Minster) and Foreign Minister of Prussia. Epitomized by his famous ‘Blood and Iron Speech’ of September 30, 1862, Bismarck outlined a forceful agenda for his nation that would see it radically expand it military muscle at the expense of its neighbours (both German and foreign), while seeking to join the great powers of Europe.
Bismarck deftly led successful wars against Denmark (1864), taking Schleswig-Holstein; and Austria (1866), asserting Prussia’s mastery over the German-speaking world. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1), he humiliated the legions of Napoleon III, conquering Alsace-Lorraine.
In 1871, after the stunning show of force in France, Bismarck managed to intimidate and cajole the other German states in joining an untied German Empire, dominated by Prussia, with its capital in Berlin. Bismarck, appointed Chancellor of the new empire, and elevated to the title of Prince, then proceeded to cleverly manipulate Continental European affairs to the advantage of Germany, while preventing warfare from occurring Western and Central Europe. Germany also enjoyed rapid industrialization and economic growth, becoming the third largest economy in the world. Bismarck’s also oversaw the creation of the world’s first social welfare state.
However, the ascension of the Emperor Wilhelm II (reigned 1888 - 1918) saw the end of Bismarck’s dominance of German affairs. The young emperor was inarguably a mental pygmy and psychologically unfit for leadership. He believed that the old Bismarck’s agenda for Germany was to too cautious; rather he wanted Germany to immediately attain global power and prestige, even if risked war with the likes of Britain and Russia. Wilhelm forced Bismarck’s resignation in 1890, launching the country on a disastrous course towards World War I.
While Bismarck untied Germany and initially dominated its neighbours by force, he was always aware of his nation’s limitations. He was carful to ensure that Germany patched up relations with its former adversaries and was cautious to avoid conflict with behemoths such as Russia and Britain.
In 1897, shortly before his death, he warned Wilhelm that “Jena [Prussian’s complete defeat by Napoleon] came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great; the crash [of modern Germany] will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this”. True to his prediction, Germany was defeated in World War I, twenty years after Bismarck’s death!
In spite of his removal from power, Bismarck spent his retirement at Friedrichsruh, near Hamburg, as an internationally revered elder statesman and by far and way the world’s mort respected German. It was thus fitting that Der Deutche Verein of San Francisco wished to honour him as it did with the present manuscript tribute.
The Deutsche Verein of San Francisco
The present manuscript was commissioned by the Der Deutsche Verein of San Francisco, an extremely influential cultural organization in the city, from its founding, shortly after the Gold Rush, until World War I. The society’s role was to promote German culture, maintain contacts with the old country and to assist new immigrants in adapting to their new city. The organization was well funded and high profile, as San Francisco was home to thousands of German immigrants, a community that included many of the city’s leading citizens, including Levi Strauss and Adolph Sutro.
The Verein maintained its prominence until World War I, when it became less popular for obvious reasons. While the society’s fortunes revived somewhat in the 1920s, it, once again, fell out of fashion upon the Nazi takeover of Germany, as many of the Verein’s members were Jewish, and naturally sought to distance themselves from the organization. Moreover, by this time the complete assimilation of Americans of German origin into the broader community lessened the need and enthusiasm for such an ethno-national association.
The Artist: Carl Eisenschimel
Carl Eisenschimel (1846 - 1932), the artist who so skilfully executed the present manuscript, was born in Mladá Boleslav, Bohemia (now Czech Republic) to a Jewish family. He trained as an artist in Vienna before immigrating to the United States. He appears in the 1877 San Francisco Directory as a “teacher of penmanship” living at 208 Van Ness Avenue.
Eisenschimel initially made his career as a drawing and handwriting instructor, but by the late 1880s had established a lucrative profession as the Bay Area’s leading forensic handwriting expert. He was paid large sums, usually by the prosecution, to give expert testimony in wide variety of often high profile trials. In many cases, Eisenschimmel’s testimony was decisive to the verdict. He billed him self as a ‘Professor of Handwriting’ and taught forensic handwriting analysis to many pupils who later became California’s leading experts in the field.
However, Eienschmel’s true passion was calligraphic art, and he frequently executed commissions to create unique manuscript certificates and portfolios honouring important San Franciscans upon their attainment of life milestones, such as their retirement from key posts. A small number of these manuscripts have appeared on the market in San Francisco over the years.
The present certificate honouring Otto von Bismarck is certainly one of Eisenschimel’s finest works, executed for his most important subject. That being said, it is a touch ironic that an artist from Bohemia executed such a commission, as Bismarck’s Prussia memorably invaded that region in 1866!
The present manuscript hails from the estate of Otto von Bismarck and was, until recently, preserved in the family’s seat of Schönhausen Castle (Elbe), just west of Berlin. It was part of a collection of Bismarck’s fine manuscripts, books and albums sold by the current Prince of Bismarck, in May 2017.