David Latchman

Abraham Abraham of Liverpool: His Business and Family Continued

In my last blog, we discussed the scholarly instrument maker Abraham Abraham of Liverpool, who had claimed on his business card that the Duke of Wellington no less was his patron. Such an assertion, however, seems a bit odd. Why would the Iron Duke buy his telescope from a manufacturer in Liverpool, a city with which he had no obvious connection? In this blog, we explore why this may be …

One potential solution comes from the business card of Abraham’s father, Jacob Abraham of Bath and Cheltenham, which is also in my collection (illustrated).

Above: The business card of Abraham’s father, Jacob Abraham of Bath and Cheltenham (Image supplied by Prof. Latchman)

Jacob was an instrument-maker too and he lists both the Duke of Wellington and the Duke of Gloucester as his clients. Indeed, the Duke of Wellington is recorded in the Cheltenham Journal as making purchases from Jacob’s shop and since he had a house near Bath (where he reputedly kept a mistress), he could have popped out to visit the Bath shop. The Duke may have continued to patronize Jacob’s son or Abraham may simply have continued to claim his father’s client (the Duke of Gloucester having died in 1805).

Whatever the case, Jacob was clearly an instrument maker of great skill. As an example, I have a beautiful monocular spy glass (illustrated) as well as several other pieces labelled Abraham Bath. Instruments labelled Abraham of Cheltenham are much rarer.


Above and below: The beautiful monocular spy glass labelled Abraham Bath (Images supplied by Prof. Latchman)

Indeed, a specialist dealer told me that he had never encountered a piece labelled Abraham Cheltenham, and the Cheltenham premises must have been just a shop selling the Bath instruments. This dealer was surprised when I showed him the beautiful rosewood barometer in my collection labelled Abraham Cheltenham (illustrated).


Above: A decorative, carved rosewood barometer labelled “Abraham Cheltenham”(Image supplied by Prof. Latchman)

Jacob and Abraham were not the only distinguished members of the Abraham family. In 1828, the fourteen-year-old, John Simon, travelled from his birthplace in Jamaica to live with his relative Abraham Abraham. Our instrument maker took care of his relative’s education, arranging tutors and presenting him with a Bible (illustrated), which I proudly have within my collection too.

Above: The Bible gifted by Abraham Abraham to John Simon (Image supplied by Prof. Latchman)

John’s education went so well that the boy became a distinguished lawyer and one of the first Jewish MPs. He was even knighted. He must have cherished the Bible as it contains a note by his son (illustrated) indicating that his father used it whenever he had to swear on a Bible, including when he first became an MP and on his subsequent re-elections.

Above: The inside inscription by John Simon’s son, mentioning that his father used it whenever he had to swear on a Bible, including when he first became an MP (Image supplied by Prof. Latchman)

So, with Abraham’s clients including members of the Royal family and the House of Lords and boasting of a relative in the House of Commons, this is yet another piece of history that draws us a long way from the image of the Jewish peddler and his knickknacks.

About the Author
Professor David Latchman, CBE, is a leading UK academic, author, and philanthropist, and currently holds the position of Vice-Chancellor of Birkbeck University of London, having led the university since 2003. Latchman holds First-class Honours in Natural Sciences, a MA, and a PhD, and has completed a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at Imperial College London. He also has a DSc (higher doctorate) from the University of London.
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