Prayer Shawl Collar (Atarah)

This is an example of shpanyer arbet, a type of bobbin lace using metallic thread.

Unknown Maker

The origin of the name shpanyer is unknown. Some sources derive it from the Yiddish verb shpinen (to spin); others derive it from the word Shapien (Spain), presuming that the craft was brought to Poland by Spanish Jews following their expulsion. Another possibility is that it relates to a type of lace made with metal thread that was popular in Spain during the 17 and 18th centuries. These were known as point d’Espagne.

Shpanyer arbet was produced on a special-purpose device. Curved braids of silver tinsel braided cotton were sewn together to fill the whole area with dense, complex designs. One unique feature of the craft was that the silver tinsel was braided with cotton cord while the article itself was being made; the craftsman would make a portion of cord and immediately curve it into the desired pattern.

The technique was used to produce elaborate yarmulkes, women’s head coverings and women’s bodice pieces (brustikher). But the objects made in largest quantity were atarot, decorated neckbands for prayer shawls (tallitot). The craft was introduced to Sasów, a town in Eastern Galicia in 1830 by a youth named Mordechai Leib Margulies, who had fled Baerdichev to escape induction into the Russian army. Margulies began to produce atarot immediately and in time established a workshop. At its peak, from 1860-1890, his workshop employed some 180 craftsmen (the work was done by men only). Sources describing shpanyer work mention several common patterns that include “liskes” (fish scales), “eye,” “heart,” “jar” and “three snakes.” Some hasidic groups also favored particular designs such as the “head” pattern among Belz Hasidim. Zionists would commonly commission “Star of David” patterns. By the 1930’s the industry had declined owing to local disputes and mismanagement along with a difficulty in procuring silver thread. Furthermore, widespread secularization brought about a decrease in demand.
Though there were probably earlier antecedents, as far as we know, Sasów was the sole center of the shpanyer industry in the 19th-20th century. Sasów-made shpanyer was bought by Jews from allover Poland, Russia, Austro-Hungary and even the United States.

Stylized floral motifs, such as this rosette pattern, were the most common.

Name: Prayer Shawl Collar (Atarah)
Artist: Unknown Maker
Origin: Sasów, Eastern Galicia, 19th or 20th century
Medium: Metalwork, Textile
Dimensions: 36 in.x 4 1/2 in.
Credit: Gift of Georgette Grosz Spertus from the Maurice Spertus Collection
Catalog Number: 69.1.367