This scroll represents the type called Gaster I (for explanation, see "Additional Remarks"), lavishly decorated megillot produced in a mixture of print and manuscript techniques: the decorative border is printed as a copper engraving and colored by hand, while the Hebrew text of the Book of Esther is penned by a scribe. The opening section is filled with a rich, precisely rendered, decoration of tendrils, flowers, and animals that surround a cartouche. The upper and lower margins are adorned with a pattern of repeating endless knot motifs alternating between 20 cartouches, each of which depicts between one and three scenes of the Book of Esther; In this scroll, the background behind them is left colorless. The ten text panels, in which nineteen text columns are included, are separated by stylized floral ornamentation. The same scheme repeats on all three sheets of this scroll. The pattern ends with a symmetrical decoration composed of large flowers and foliate ornaments surrounding a cartouche.
The right edge of the first sheet of this scroll has been trimmed, and the scroll is rolled on a wooden roller that is not stitched to it.
The length of the sheets in the scroll: 1) ca. 530 mm, 2) ca. 520 mm, 3) ca. 540 mm (the sheets are wavy, and they cannot be measured precisely).
Dimensions of the selected details in the scroll:
- the print: 165 mm (height);
- floral decorations between the panels: 91x32 mm;
- upper and lower margins: 32 mm;
- cartouche with illustration(s): 97 mm (width);
- an average letter: higher than 1 mm;
- the letters in col. 16: 4 mm (height).
The roller: ca. 345 mm (height).
In general, the scroll is very well preserved - the membranes are in very good condition and the printed border is intact.
The text is relatively well preserved. On the first sheet of the scroll, the text is preserved in the best condition and it contrasts very strongly with the text on the second sheet that is preserved in worse condition than in other places (the second layer of ink is visible here and its shade is different). Some parts of the text are erased.
A part of the roller is damaged.
The scroll is formed of 3 sheets containing 19 columns of the text with 22 lines, except for col. 16 with 11 lines divided into two parts.
The number of text columns per sheet: no. 1 – 6, no. 2 – 8 columns, no. 3 - 5.
The text is inscribed in Hebrew square Italian script with tagin, in dark brown (almost black) ink on the flesh side of the parchment membranes, which are stiff and bright.
The thickness of the sheets varies – the thinnest is the last sheet in the scroll. Both sides of the membranes are different – the blank side is rather yellow and very smooth.
The letter ח (Es. 1:6) is highlighted by its form - it contains two elements joined with a roof; a few other letters ח are inscribed in the same way in the scroll. The letter ת (Es. 9:29) is enlarged and bolded. Other enlarged and diminished letters are included in col. 16. Additionally, in col. 16 two words – איש and עשרת – are smaller than all other words in the column.
Some words that were omitted by a scribe are added above the lines of the text.
The ruling – horizontal and vertical lines - is made with a hardpoint, only inside the text panels. The lines are well visible on the blank sides of the sheets.
The pricking on the third sheet is visible.
The membranes in the scroll are stitched together.
The name "Gaster I" was introduced by Mendel Metzger in his article entitled "The Earliest Engraved Italian Megilloth" (see "Bibliography"). The type was named after Moses Gaster (1856–1939), the rabbi, scholar, and manuscript collector, who owned a scroll adorned with this pattern (at present this is the scroll Gaster Hebrew MS 710 stored in the John Rylands Library in Manchester - ID 36150). At least 25 manuscripts representing this type are still extant and are preserved in private and institutional collections. For their descriptions see "Related objects".
The pattern features a number of decorative elements common with the scrolls of Klagsbald type.
Some details in the scroll – a part of endless knot ornaments and decorative belts along with the sheets - have have been originally painted gold; at present, the paint is not preserved. The number "add. 1013" is inscribed above the first endless knot motif in the upper margin. The library’s stamp on the blank side of the sheet is visible.
According to Reif (see "Bibliography"): "Bought in 1873 from Fischl Hirsh."
Bibliography concerning the scroll from the Cambridge University Library:
Stefan C. Reif, Hebrew Manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, Cambridge 1997, 52.
Selected bibliography concerning other scrolls decorated with the same border:
Mendel Metzger, The Earliest Engraved Italian Megilloth, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 1966, 48/2, 381–432.
Cornelia Bodea, Treasures of Jewish Art. The 1673 Illuminated Scroll of Esther Offered to a Romanian Hierarch, Iaşi–Oxford–Palm Beach–Portland 2002.
A Journey through Jewish Worlds: Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books, eds. Evelyn M. Cohen, Emile Schrijver, Sharon Liberman Mintz, Amsterdam 2009, 240-241.
Schöne Seiten. Jüdische Schriftkultur aus der Braginsky Collection, eds. Emile Schrijver, Falk Wiesemann, Evelyn M. Cohen, Sharon Liberman Mintz, Menahem Schmeltzer, Zurich 2011, 262-263.
Dagmara Budzioch, The Decorated Esther Scrolls from the Museum of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the Tradition of Megillot Esther Decoration in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries – An Outline [Polish: Dekorowane zwoje Estery z Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Warszawie na tle tradycji dekorowania megilot Ester w XVII i XVIII wieku. Zarys problematyki], Warsaw 2019, 1:99-119, 2:64-69.
Dagmara Budzioch, "An Illustrated Scroll of Esther from the Collection of the Jewish Historical Institute as an Example of the Gaster I Megilloth," Kwartalnik Historii Żydów 2013, no. 3 (247), 533–547.