Objects Tell Stories: “Chrismukkah” in the Jewish Museum Collection

Cigar Box belonging to Sigmund Freud, Vienna (Austria), 1903

As Hannukah begins on the same day as Christmas Eve this year (December 24), it seemed like an especially pertinent time to explore one of the many treasures found in the Jewish Museum collection: Sigmund Freud’s sterling silver cigar box.

Inscribed with “Christmas 1903” and possibly a gift from a patient during the holiday season, it is one of many unexpected treasures in our collection which provokes discussion.  According to his daughter Anna, herself a brilliant psychoanalyst, Freud always kept the cigar box on his desk. Whatever the small silver box has witnessed, it is certain this object lays claim on the phrase: sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar.

Maira Kalman, Freud, 2009

The box likely originated in Vienna—the city Freud called home for much of his life, and the birthplace of psychoanalysis—and found its way to the Jewish Museum in 1985 as an anonymous gift. Freud was born in what was then Austria in 1856 and passed away in London in 1939, having fled from the Nazi regime as it began to darken Europe. Certainly no stranger to the complexities of living as a Jewish person in a Christian society, Freud became a symbol for many of the assimilated modern Jews who embraced the contradictions of modernity.

The cigar box is not the only art object in our collection exploring Freud’s iconic status. Artists from Andy Warhol to Maira Kalman have depicted Freud in portraits, and he was the subject of our 1999 exhibition Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture.

Celebrating Freud’s legacy as the Jewish festival of lights overlaps with one of Christianity’s holiest days dovetails nicely in the subconscious. The inherent contradiction of this singular object seems uniquely appropriate for celebrating the holidays coinciding. His work as one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, exploring a vast landscape of ideas from human sexuality to religion and culture, marked itself as indelible to the formation of modern consciousness and what the human experience means for people from all faiths and backgrounds.

— Ruth Andrew Ellenson, Editorial Brand Manager