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Fragment of the Book of Numbers, in Hebrew, recycled as the binding of a notarial register. ADBR 351 E 155 (tous droits réservés)

On January 29, 1295, Hugues des Voisins, seneschal of Provence, ordered the mayor of Aix to seize the goods belonging to the town's Jewish households. Criers descended upon their homes to seal chests and doors so that their targets could not move or hide their possessions. Four days later, two notaries, Jean Canavier and Raymond Étienne, entered the homes of about two dozen Jewish households to draw up inventories of their possessions. These inventories are precious windows into the homes of Jewish families, both rich and poor, in late-medieval Aix. Most households and their objects were perfectly legible to the notaries who could easily assess the value of a bed, a carafe of wine, or a vibrant silk gown. But a small bedside chest belonging to a man named Garssanus confounded Jean Canavier, Raymond Étienne, and their superiors.

On the ground floor of his home, Garssanus's goods were exceedingly ordinary. He had three beds and a mattress, some wine and some flour, and a small chest remarkable only for the worthlessness of its contents. As he moved upstairs, the bored notary noticed a single bed and a chest, which he opened just as a matter of course. One can imagine the notary's surprise when he found that the coffer was full of quires of Hebrew books (quaterni librorum judaycorum), waiting to be assembled, resting upon five finished libri judayci. Although Hebrew books do (rarely) appear in the inventories of his neighbors in Aix-en-Provence, Garssanus's household is the only to contain quaterni - quires of folios probably meant to be assembled into a book.

Garssanus's books seem to have confused the notaries and their superiors, who found themselves at a loss when estimating the household's value. Despite their ignorance of the content of the books, the notaries thought that based on the support used, the script, the mise-en-page, and that Garssanus kept them in a chest next to where he slept, the books might be somewhat valuable. To confirm this suspicion, however, Jean and Raymond needed someone who could open the books and read them.

Nearly six months later, Salvetus de Castello and Vivas de Randia, two local Jewish men who presumably could read Hebrew, estimated the household's value at four livres and five shillings. The three beds, a few scattered storage containers, a table, and kneading-trough probably comprised the bulk of the household's meager value, suggesting that Garssanus's chest of Jewish books and books-in-progress were worth practically nothing. Like Jean Canavier and Raymond Étienne, we do not know the contents of the book or what made them worth so little, but the inventory does remind us that we should not judge the value of a book by its cover.