Of the many gable stones found in Amsterdam, the Golden Hand stands out, at least as far as our “mystical” pursuits go. In addition to the straightforward symbolism of wealth and material well-being, the hand also has profound alchemical connotations.
As was just mentioned, most citizens used the golden hand to symbolize the wealth being accumulated, just like in the picture above, where the Golden Hand marks a former pakhuis (a Dutch warehouse), where the goods were stored.
Others used the hand as a pun on their names. The Hansma’s were a brewery family, who practiced the profession for almost 200 years. The name Hansma, also written as Hantsma, would also explain why they opted for a hand in the production of the gable stone.
It could also be used to signify the ‘golden hands’ of a particular craftsman, or to commemorate your dear ones, as in the example of this next gable stone, where the palm is used for the initials of the family members and the loved ones.
But we also shouldn’t forget about Amsterdam’s Alchemists, for whom the golden hand had a very special meaning too.
Johann Isaac Hollandus was a Flemish alchemist of the 16 and 17 centuries. He produced various manuscripts on alchemy, one of which was on the topic of ‘the golden hand’, also known as the Hand of the Philosophers, the Hand of the Mysteries, or the Hand of the Master Mason.
The first printed edition of Hollandus’ “the Philosopher’s Hand” appeared in 1677 in German. Before that, however, and in fact even much later into the 19 and even 20 centuries alchemists continued to hand copy alchemical works when the printing press was long available. It remains somewhat of a puzzle why they did so, but it sure adds another layer to the deep symbolism of the Golden Hand, for it is golden not only because the alchemist strove to transmute lead into gold, but also because the hand was used to preserve the secret knowledge. Perhaps, some even thought that the diligent copying of the manuscript by hand made the secret knowledge more accessible to the one copying it. However, most likely, it had to do with secrecy and the attempt to conceal the secrets of the craft from competitors.
As put by Hollandus himself: “This is the Hand of the Philosophers with their dear secret signs, with which the old sages united with each other and took secret oaths. Nobody can understand this hand with its secret signs, unless he becomes first a juror of the philosophers, (one who swore loyalty to a philosopher), and has loyally served them in the Art Alchemia.”
And as such the hand holds the keys to divinity, and is used as a secret sign of an alchemist’s oath, but also as an invitation to discover the ‘great secrets.’