Dear Jewish Press readers,
Welcome to the world of Judaica. As most of you know, the field can cover many things. But in the context of this column we are going to deal with the collecting aspect. Why do people collect Judaica?
The answers vary but include nostalgia, history, culture, and perhaps a spiritual enrichment at play when we look at the dedication of our ancestors in beautifying our synagogue service and our “minhagim” at home.
Collecting Jewish antiques entails a bit of dedication as well, as there are many different categories of art that we have to deal with.
The largest and most collected are the Jewish ritual objects, both for the synagogue and for the home. Antique ritual objects for the synagogue are the magnificent Torah crowns and Rimonim (finials), Tassim (breastplates), Yadim (pointers), Parochets (Torah Ark curtains), mantles for the Torah and numerous other synagogue decorations like Mizrachs and Shevitis.
For the home of course we have the Chanukah Lamps, Menorahs, Kiddush cups, Havdallah candleholders, etc. There are also many handmade textiles, such as challah or matzah covers and wimples for the new born (part of the Yekkie tradition).
Gentile silversmiths made the silver objects from Central and Eastern Europe and most of Italy since Jewish craftsmen were excluded from the very powerful craft guilds from the early Middle Ages. The exception was in engraving which was permitted to them (paradoxically), thus we now have the beautifully hand-engraved Hebrew texts on our ritual objects. The German, Austrian and Italian masters who made some of the most magnificent Torah crowns, breastplates and spice containers, are known to us by name – such as the Mitnachts in Augsburg who dedicated themselves to active Jewish trade through three generations of silversmiths in the 18th century, or the Sandrats and Shullers in Frankfurt beginning in the 17th century. Objects by these masters do come up on the market occasionally.
We also have fantastic silver creations from Poland, the Ukraine and Russia, but the names of those artists are mostly lost to us.
And then we have collectors of illustrated and illuminated manuscripts in the form of Haggadot or Megillot, Mizrachs and Shevitis, Omer calendars, etc. The masters of Haggadot such as the Leipnic in the 18th century are well known to us and a Haggadah by such masters today would fetch anywhere between $300,000 to $500,000 dollars.
The artists who created some of the most beautiful illuminated Megillot are also known: Shalom d’Italia from Amsterdam, the creator of the first engraved (woodcut) Ketubah, also created a magnificent Megilla in the 17th century. An extraordinary, beautifully illuminated Megilla (17th century from Northern Italy) from the M. Steinhardt collection was sold at Sotheby’s in April 2013 for over $600,000.