This esrog box has been in our family for at least 75 years, but I have reason to believe that it is over 100 years old. On the bottom it is stamped “Louis Lamm Buchhandlung Berlin.” Can you give me an idea of what it is worth?
What you have is a fascinating piece, both in its rarity as an extant object and the stamped signature itself. I have only seen two other examples of your tin etrog box in 30 years! Both lacked any kind of makers mark or retail mark, which yours has. I had long assumed that your type of etrog box, decorated in an early-20th century style, must have been made in either America or Germany, as only these two countries manufactured tin-lithographed items featuring “modern” graphics for a Jewish audience. Thanks to your submission, this internal debate of mine has been settled. Louis Lamm ran an antiquarian Jewish bookstore in Berlin beginning in 1905, and later started his own Jewish publishing house; both of these businesses lasted until 1933, when he left Germany for the Netherlands, and he later re-opened his Jewish bookstore in that country. Unfortunately, he was rounded up during the German occupation of the Netherlands and eventually sent to Auschwitz, where he was murdered in 1943.
Because the other two etrog boxes I have seen lacked your Louis Lamm stamping, I do not believe that Lamm manufactured this box; rather he retailed it in his bookstore. I have handled other pieces of early 20th-century German Judaica made of various metals (including tin), where some examples lacked any kind of marking, and others had a signature of a retailer. There was an explosion of affordable Judaica in Germany following the conclusion of World War I, until about 1930. It is apparent your etrog box was made in Germany during this period, meaning the late 1910s or 1920s.
As to value, this is tricky, as when I assign a monetary amount for an appraisal, it is based on what I have seen other similar or identical examples realize at auction. To my knowledge, another example of your etrog box has never appeared at auction, certainly not in the last decade or two, so I have to make a “guesstimate.” First, the condition of your box is… not great. There is considerable wear to the graphics, which hurts its desirability to potential buyers. However, the stamping of the Star of David with chanukiah emblem of the Louis Lamm bookstore would be of great interest to historians, particularly curators of Jewish museums in Germany and the Netherlands.
So taking the factors of condition and historical interest into account, in a specialized auction of antique Judaica, I would assign an estimate of $500-$700, as I feel it would achieve at least $500 at auction, if not significantly more if the aforementioned right people were made aware of it being available.
By a remarkable coincidence, one of the other two examples of your etrog box that I have seen before is currently on display at the Bernard Museum of Judaica in Manhattan, as part of their wonderful exhibit “Etrog – The Wandering Fruit,” which will close on December 31. The etrog box identical to yours (except it lacks the Louis Lamm marking) that is shown there is in incredible mint condition, where the graphics appear brand new, as it likely was used only a handful or times or perhaps never at all.
Here is a family heirloom. This chanukiah was owned by my grandfather. I do not know how many generations it goes back; he died in Jerusalem in 1961. Supposedly he got it from one of his relatives. Our family had been in Israel since the 1820s; they came to Israel from Eastern Europe. Based on the nut on the back of the chanukiah, I think it is probably newer. Thanks.
Your family heirloom is from Poland. As you can see in one of the photos you sent me of the reverse side, there is a stamped hallmark that states “NORBLIN & CO. GALW. WARSZAWA.” “Warszawa” is the Polish spelling and pronunciation of Warsaw. “Norblin” was a firm that solely manufactured items made of brass that were then silver-plated. Finally, there is an old term for plating silver on metal: galvanization (today it is generally defined as plating zinc on iron or steel to prevent rusting). The Polish word for galvanization is galwanizacja, and here an abbreviation of galwanizacja is used: “Galw.”
Norblin, along with other firms in Warsaw such as Fraget and Henneberg, made all types of silver-plated brass Judaica for the enormous Jewish population of pre-war Poland, which in 1939 numbered 3,300,000 (only 10% of Polish Jewry, or 300,000, survived World War II). Your piece was made sometime between 1890 and 1915. Aside from the missing oil pitcher – you have the servant light, but there was a small oil pitcher that originally came with it as well – your chanukiah appears to be in wonderful condition, even retaining nearly all of the original silver-plating. (Don’t polish it, as that will remove the silvering. Just clean it with warm water and liquid soap.) The design on the backplate is bold and attractive: two large lions flanking a representation of the Temple Menorah, resting on claw feet.
Based on the condition and appealing style of the decorative elements, in today’s market your Chanukah menorah is worth $700-$900.
On a related topic, for all you Jewish Press readers who live in the tri-state area, a real treat is happening beginning on December 7 and lasting until December 13: These are the days that the offerings of the Judaica auction being held at Sotheby’s in Manhattan will be available for viewing by the public, with no admission fee, as this event is free. This year showcases the final remaining part of the immense collection of Judaica that was acquired by the late Abraham Halpern over a period of almost 50 years. If you want to see some remarkable, museum-worthy pieces of antique Judaica (some dating as early as the 17th century!) or some modern-made, opulent, dazzling creations made by skilled artisans in Israel, I highly recommend you make the time to stop by. You might even see me, hunched over an old spice box or kiddush cup, examining it with my magnifying loop. The address of Sotheby’s is 1334 York Avenue, New York, NY.
Wishing everyone a freilichin Chanukah, and keep emailing me at [email protected] for your Judaica questions – I can’t do this column without you!