Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I was wondering what information you might know about this menorah. My wife was given this by her father, and he isn’t quite sure where his family got it from – whether it is from Czechoslovakia or elsewhere. Any information would be great.

Avi Katz
Brooklyn

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Dear Avi,

Your handsome, moving chanukiah is most certainly not from Czechoslovakia. It was made in Israel in the 1950’s by a company called Nordia. On the left, an ancient soldier of Israel stands watch over the city of Jerusalem, a spear in his right hand and a shield with a Star of David slung over his shoulder. In the center, the towering, elderly bearded figure with his arm outstretched is Matityahu, leading his sons in revolt, some of whom are seen below him. On the right, a modern day soldier of Israel stands watch over the city of Jerusalem, a rifle slung over his shoulder and the flag of the State of Israel flying above him.

Titled in Hebrew under the center panel: “In those days of the past, in these days of the present.”

Value: if the Nordia hallmark is stamped underneath the base, $200 – $300. If the Nordia hallmark is missing, $100 – $200.

Best,
Tsadik

 

The attached menorah photo has been in my family for many years. My grandparents are long gone and no one else knows the history or age. Are you familiar with this type menorah?

Jeff Feinberg
Brooklyn

Dear Jeff,

I am quite familiar with your chanukiah; it is a well known type that hails from Poland and Ukraine. The earliest examples date to the 18th century, and copies of this model are still being produced today, which unfortunately are sometimes offered as authentic, pre-WWII made examples. Based on the multiple photos you have kindly provided me with of the front, back, and underside of the oil wells, your chaunkiah has the construction and casting dating to the late 19th century. I’m happy to see the original servant light is intact, as most of the time for this model, it has been lost.

Value: $600 – $800.

Best,
Tsadik

 

 

Beware Inauthentic Kiddush Cups

Beginning in the Middle Ages, European Jews purchased cups from non-Jewish silversmiths, as Jews were barred from the guilds of Europe, and therefore were not allowed to manufacture items made from silver. They were, however, free to decorate silver objects in any manner they wished. For antique cups, the only way to confidently know that it was used for Jewish ritual use is from a Hebrew inscription. Because of this there has been, and still is, great temptation among the unscrupulous to locate an old cup and increase it’s value by ten, fifty, or a hundred times by inscribing it with Hebrew wording, and presenting it for sale as an antique kiddush cup.

The constant upheaval, violent persecution and expulsion of various Jewish communities in Europe has had an acute effect on extant Jewish ritual objects. Consequently, today it is nearly impossible to locate European kiddush cups for purchase bearing Hebrew engraving where the inscription is earlier than the 18th century. Cups with 17th century engraving can be found in museums, but not for sale.

Determining the age of an inscription is the main challenge. Certain types of inscription, particularly those recording a presentation to a synagogue or burial society, include dates, but most cups, even those with inscriptions, are undated, so their style is the only guide.

For cups hailing from 18th century Germany, for example, when found with authentic Hebrew inscriptions, the letters are finely formed, with expert shading and, sometimes, beautiful cross-hatching decoration. Cups from 19th century Poland and Ukraine, however, may not have any shading at all in the Hebrew letters, and the lettering may be fine, or may be quite sloppy, with some letters engraved too close to each other or not in correct proportion.

These nuanced differences can go on and on from region to region and century to century, sometimes even between a few decades. It is only with many years of hands-on experience that one can begin to understand the subtleties in different types of Hebrew engraving, and determine the proper age, region, and most importantly, authenticity. The silver hallmarks found on a cup can be used only to confirm the age and region the inscription appears to hail from, not determine it. In the same way an art expert would look at a painting purported to be by Picasso, and not determine it’s authenticity from the signature; the work itself must be assessed.

This Kiddush cup sold for $68,750 at Sotheby’s 2013.

For those of substantial means, a surprising number of 18th century goblets from Germany with authentic Hebrew inscriptions have survived. These German goblets are six or eight sided, with the center portion of the cup engraved or chased with foliate motifs and the Hebrew inscription engraved by the opening of the bowl. Particularly charming examples can have a verse inscribed from sefer Shemot and a depiction of a matzah, which would of course be for Pesach. Examples that reveal the verse “And you shall dwell in booths” were used for Sukkot. Those with the prayer for wine are assumed to be for Shabbat as well as holidays. Depending on the quality of engraving and condition of the cup itself, these goblets can be had for between $7,000 and $20,000.

A particularly unusual (though not unique) example, featuring beautiful Hebrew engraving as well as depicting four Jewish men holding items related to the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Shavout, Sukkot and Pesach sold for $68,750 at Sotheby’s in New York in 2013.

Whereas German kiddush cups have the Hebrew inscribed near the top of the cup, Polish and Ukrainian cups tend to have the Hebrew inscribed in a central cartouche in the center of the cup. Early and mid-nineteenth century examples will have a verse relating to the blessing of wine or, more likely, from the Havdalah ceremony.

Occasionally, these cups will state “This is the cup of holy men” or “This is the cup of shmirah. These statements mean that the cup was made of silver coins blessed by a chassidic rebbe, then melted down and presented to a follower of the rebbe. Cups bearing those types of inscriptions are highly prized among some collectors, and not too long ago were considered quite rare.

But in the past 20 years more and more examples have appeared in the marketplace, possibly due to the fall of the Soviet Union and to the fact that Jewish items are being aggressively pursued by local antique hunters in Poland and Ukraine for sale to dealers in the United States and Israel. Today authentic examples can be found for $2,500 to $5,000. A Polish kiddush cup with an inscription for Shabbat can be had for $1,500 or much less, depending on the quality of the Hebrew. Animals such as lions and birds can appear on these cups, as well as the mythological unicorn and griffin.

You may come across a cup made of a black or gray colored stone. This is known as “Dead Sea Stone.” Cups made from this stone were produced in tremendous quantities for sale to primarily Christian pilgrims to Israel in the late 19th and early 20th century. Examples which feature authentic Hebrew engraving combined with pictorial scenes of Jewish holy sites are rare, and can command prices in the $2,000 range or more. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these cups that are found today are examples where the old engraving in English or French was polished off, and Hebrew, with a scene of the Western Wall, was recently added.

For the collector of Sephardic Judaica, kiddush cups in the form of a small saucer are desirable. These are from Iran and Afghanistan, and were made between the second half of the nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. Examples that can be determined to date from before 1900 can go for $2,500.

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Tsadik Kaplan is a collector, certified appraiser, and speaker/lecturer on the topic of Judaica. He is the author of the book “Jewish Antiques: From Menorahs to Seltzer Bottles” (Schiffer Publishing). For questions or comments – or to send pictures of your Judaica for future columns – email tsadik613@gmail.com.