Photo Credit: Tsadik Kaplan

Dear Tsadik,

This hand-carved 12-inch wooden plate bears the following translated inscriptions (from what we were informed was Old Russian): “From the Jewish Community City of Yanova Lubinsky / Give Us Our Much Needed Bread / August 28, 1910.”

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My wife’s family came from Yanova Lubinsky, Poland. Can you tell us any more about the plate?

Josh Samborn
Boca Raton, FL

Dear Josh,

Since this is not a Jewish ceremonial object, it falls outside my area of expertise. However, I do recall seeing these types of plates in the general antique marketplace, so I did some research: Your item is known as a “Russian Bread and Salt Plate.” They were extremely popular in Russia and Russian-controlled territories from the late 19th century through the early 20th century. All of these plates have the same agricultural implements featured in the center – a plow, scythe, and rake – along with a sheath of wheat. The text surrounding these images can be basic, simply stating the words “Bread” and “Salt,” or can contain various sayings like yours (to be more precise, it appears that the phrase “Give Us Our Much Needed Bread” is from the New Testament, i.e., Christianity).

As I poured through auction records over the last few years, I found that these plates typically sell in the range of $250-$350. However, I cannot locate any that has a dedication relating to Jews, as yours does. This makes it interesting, but also impossible to properly assess a value for, as I have no “comps” as a guide. So I’m going to offer a bit of guesswork. I believe the Jewish element does add some value. In a specialized auction, your plate would have an estimate of $400-$600. I would think a collector or institution that seeks out items relating to the Jews of Poland would be eager to acquire your piece.

Notably, a plate like yours featuring the Russian proverb “Be happy with whatever riches you have” was presented to the writer Anton Chekhov. That plate is now in the collection of the Museum-Estate Melikhovo, the former house of Chekhov.

Best,
Tsadik

 

 

Dear Tsadik,

I am sending you pictures of a havdalah set that I recently acquired. It is stamped “MW 84” on each of the three pieces. I am told that it was manufactured in Russia, circa 1820-50. I was also told that to find an entire set like this, intact, is most unusual, thus adding to its value. The condition of the set is excellent. Can you estimate its value?

N.C.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Dear N.C., 

This is one of those instances where the phrase “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” applies. You were likely convinced that you had acquired a true antique due to the “84” hallmark stamped on each piece, which is the Russian mark for silver. Unfortunately, the number-one reproduced and faked silver mark is “84,” which is supposed to indicate a silver fineness of .875 (less than the American and British standard of silver, which is .925, better known as “Sterling,” and the standard of silver in many parts of the world today).

I am familiar with the pieces in your set because I have seen them repeatedly over the years, usually offered for sale individually. The spice tower is a highly detailed copy of a popular form of spice tower made in Poland during the 1870s-90s. Based on the design of this spice tower, the silversmith decided to conjure up out of his imagination a kiddush cup and havdalah candle-holder that would stylistically match the spice tower, making an attractive Sabbath set.

Generally, I do not appraise Judaica made after 1950. However, I did some research into auctions of the past few years which included offerings of new items. I found two matches: one in 2017 from Israel, where another example of your spice tower and candle-holder sold for $660 combined, and one from two months ago, in Larchmont, New York, where the spice tower and cup sold for $686 combined. So, as a complete Sabbath set, your objects are worth $1,000-$1,200.

I realize you may be angry or in disbelief about what I am telling you, but I can offer you proof. As I previously mentioned, the “84” hallmark is for a grade of silver substantially lower than .925 Sterling. If you took any of your objects to a local jewelry store and asked them to test the silver content, all of the pieces would match .925 Sterling silver, and not “84” (.875) silver. In my experience in seeing and handling quality reproductions or “fantasy pieces” of European Judaica, your set was made sometime after 1975, most likely in New York City or Portugal, as Portugal has been churning out silver Judaica both for their tourist industry and for export during the last 45 years.

If your spice tower were a true antique from Poland, it would have a value of $1,500-$2,500.

Best,
Tsadik

 

 

Dear Tsadik,

I acquired this menorah maybe 25 years ago from a gentile neighbor who said, “I think a Jewish person should have this.” So I do not know the source. What can you tell me about it?

S.L.
Monsey, NY

Dear S.L.,

What you have is a colorful Israeli reproduction of one of the most famous, and truly iconic, Jewish antiquities in existence. The original design your menorah for Chanukah is based on is from a bronze oil lamp dating from the 4th-6th century CE. The handle of that oil lamp has exactly what your handle features: a representation of the Temple Menorah, flanked by a lulav, etrog, and shofar. That oil lamp is in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The designer of your piece added nine candle-holders around the perimeter of the oil lamp so it would be a functioning menorah for celebrating Chanukah. (Although not preferable, it is permitted to have the candle-holders in a semi-circle, provided that each candle is clearly separated from the others.) For decorative purposes, the designer added the flag symbols of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a Star of David, and the word “Israel.”

Your chanukiah was made in Israel during the 1960s or very early 1970s. It has a value of $25-$45.

Best,
Tsadik

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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.