Photo Credit: Tsadik Kaplan

Dear Tsadik,

This is a rare color Torah cover from Eastern Europe, circa 1870, with Torah crowns dated Jerusalem 1929. I also have this vessel from a European yeshiva in the 1800s. Please give me valuations of these pieces. Thank you.


Los Angeles, CA


Dear Louie,

It appears you treasure these pieces of Judaica, as you seem to have had a custom-built transparent case to be bolted into a wall of your home to display the Torah scroll you own, which has a Torah cover and Torah finials you would like to have appraised. In addition, there is a large old brass lavabo (ceremonial washbasin with cistern) you would like to know the value of, and this too is hung on a wall of your home. Even though you state with certainty that you are aware of the age and origin of your pieces, I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with you on these points, based on my knowledge and experience in the field of antique Judaica.

First, the Torah cover. During the 1930s through the 1960s, the Hebrew Publishing Company, located at 77 Delancey Street in New York City, would print an annual catalog in Yiddish and English that listed all the Jewish books you could buy from them, as well as pictures of Jewish ceremonial objects you could purchase, including items for the synagogue, such as velvet Torah covers embroidered with metallic thread; you could choose the color you wanted, such as dark blue, light blue, red, pink, green, etc. In a catalog from 1938 there appears an illustration of a Torah cover identical to yours! So, your Torah cover is not from 1870, and it is not Eastern European.

I am familiar with this very style and even color of what is seen, which is of a pair of lions flanking the Ten Commandments, all on a pink velvet background. The manner in which the lions are depicted, the type of metallic thread used throughout the piece, and as mentioned previously, the color pink, are all typical of Torah covers that were produced in the United States of America during the period of the 1930s until about 1950. In perfect condition, which is what your Torah cover seems to be in, the value is in the $50-$75 range, as even in this beautiful condition, these American Torah covers have survived in great numbers, and there is little if any need or demand from collectors for this type of item. It is what could be termed a “spur of the moment purchase” for someone who sees it in person in a shop or in an internet auction.

Next, let us turn to the brass lavabo. It is most certainly an old piece that is well-crafted, with matching punchwork decoration on both the cistern and the basin. Judging from the photo you provided, it dates to at least the 19th century, and if ever inspected in person by a qualified general antiques appraiser, I would not be surprised if it was determined to be as old as 18th-century. It is most certainly European in form; I’ve seen similarly styled lavabos from France and Germany.

Unfortunately, some truly immoral person chose to manufacture large cut-out Hebrew letters in brass or a similar type of metal, and apply them to the cistern, spelling out the words Mayim Achronim, which is actually quite foolish, as if anything, the words Netilat Yadayim would be on the cistern, as the vessel for Mayim Achronim would be a handheld piece that would be brought to the Shabbat table. The person, or should I say forger, did not even do a semi-convincing job with the Hebrew letters, as they are quite crude. It is obvious that an old antique lavabo was acquired (possibly in the antique flea markets of France, where this could be relatively easy to find for well under $500, especially during the 1970s and 80s), and it was decided to transform this secular piece into a “rare, old-world” piece of European Judaica.

Your lavabo is far from a unique example of fake antique Judaica. Apparently, beginning in the 1960s, there were individuals – some antique dealers no doubt – who would purchase old European lavabos and have them engraved in Hebrew with “Netilat Yadayim,” or have a supposed dedication engraved in Hebrew from someone to a synagogue along with a spurious Hebrew date of the 18th or 19th century. Even more skilled forgers would have Hebrew wording beautifully hammered from the reverse side (known as repousée), to convince the Judaica enthusiast that the lavabo is a museum-worthy treasure that justified the price asked. This all sounds like a sad, depressing state of affairs but, as I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “It is what it is.”

The value of the lavabo as a piece of Judaica is nil. If the Hebrew letters could be removed without damaging the cistern, then as a 19th-century European lavabo, it certainly has a value of a few hundred dollars, providing there is no metal loss or serious damage to the cistern or basin.

Finally, we have your Torah finials. You state that they are from Jerusalem, dating to 1929. There is a lengthy Hebrew dedication engraved on the handles that appears to memorialize the Hebron massacre of 1929, which was a horrific event in the Jewish history of pre-state Israel. This inscription is authentic. The finials themselves, with their dense silver filigree wire-work, large Stars of David, and applied cast lion figures, indicate that they were made in Jerusalem, possibly as early as the late 1930s, but more likely during the 1940s. Value: $1,200-$1,800.

Based on the respect, if not reverence, that you show to these items in your home, I have a feeling you will be disappointed in the values I have assigned, as I can surmise that you purchased these items for significant sums of money from one or more dealers. If this is the case, I am sorry for delivering this news, but I hope you can accept that knowing the truth is worthy as well.




Dear Tsadik,

Do you know the history behind these kiddush cups? Ours is from Latvia.

Irv Salit
Toronto, Canada


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Dear Irv,

Your cups, while used by your family as a kiddush cups, were sold to the general public in Russia and Russian-controlled territories from 1896 to 1908, as that is what the hallmarks indicate. They were made in huge numbers – many tens of thousands – and as such, are easily found in the marketplace. Whether Russian or Latvian in origin, the value is the same: $150-$200 per cup.


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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 [email protected].