This menorah was recently donated to our school. We are going to display it and would love additional information about it as well as an appraisal. It is a large item – approximately two feet tall. We were told by the donor that it was acquired in Jerusalem, but is originally from Syria.
Ohr Torah Cincinnati
Dear Ohr Torah,
Your beautiful Chanukah menorah is a model that is quite familiar to me, and likely to some of our readers who have visited tourist shops in Israel during the past 50 years or so. Your piece, made from cut and engraved brass with silver inlaid into it, is an artistic craft known as “Damascene,” named after the city that made this type of handwork famous: Damascus.
In the notes of Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem, he stated that while on a trip to Syria around 1905, he marveled that all the wares made in this Damascene method that were offered for sale to him by Muslims were actually made by Jews, (Upon asking the merchants who had actually made the pieces, they introduced him to exclusively Jewish craftsmen from Damascus.) Soon after, beginning in 1906, this style of art was introduced to Jewish artisans working for Schatz at the Bezalel School.
The overwhelming majority – more than 99 percent – of Chanukah menorahs made utilizing the Damascene technique of decoration that claim to be Syrian in origin are actually Israeli, made after the State of Israel was established in 1948. Your menorah is no exception, and is in perhaps the most popular “Syrian-style,” Israeli-made Chanukah menorah known – featuring a scene of Jews praying at the Western Wall. There are very subtle clues (nearly undetectable to the untrained eye) that reveal how the work was actually done, which to me points your piece to being of Israeli origin.
Aside from these technical details, what is glaringly obvious is that your menorah features design elements that would never be found on a piece of Judaica of Middle Eastern origin: the swans with craned necks at the top, along with the angled, seven-branched depictions of the Temple Menorah. Those designs hail exclusively from Judaica manufactured in Eastern Europe before the Shoah, and are never found on a piece purporting to be from the Middle East. Your menorah was likely made during the 1960s or 70s, when Eastern European Judaica could be seen by Israeli artisans in museum catalogs or on a trip to the Israel Museum, and shortly thereafter were incorporated into the works they made for tourists visiting Israel.
Researching to see if any Chanukah menorahs similar to yours have appeared in the past at auction, I found one: An example nearly identical to yours (the very same Western Wall scene, etc.) was given this title in a Sotheby’s auction of December 15, 2010: “A large damascened brass Hanukah lamp, probably Syrian, 20th century.” Featuring an estimate of $5,000-$7,000, it hammered well below the low end of the estimate, at $3,500, which means that in addition to the buyer’s premium of 25%, the winning bidder ended up paying $4,375.
Notice how Sotheby’s was careful to state “probably Syrian,” which is almost as bad as another dreaded term that auction houses use when they cannot prove a painting is by a certain artist: “attributed to.” “Probably” says to prospective buyers that its authenticity is actually not probable at all, and that it was likely made elsewhere, which means Israel. This is why the Sotheby’s example sold poorly against the estimate – it found only one bidder, who bought it at the reserve price set by the owner of the menorah, $3,500.
That Sotheby’s example was described as standing three feet, two inches tall. You mention that your example is two feet tall. Based on the price realized for the significantly larger Sotheby’s example, I would value your Chanukah menorah at $2,000-$3,000.
Any information about this siddur? Thank you.
Brooklyn, New York
What a nice siddur! While the prayer book itself was printed on the Lower East Side of New York in 1918 and is of no monetary value (just spiritual!), the decorative covers and locking clasps were made in Vienna, Austria, around the same time as the printing of the prayer book itself. The outer white strips are made of celluloid, while the cut and pierced white pieces featuring designs of flowers are made of bone, as is the carved center decoration of the Ten Commandments.
Before the advent of the Internet, Jewish prayer book covers like yours were considered a respectable mid-level collectible; they were displayed in antique shops and sold with ease. However, with the rise of Internet auctions over the past 20 years, it is now known that these covers from Vienna were made in tremendous numbers and are readily available. Value: $75-$125.
This Shabbos lamp has been in my family for years. My grandparents brought it with them from Germany. Can you tell me anything about it?
Lawrence, New York
Your Shabbos lamp, also known as a “Judenstern,” is indeed German in origin, and based on the photo you have provided, appears to date from the 18th century. A nice, unusual feature of your lamp is the hand-engraved scrollwork design going around the center of the drip reservoir, which is of the period. German brass Shabbos lamps, even those from the 18th century, have survived in astonishingly high numbers, which makes it apparent that a very large contingent of German Jews used them in their homes, and that these were passed down as heirlooms to the next generation.
Coupled with the fact that for most collectors, these brass Shabbos lamps from Germany are virtually ignored, your piece of Judaica, for its age, what it is and represents, has a relatively modest value in today’s market: $500-$700.
My great-grandfather was a silver dealer and collector in Austria in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Any thoughts on these silver bechers?
Brooklyn, New York
While your cups indeed may have been used as “bechers” for Shabbos kiddush, because none of the cups have anything Jewish about them – no partial blessing or owner’s name in Hebrew – these are not considered Judaica. Therefore, the cups are assigned a value as secular pieces for the general market.
The cup featuring Niello inlay and architectural structures has Russian hallmarks that date it to the end of the 19th century. That cup has the most value: $300-$500. You have another small cup with Russian hallmarks and two larger cups with Austrian hallmarks; they all date to the late 19th and very beginning of the 20th century. Each of those cups is worth $50-$100.