Shalom u’vracha. As a Judaica collector myself of sorts, I am a big fan of your column, and I am bewildered that it took me so long to ask you about my Zaidie’s menorah, pictured here. It is made of a hard, heavy metal, probably brass, and its connected arms (cups 1 and 8, cups 2 and 7, etc.) swivel and rotate.
Particularly interesting is the bird atop the menorah. A rooster? (The top of his head looks like a rooster-like crop.) Are you aware of any connection between a rooster and Chanukah, or is this merely a manifestation of the artist’s artistry? In any event, what is the significance of the bird, or is it merely decorative? I think that the fronds/branches on the arms holding the cups are quite beautiful.
I am, of course, curious about the menorah’s value, but I am far more interested in its origins and history. Many thanks for your time and consideration.
Saul Jay Singer
Silver Spring, MD
First, thank you for your kind words regarding my column. Your chanukiah is from Poland and dates to the late 19th century. It is known as a “converter lamp,” which was in style in Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire during that era. The idea is that it can be inserted into a candlestick to appear as a tall standing menorah for the holiday. The bird atop is not a rooster, but an eagle, as the single eagle with spread wings was the national crest of Poland.
Silver examples, depending on the style of the branches and the maker, can go for a few thousand dollars at the very least; the market fluctuates on these every five years or so. However, your example is silver-plated brass, so the audience and subsequent value is much less. Even though your example is made of plated brass, I can tell it is very well-cast and assembled; indeed, the detail you mention in the leaves on the arms is most unusual for a piece made of this material from this era and region.
I did some extensive research on where other examples of your Chanukah menorah may be found, and lo and behold, I located two other examples. The first is pictured in the book Judaica in the Collection of the National Museum in Krakow, published in 2018. The second example of your Chanukah menorah I located was one that sold at auction in Vienna on February 28, 2018. That example was the same as yours, except that the cups for the candle-holders were not blank like yours are – they had a stylish design and were shaped like small urns. The eagle finial on that example was finer as well. It sold for 1,677 euros (hammer price was 1,300 euros plus 29% buyer’s premium), which equals about $2,000.
As it sits now, lacking a candlestick to insert it into, your chanukiah is worth $800-$1,000. However, if you can get your hands on a candlestick with a flat, square base, one made of brass and hallmarked for Warsaw, Poland (“Warszawa”) or Polish makers (“Fraget,” “Norblin”), the value would increase to $1,200-$1,500. I recommend searching the Internet or flea markets in Jewish neighborhoods for the type of candlesticks I describe which, if you have some time and patience, can be purchased for $200 or less.
I follow your column in The Jewish Press. I’m wondering if you have any information about these two pictures. They were my father’s and I know them to be at least 60 years old. I have also photographed the artist’s signature. Thanks.
First, I have to state that since I have not examined your pictures in person, I cannot definitively state that they are actually oil paintings and not prints or some sort, so for purposes of this column only, I will be answering you with the assumption that they are indeed oil paintings.
Each work is by Irving Schlussel, who was born in Austria in 1903 or 1904 and immigrated to America sometime before World War II. Many of his paintings feature Jewish ceremonial objects, like yours do, or depictions of religious Jewish people. Auction records of his works are scarce; I could only locate one example – that of a rabbi praying during Yom Kippur. That painting had an estimate of $1,500-$2,000, but failed to sell at the June 13, 2017 auction.
It appears Schlussel is regarded as a “commercial artist” of sorts, not fine art.
Since I cannot find any examples of his paintings that have sold at auction, I searched in the retail area, and there are one or two sellers offering other works of his at prices in the $3,000-$9,000 range. But these are “high retail” establishments meant for the very wealthy and completely uninformed type of buyer – one who purchases items on a whim – so these numbers are not realistic.
Personally, I find your still lifes of Jewish ceremonial objects to be more attractive than anything I have seen by Schlussel, both at auction and in the retail settings mentioned previously. A guesstimate of the value of your Schlussel paintings would be $2,000 each.
Attached is a picture of a ketubah. Can you tell us more about it and its worth? Thank you.
Erna & Sam Daniel
New York, NY
Dear Erna and Sam,
Generally, the ketubot that have some considerable value are ones dating to before the 20th century. Your ketubah bears a date of 1927, but has two very appealing things going for it. The first is that it clearly states in the decoration at the top that this wedding was held at the Shar Harachamim Synagogue in Bombay, India. Judaica dating to before 1945 that hails from India is always desirable, and ketubot are at the top of that category. The second is the quality of the decoration, which is quite beautiful and includes a good deal of gold leaf.
At a specialized Judaica auction, the estimate for your ketubah would be $2,500-$3,500, with expectations that it would receive considerable interest and sell strongly. Just a few months ago at Sotheby’s auction house in New York, a magnificently decorated ketubah from Bombay, dated 1853, sold for $63,000. It originally belonged to the famous Jewish dynasty, the Sassoons.
I have this silver kiddush cup set that my mother received from her father when they lived in Germany. Your evaluation as to the value of these items would be appreciated.
The hallmarks on the cups indicate they were made in Russia or Russian-controlled territories in 1891. These “shot cups” with simple engraved designs of vegetation and houses were made in tremendous quantities (tens of thousands) and were popular with both Jews and gentiles. Today, the small cups sell for $10-$20 each at antique shows and dealers’ shops, while the large cup sells for $40-$60.