Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Tsadik,

The photos I’m sending are of a cup my father had from my paternal grandfather, who brought it over from Russia. I have included three different views. The first shows the Kotel Hamaravi, with the Hebrew words spelled out under it. The last shows Kever Rachel Imeinu with the Hebrew words under it and I believe the word “Yerushalayim” on top of it. The middle photo (which is the same on the other side) is of a floral leaf design. The cup is a very dark brownish-black color. It stands three inches high and measures seven inches around. I don’t know what it is made of, though it feels heavy. I would appreciate if you could tell me more about it and estimate its value.

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Deborah Hurwitz
Forest Hills, New York

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Dear Deborah,

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Israel, there was a popular type of tourist item that was made and sold primarily to Christian pilgrims who ventured to The Holy Land. These items were made of a dark-colored stone, grey or black in color, colloquially referred to as “Dead Sea Stone.”

Better known as asphalt, but also called bitumen, natural deposits of this mineral are found in the Dead Sea. The ancient Egyptians’ primary source of bitumen was the Dead Sea, which the Romans referred to as “Palus Asphaltites” (Asphalt Lake). Cups, jars, vases, and dishes were fashioned out of this stone by artisans in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and were often inscribed with the words “Dead Sea Stone” or the French “Pierre De la Mer Morte.” These objects were made in tremendous quantities, and today are easily found at flea markets and antique shops in this country and in Europe, with some examples available to be acquired for as little as $25.

In addition to the wares marketed to Christian tourists, there was a small but consistent output of Dead Sea Stone objects that were marketed to Jewish audiences visiting Jerusalem and Jaffa as well as for export to Europe; these objects include Hebrew engraving and depictions of sites meaningful to Jews, just like this cup that has been passed down to you from your grandfather. And it is rare!

Unfortunately, in the last 25 years, there has been an explosion of immoral individuals who have seized upon the availability of the aforementioned tremendous quantities of “Christian” Dead Sea Stone objects, from which they then proceed to erase the English or French engraving by using polishing machines of the type found in a jewelers’ workshop, and newly engrave them with Hebrew, and sometimes, scenes of Jewish holy sites, so the “value” could be increased by 10 or 20 times more than what the schemer paid for the object. Consequently, the vast majority of “Jewish” Dead Sea Stone objects that appear in dealer shops and at auction are forgeries, and distressingly, they do occasionally sell for a few hundred dollars.

However, every few years or so, an authentic example does appear for sale, usually a tall goblet on a pedestal foot, with lovely, high quality engraving of “Jerusalem” in Hebrew along with depictions of the Western Wall and Tomb of Rachel. These goblets tend to sell for about $1,500, depending on condition.

Your little beaker cup is of course, an authentic example. Some of the Hebrew engraving is not as fine as those found on the larger goblets, but it is equally as charming, as are the nicely executed depictions of Jewish holy sites. I applaud you for keeping your cup in flawless condition, as the lip edge can chip very easily. Like porcelain, if you drop the cup on a hard surface, it will completely crack in two or more pieces, so continue to do whatever it is you are doing to ensure its safety.

As to value, if your cup appeared at auction today it would likely be given an estimate of $800-$1,000, or perhaps even a more aggressive $1,000-$1,500.

Best,
Tsadik

 

 

Dear Tsadik,

This Eastern European menorah was acquired by my mother and father in Frankfurt, Germany after both survived the Holocaust and a DP camp in 1946. Please let us know its history, value, and rarity.

Bernie Javer
White Plains, New York

 

Dear Bernie,

The overall design of your chanukiah is quite well known, having originated in Germany around 1890. Your model and similar ones (a few more elaborate, most of them less so) were very popular, and were produced in such substantial numbers from 1890 through 1930 that many examples exist today. In fact, this type of chanukiah, where eight fully-formed lions have their mouths open for the placing of the oil wicks, is so desirable that well-made copies began to be made during the 1950s and are still manufactured today in Austria, Tel-Aviv, and New York City.

However, even though I have had a number of follow-up e-mails with you regarding where the silver hallmarks should be, you have insisted that there are none to be found. This issue, along with some of the decoration on the backplate (which I have never seen on the various other examples that have appeared in the marketplace in years past), leads me to either one of two conclusions, as there are limits to an appraisal not done in person, where a piece can be inspected and handled, instead of solely relying on photos:

1) You do indeed have an antique silver chanukiah from Germany. Although it does not bear hallmarks (which would normally point to a post-World War I copy), I have seen pieces like yours from pre-war Germany that completely lack hallmarks. Sometimes they date to the period before 1888, as after that date, standard national hallmarks were introduced for all silver goods made in Germany. If it can be determined that your chanukiah is an authentic original, the value would be $2,500 -$3,500. This value owes to the unusual decoration on the backplate, and the feet of the chanukiah being fully formed lions, which for lack of a better term, is a more “deluxe” version of this type of chanukiah.

2) You have a very high quality post-war copy, likely from Hungary. Value $1,200-$1,800.

Based on my experience and taking in all the details from your photos, I am leaning toward your piece being an original antique.

Notably, if your menorah had pre-war German hallmarks stamped on the base, the value would be $3,000-$5,000.

Best,
Tsadik

 

 

Dear Tsadik,

I purchased this tray at an antique store upstate and I’m not really certain about it at all. Can you shed light on it? Thanks so much.

William Hochman
Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Dear William,

Your tray was made in Iran. This type of tray, featuring a famous Biblical scene (yours showing King Solomon ordering the baby to be cut in two), is the type of image that was popular in the various tin-plated copper dishes that were made in Iran and sold to tourists from the 1950s through the 1970s. Even though the depictions of people and correlating Hebrew verse feature a lot of work using fine tools, there is no Jewish ceremonial use for a piece like this. Coupled with the fact that this “tourist-ware” was produced in very large quantities, in today’s market the value of your tray is $75-$125.

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.
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