I have this very heavy old menorah that belonged to my late grandfather and I have memories of him using it. My aunt saw your ad in The Jewish Press and suggested I send you these pictures because we have no idea where it came from. His family originally came from Poland and Russia. Thank you.
Bay Harbor Islands (Miami Beach), FL
Chanukah menorahs identical to yours were originally made in 18th-century Poland and Ukraine. They were manufactured by a method called sand-casting, which is where a mold is made of sand and clay, and then hot molten brass is poured into the mold, and when the brass cools, you can easily pry out a menorah. This process would be repeated until the mold began to wear out, and finally, after the mold could no longer be used, it would be destroyed or discarded.
What occurred after these “first-generation” 18th-century castings of a Chanukah menorah were completed and the original mold was thrown out was that the only way to re-issue this type of menorah was to make an impression of the menorah itself as a mold. But as you may surmise, what happens when you make an impression of an item and use it as a new mold to make pieces from? You lose a tiny bit of mass in the newly-issued menorahs, perhaps a quarter of an inch. You lose detail in the menorah itself; think of it as if you had a printed piece of paper and made a Xerox of it; while the Xerox is an excellent copy, it does lose some of the sharpness and detail of the original printed paper.
Chanukah menorahs made in this fashion were cast repeatedly between the 18th and early 20th centuries. Age is determined by a number of factors, including the fine details (or lack thereof) in the backplate, as well as the overall massiveness and thickness of the screw threads.
The style of your particular menorah was the most common model of this Polish/Ukrainian type, and a tremendous number have survived, including 18th-century examples.
Since I am evaluating your menorah from photos alone, I do not have the opportunity to handle it in person, where I can judge the aforementioned determining evidence of age. However, even from photos, because I have over 25 years of experience in appraising Judaica, I can judge that your menorah is almost assuredly not 18th-century. From the shape of the two servant light cups and their drip pans, to the rather thin appearance of the backplate, I do not see an age of the 18th century. It does seem to have some significant age, likely from the mid-to-late 19th century. In today’s market, a circa 1850-80 Chanukah menorah of your model type has a value of $500-$700.
I would like your opinion about the origin and value of these two decorated metal plates. Please see the two full views and the two close-ups which are attached. Also can you identify the inscribed quotations? There is no hallmark or inscription by the maker. On the back there is a metal loop attached for hanging. I look forward to your response in The Jewish Press!
Your plates were made in Iran. These types of “Persian” tin-plated copper plates, featuring scenes or personalities from the Bible, were popular on various sized dishes and trays that were made in Iran and primarily sold to tourists during the 1950s and possibly later. Even though the depictions of people and correlating Hebrew verse feature a lot of work by hand-using fine tools, there is no Jewish ceremonial use for a piece like this; it’s “tourist-ware” that was produced in enormous quantities, much of which was for the export market.
The first plate you have shows the “Spies with Grapes” returning from Canaan. The Hebrew verse on the rim is from Numbers 13:12: “They reached the wadi Eshcol, and they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes – it had to be borne on a carrying frame by two of them – and some pomegranates and figs.” The second plate features a large tree; there are twelve branches, and each branch has one of the Hebrew names of the Twelve Tribes inscribed. The Hebrew verse on the rim is from Deuteronomy 33:29: “O happy Israel! Who is like you, a people delivered by Hashem, Your protecting Shield, your Sword triumphant! Your enemies shall come cringing before you, and you shall tread on their backs.”
As mentioned previously, these types of plates were made in tremendous amounts, and I have seen countless examples identical to yours being offered everywhere – from flea markets to antique shows, retail shops to internet auctions. Each of your plates displays heavy wear to part of the Hebrew verses on the rim, so much so that for about five to seven words on each plate, they are so worn as to be unintelligible. If your “Spies with Grapes” plate were in perfect condition, it would have a value of $75-$100. If your “Twelve Tribes” plate were in perfect condition, it would have a value of $100-$125. I would assign a value of 25% less than the figures I stated for the value of your plates, due to the damage they have sustained.
Dear Mr. Kaplan,
I have a spice box I bought at auction. All I was told was that it was pre-WW2. Can you add anything to the story? Thank you.
Dr. Douglas Reich
Dear Dr. Reich,
I have seen many other identical examples of your type of spice tower over the years, with the same “bright-cut” engraved decorative designs in the center, including of the Star of David. Your spice tower was made in Germany, sometime during the 1920s to very early 1930s. You can tell that by the very small hallmarks on the rim of the base, which include two symbols: one, a crescent moon, and the other, a royal crown. The “half-moon and crown” hallmarks were instituted as a legal decree in Germany in 1888 requiring that all silver items made in Germany have these two symbols featured.
In general, early 20th-century silver spice towers from Germany were made in enormous numbers, and because 304,000 German Jews fled Germany between 1933 and 1939 (out of a total Jewish population of 522,000 in the country), a tremendous amount of German Judaica exists today, including countless examples of your spice tower. In today’s market, your spice tower has a value of $225-$275.