30 May 2009

Judaica auctions: Selling the family jewels

About.com has experts on all sorts of topics. In the Collectibles pages, by Barbara Crews, I found an interesting article on J. Greenstein & Co, the only auction house dealing only with Judaica.

A leading antique Judaica expert and collector, Jonathan Greenstein, 41, explained that many unique pieces were lost in 1939 when Hitler had sacred ornaments melted down for their silver. Centuries of Jewish history disappeared - what remains is even more rare.

He's been working in the field for more than 27 years and is often retained to authenticate Judaica. He says that 70% of what he sees is fake. A lecturer at major museums and institutions, he wrote "The Lost Art," which describes the making of 18th-19th-century silver kiddush cups.

There are many family owned antiques that will be owned by generations, but none are so cherished or special as the Judaica items passed down through the family after the hardship of immigrating to another country or later when fleeing Hitler during the years of World War II.

The United States saw a mass immigration of Jewish people from 1880 through 1927 and many people brought with them their cherished family items, passing them down through the generations. These are the pieces that are often being sold as older people are dying off and younger family members might need the money due to the state of today's economy.

J. Greenstein & Co, Inc.'s next auction will be on June 8, 2009. Jonathan Greenstein says “Rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts and antiques are now surfacing that haven’t seen the light of day in generations as the effects of the sinking economy and the Madoff scandal congeal.”
In the sale will be sacred possessions of Reform Judaism leader Rabbi Alexander Schindler, a Madoff victim. His wife is not only forced to sell the family home but also to sell prized items given to the rabbi when he retired as leader.

"One of the artifacts is a silver Torah crown, an ornately detailed piece which adorns the holy scroll. Another is a silver Torah pointer, used so that fingers never touch the sacred text. It dates from the 1700s and is extremely, extremely rare," said Greenstein.

"Very few objects of this quality survived the Holocaust," said Greenstein, adding that Madoff raided "little old ladies' bank accounts" like the Nazis raided the temples.
Greenstein says he will not charge a fee to the family.

Founded in 2004, J. Greenstein & Co, Inc. is the only auction house solely devoted to the sale of Jewish Ritual objects. Its biannual auctions feature rare Jewish ritual objects, works of art, books and manuscripts.

Here's more on what's available at the June 8, 2009 Judaica Auction; many items have inscriptions, and there are also a few Persian ketubot.

For genealogists, there are some poignant items, such as the silver-bound Pinkhas of the Chevrah Kadisha of Nitra (Hungary, 1898). Hand written names of each deceased community member. 12.3-inches tall; estimated sale price $2,000-5,000. There's a large brass Syrian charger plate with applied copper and silver, 13" diameter. Made c1900, its estimated sale price is $800-1,200.

If money's no object, what about a very rare modern Italian menorah by Bucellati (pictured left), 10-inches tall, with a estimated sale price of #12,000-16,000. Or a finely written and decorated Italian 18th century megillah scroll, with an estimate of $17,500-24,000.

A very collectible item in the field of Judaica are dreidels (Hanukkah spinning tops), which come in many kinds and made in diverse materials. In fall 2004, some auction prices for this collectible were:

7" Silver musical dreidel - $16. 2.7"
19th-century Russian silver/enamel dreidel - $350.
.75" pewter dreidel, Poland c1800 - $41.
2" brass w/rhinestones dreidel - $65.
1.5 gilt silver dreidel, c1900 - $300.

Current Collectible Dreidels:
Lladro dreidel with dove - $105.
Lladro dreidel with star - $130.
Waterford Marquis dreidel - $50.
Waterford jeweled dreidel ornament - $35.
Christopher Radko Dreidel ornament - $40.
Some people collect antique and vintage menorahs. Here are some prices:

Oil Pal Bell bronze olive branch menorah - $210. "Made in Israel"
37cm wall hanging brass/bronze menorah - $114. very ornate
Bronze menorah with lions - $137. Jewish star on top
Silverplate, circa 1890 menorah - $925. Very ornate, Poland, 11"
Antique brass menorah - $225. Simple design
Antique sterling silver menorah - $416. 14.5" tall, elegant, simple
Copper menorah, 6.75" tall, - $130. Jerusalem during British rule, WWI bullet casings hold wicks
Look around on the net and find many resources.

If you were not lucky enough to inherit family heirlooms from your own ancestors, you can collect a bit of family history and make it your own to pass down.

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