J.E. sends me a treasured many branched Hanukkah menorah that she found (or, I should say, found her) in a thrift store in Santa Barbara. She discovered this treasure in pieces in a battered cardboard box, all dismantled. Many people had passed it by because it looked like pieces of something vaguely silver, but J.E. writes that she took a chance.
Her husband dumped out the box and — low and behold — most of the pieces came together again back at her home on the Eastside.
This is a Continental silver plate menorah, German or Eastern European, 20th century, with a finial of a little bird to the center, elevated on stem with oil can and a missing (the only thing missing) "servant" light holder. The arms (more about this later) are in a style called vine or tree form, and the arms pivot to range all the candles into an equal height line, which we will see has a meaning. The main eight candles by tradition must be on the same plane so that the servant or helper candle can stand above the others. The servant candle is used to light all the other candles on each respective night of the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah.
The little pitcher-shaped vessel is the oil can, a memorial of a special ancient miracle. Tradition states that only the purest of olive oils shall be contained in this little vessel, even if using candles, to remind worshipers of the days when a little cruse of oil lasted for eight days.
In addition, of course olive oil does not mix with any other liquid — a special and symbolic quality — but separates and rises. Olive oil is also beneficial to life.
The vine or tree form of this menorah is also a reference to the olive tree; "pre-candle" early menorahs had small wells for oil. An early Hanukkah lamp of such a form has a wonderful provenance, and J.E. will be interested in this story because there is a dollar figure involved.
The Jewish Museum in London successfully raised funds in 2010 to purchase the notable "Lindo Lamp," the earliest known English Hanukkah lamp and one of the treasures of British Jewish heritage.
In 1709, the young groom Elias Lindo commissioned the lamp for his marriage to Rachel Lopes Ferreira from London silversmith John Russlen. The lamp is a wall-mounted triangle of silver with eight troughs for oil.
Elias' father, Isaac Lindo (1638-1712), had escaped the Spanish Inquisition to the Canary Islands, settling in London in 1670. Isaac, a prominent member of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, founded the Bevis Marks Synagogue in 1701. The Lindo family became prominent supporters of the arts in London for generations.
The Lindo Lamp had been on loan for 76 years to the Jewish Museum when the family asked for its return so that it could be sold. The London Jewish Museum raised more than $370,000 to retain and own the Lindo Lamp.
Dec. 12 is the first night of the 2017 Hanukkah, and since 1979, the White House lights our significant American silver menorah, called the National Menorah. In June 2013, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided on the U.S. calendar and eager marketing folks designed a turkey-shaped "Menurkey" to celebrate what was called in some circles "Thanksgivukkah." Thus we learn, in perhaps an off-color way, the menorah has a long and many-shaped tradition.
Speaking of symbols and shapes, the Hanukkah symbol was added to Unicode Version 8.0 in 2010.
J.E.'s beautiful 28-inch-tall menorah traveled from Eastern Europe, where it was first lit in 1900, all the way to Santa Barbara, albeit disassembled, landing in a cardboard box, where J.E. found it and rebuilt it for her home.
The value of the silver plate piece is $1,000. The only way it could be more valuable to the market would be if the whole piece was made of silver; in this case, because of the place of manufacture (Eastern Europe) the type of silver would have been 800 silver, a little less silver content than sterling (925 silver). If that were the case, J.E., we would be talking $9,000 to $10,000 — and possibly more because of the category of the object, considered collectible and rare.
Many of these pieces of worship did not survive either of the World Wars. Thus Judaica like yours, especially if made of silver, is extremely valuable.
What a lucky and glorious thing that this piece found you.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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