G.R. uses a pair of Polish Judaica candlesticks for the weekend Shabbos family meal. They date from the last quarter of the 19th century. They're marked with the Polish double eagle and a number — 874 — which means that the sticks are made of a metal containing 87.4 percent silver. Compare this with sterling silver, which contains 92.5 percent silver.
Polish silver of this era was known to be graded into three levels of silver content to create three levels of value in the marketplace. G.R.'s sticks aren't of the highest silver content, nor are they of the lowest. They are right in the middle. This frugality will impress you when you read who made them, and for whom.
G.R.'s grandmother brought these Shabbos sticks with her on the boat from Poland. No doubt they were ceremonially special to her, a young girl, but perhaps even more so because they were crafted by her father, a silversmith in Lublin, Poland. The silver stamp gives his name: CJ Manmin, a shortened version of his full name, Chaim Josef Manzumen. Later, U.S. authorities changed the family name to Mann.
Chaim Josef was born and died in Lublin. But in 1922 his wife, Sheva Glika Kastenbaum, immigrated to join their children, who had already come to Chicago, where she died 10 years later at the age of 73. She might have been a widow at this time.
G.R. has no records of her great-grandfather, the Polish silversmith of Lublin. But I can tell her that he was a very courageous man because he was a Jewish silversmith, and more than likely a talented artisan with a good business head. For, in Europe, Jews were not normally allowed to become silversmiths because being a Jew meant no entrance to the strong guild system. Thus, Chaim Josef had to be quite something in Lublin.
Many Jewish ceremonial objects I've seen were made by non-Jews on commission for Jewish families. Take, for example, a comparable pair of Shabbos sticks marked with the name of the smith, "Fraget," made in Warsaw, at the same date, by a French smith. Most telling are the mistakes made in Hebrew inscriptions because non-Hebrew readers made the objects, and could only copy the script, which is difficult enough.
The last part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century held more than turbulent times for Jews, and, therefore, objects such as these (called Judaica in the market today), of silver, were not displayed to the general public. Synagogues held their own repositories of artifacts for education of the congregation to admire in ceremonies, but in 1878 at the Exposition Universelle de Paris the public viewed 82 such Jewish ceremonial objects. That was the first public show — in or out of a museum — on record. And these things have been around a long time. That tells you something about Judaica, not only the necessity of secrecy but also the tradition of secrecy.
I can date the sticks because, by the end of World War I, Poland, which had been divided into parts of Russia, Austria, Prussia and Germany, became the Republic of Poland in 1918. Only then did assay marks become established as a standard in 1920, and these consisted of a head with a kerchief, a number for the level of silver content, and a letter for the town where the object was made.
G.R., your great-grandfather was indeed a trailblazer in one sense, but not in another. The tradition of Jewish artistry in gold- and silversmithing is mentioned as early in time as the writing of Exodus 39.3: "and they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, with cunning work, to do service in this Holy Place, making the Ephod" (the priest's vestment).
The value of your Shabbos sticks is $1,800 for the pair, but as you say, you would never sell them. Now you know how very special they are. The major market for Judaica has grown astronomically since the days of secrecy; both Sotheby's and Christie's have annual auctions of Judaica, and the major market for such objects is New York. Many Jewish families, who have had to give up their ceremonial treasures, over the years have created quite a strong market for the repatriation of Judaica. You are lucky to have not one but both of your sticks.
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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