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Collecting Antique Judaica

Judaica can be broadly described as the material culture of the Jewish people. Any art, object of ceremonial or domestic use that refers to Jews or the Jewish religion is included. Judaica also comprises historical artifacts relating to important events, personalities or literature. Objects such as kiddush cups, Hanukkah menorahs, Passover Seder plates and Wimpels are joined by Purim carnival tickets, antique maps of the Holy Land, matchboxes from Kosher delis, and works by Israeli artists. Age, condition, rarity and the intrinsic value of the material, as well as the historic and artistic importance, help determine the value.

Antique Judaica is unique in that items take on the characteristics of communities worldwide. This diversity of styles, materials and techniques combined with rarity make Judaica an area of collecting prone to adapted, embellished and reproduction articles.

wooden noisemaker or grogger

This plain wood 19th century noisemaker may sell for about $100 at auction, while a Purim grogger of the same vintage with authentic Hebrew inscriptions or holiday decoration would sell for more than ten times that amount. It is important to look at decoration/embellishments carefully.

This is an example of the wonderfully decorative but modern pieces coming from Turkmenistan that are often offered as “antique.”

 

A Judaica Appraisers Best Advice: Look with a Critical Eye

When I look closely at an object to determine its authenticity, I’m asking myself  two important questions.

1. Is the wear consistent with age and use?

For a silver Judaica object that is supposedly from the 18th or 19th century, this could mean looking at the engraved text or decoration to determine if it is mellow or sharp. Does the item bear witness to being handled, polished and even dented through generations of use or does it appear crisp and newly minted without trace of scratches or loss?

2. Is the item made of an appropriate material for the age and geographic origin?

For instance, a wooden Purim grogger purporting to be American, 19th century is likely to be made of a native wood such as walnut, cherry or oak, and not an exotic wood from the Amazon rainforest or South East Asia.

Antique Judaica Resources

The best general reference book for antique Judaica, in my opinion, is Jay Weinstein’s A Collector’s Guide to Judaica, 1985. The text is informative and it is very well illustrated with examples from Judaica auctions.  View my Amazon list for additional recommended resources.

Most important for emerging collectors? Look for the best examples of antique Judaica, or modern designs that you can afford. If authentic 18th & 19th century examples are out of your price range, look to emerging areas such as Israeliana (early Statehood items) or to ephemera such as posters, invitations, and advertising. Both are interesting and less expensive ways to get into collecting authentic antique Judaica.

CONSIGN ANTIQUE JUDAICA

31 thoughts on “Collecting Antique Judaica

  1. I have a Siddur that belonged to my mother-in-law. It was published in TelAviv in 1969. It is about 2″X4″, bound in what looks like silver with some turquoise and a4 cabochon amber colored stones. How can I find out what it’s value is? Is there a place in NY that I can take it to for an appraisal?

    • Eileen, Thank you for your comment. Prayer books and Tanach are popular presentation gifts, and what you describe is typical of the types of decoratively bound books produced in Israel. Many that I have seen are cast with Jewish symbols such as the Decalogue, Twelve Tribes, lions, crown, and Menorah. Some also have real or imitation turquoise and Eilat stones. These volumes are attractive, but of modest value to collectors. However, its always good to check closely as the Bezalel School of Arts & Crafts produced sterling silver versions that are clearly marked and are highly desirable. You are welcome to send us an image of your item to see if its suitable for a Judaica auction. KAS

  2. Hello i recently bought a old antique piece from a yard sale, i will try to describe it as much as possible its about the height of a serving bar it has two doors in front with the star of david in front when the doors are close and on each side it has a door that could be lock and on the side and inside they are shelves to store items so im wondering does it has any value and i also have a washing sink with two candle holder and a mirror and two bowls and a water vase or picture to pour water from so could please e-mail to let me know what im dealing with before i get rid of it thank you.

    • Sheila, Thanks for your comment. The best way for me to evaluate whether the items of antique Judaica you describe are auction worthy is to view images. This can be done through our website, or by mailing a letter with images to the attention of Appraisal Services at Skinner, Inc., 274 Cedar Hill Street, Marlborough, MA 01752. I look forward to seeing pictures! KAS

  3. I am trying to determine the value of ww2 dog tags . They belonged to my great uncle. He was a Dr. reporting to Truman and Jewish.. There is a Mezuzah attached aaaand also a Catholic medal. Can you help?

  4. hi,

    I am interested in obtaining an appraisal for a Mane Katz painting, The Jew of Gerber. I would like to send you a picture and get your opinion. I also have a illustrated folio from Russia, approximately 1957, of a Jewish folk tale-it is complete, and I think it is a Shalom Aleichem or Peretz story. It is in Russian and Yiddish.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Regards,
    Aviva Blumberg

  5. I am a collector of antique tzadaka boxes(pushes).Who can I contact in Canada or the US,who may sell genuine antique pushkes?

  6. Kerry, Not much out there on judaica art/antiques that are not books or gold/silver.
    I have a collection of furniture which is inlaid pearl, silver, solid wood chairs with magen davids in the motif that I purchased in Israel many years ago and am looking to see where would be the best place to put them up for sale. I also have 2 curio cabinets as well, they all date at a minimum to the late 1800’s.
    Any input you have would be great regarding them.Thank You

  7. Hi Keith, thanks for your email. Antique Judaica is scarce. I’d be happy to look at images of the furniture you describe. Much furniture with Star of David motifs, utilizes the design as a decorative motif without any symbolic intent. You are welcome to email judaica@skinnerinc.com and I’ll be happy to offer an opinion as to market potential. KAS

  8. Hi Kerry,
    Wondering about what appears to be a Purim Scroll (I’m not sure) on lamb skin or goat skin…definitely an animal skin, rolled and contained in a tin tube. I will send a photo.
    Thanks,
    Linda

  9. Hi Linda, I received the pictures of your antique Judaica today – thank you. The scroll is a Megillah, the recounting the Book of Esther that is read on the Jewish holiday of Purim. It appears to be parchment and probably dates from the early 20th century. I have a few follow-up questions for you, so will reply to your email. Characteristics that equate to value are age, origin, and examples that are beautifully hand-illustrated.
    KAS

  10. I have an antique silver collection of ceremonial articles that have been collected over the past 30 or 40 years.

    I have some appraisals on the items (approximately 17 pieces) but do not have the hallmarks etc. on many others.

    My husband was the collector and I do not have receipts on most.

    I also have a collection of Abram Krol’s engravings of Jewish content and would also like them sold.

    I have the books and history of Mr. Krol’s find Jewish Holiday scenes.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Marcia Friedman

  11. Hello,

    I have a Machzor Shalosh Regalim that was printed in Lemberg(Lvov) back in 1836 as well as copuple of other items.. how can I get the idea of its value ? Please provide me with info. where I can upload photo for your review. Thank you !

  12. I have an unusual Havdalah set–one silver object with a place for the Havdalah candle ( size of a Shabbat candle) and a pullout drawer with 4 containers for 4 different spices. It has hallmarks on the bottom, two lions of Judah on top. it was in the family–so goes the tradition–since the early 18th century. It is approximately 8-10 inches tall. In the next e-mail I will send photos. Is this piece of value? Is it of museum quality because of its unique design?

  13. Here are pictures of an antique and unusual Havdalah box.Is it of 18th century origin? have you ever seen another like it.

  14. Hello from a shiska in Texas!

    I used to live in NYC. One evening in 1976 I walked my dog keeping an eye out for discarded items of interest. In a NYC wire trash can I saw a box. It looked like it should have a lid that would slide into the box. I looked around and found the lid. On the side of the lid was writing I could not read. I took the box home. While showing my find to the concierge a woman who was a professor of Jewish history came up to the desk. She was interested in my ” find”. She told me the writing was in Old Hebrew and dated somewhere in the 1700s; she continued to advise me that it was a box that was used to hold loan documents or IOUs It is signed by the original owner probably by quill since it is easy to detect the outline.

    Now, I am 72, and I would like to sell the box. Would you be interested in having photos? I think it should be returned to the Jewish Community.

    You may call me…just send me a private email so I can send you my number.

    Very truly yours,

    Susan

  15. Hello. I have an oil on canvas that seems to date close to the 1930’s or so. Seems to be an Isidor Kaufmann copy of rabbi with scrolls, the frame is guilded, and quite beautiful too. I have searched many place and have not been able to find this particular painting of the Rabbi – seems to be very rare.
    any ideas?
    thanks much.
    carla

  16. Hello,

    I have inherited my parents extensive library of over 1,000 judaica themed books with a concentration in holocaust studies. I also have a small collection of pre-Israel wooden knick knacks. Would someone from your company contact me about appraising these items. The library is my main concern.

    Thank you,

    Ori

  17. Greetings! I’m not sure if this would be of interest to the auction house, but I obtained an antique Purim grogger from a yard sale. Though plain in size and construction, it is interesting in that it advertises Stein’s bakery. I have been unable to find another advertising grogger online. Could you please advise if it would be of interest to the house for a judaica auction? Thanks! Brian

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