In many an auction there have often been unexpected surprises, such as an item that was estimated as a high seller failing to reach even the lowest threshold of its estimated value or an item selling for an amount far above the expected. Last Thursday’s auction, at Kestenbaum and Company, was no exception. While some lots may not have sold at the expected price, others indeed went for higher sums.
Just as art reveals the artist’s soul, and ceremonial art reveals the soul of a people, how and why later generations value that art speaks volumes of that particular people’s past. Last Thursday, quite a few items exceeded their estimates but two of them – in particular – demonstrate to me what we, as Jews, still treasure today.
UKRANIAN/POLISH SILVER SPICE TOWER. Single tier tower, engraved on four sides with animals representing the adage from Ethics of the Fathers: Bold as a Leopard, Swift as an Eagle, Fleet as a Deer, Strong as a Lion (Chapter 5:23). Set on knop stem and matching square base. Marked. Height: 7 inches.
Circa 1820: $6,000-$8,000
The above item sold for $15,000. Frankly, from a strictly artistic point of view, there were more beautiful, more intricately designed spice towers for havdala, even in this very auction; the particular lot, however, stood out for its inscriptions telling a Jew that he must always be ready to act with alacrity, and defy every obstacle on his way to perform any one of Hakodosh Boruch Hu‘s commandments. While the esthetics of an item are important, its message and its function are – obviously – of greater value to us as a people… even in the 21st century!
The second item I find worthy of mentioning is a mixed media work…
(Kaufman, Isidor. After). Studying the Talmud. Wood and mixed media (intarsia-style). Framed. 23.5 x 19.5 inches
Mid 20 century: $100-$150
Based on the Isidor Kaufman painting ‘Studying the Talmud’
The above item sold for $1500, ten times the highest estimated amount! Why? Because not only do we Jews value tradition, not only do we value books, we treasure learning and scholarship. Again the personal values of the buyer far outshine the artistic value of the work.
Attending this auction of Jewish Ceremonial Art showed me an important part of our character as a people. It reinforced the knowledge that no matter how far down the rungs of spiritual height our generation has descended, no matter how jaded we’ve become in the surroundings of the present day world, the values and beliefs our ancestors held are still engraved in our hearts. The flames of yahadut are indeed eternal and will forever warm our collective soul.