Candlesticks and Candelabras
Read Ann Rabinowitz on the history of candlesticks and candelabras, and enjoy these four images of candlesticks, candelabras and spice boxes sent into us by members of the public as part of our YOUR TREASURES project. The wooden spice box was a given as a gift by the Sassover Rebbe in around 1900.
Originally posted on Jewishgen.org
Some everyday items meant so much in the lives of our ancestors that often they were carted over long distances to foreign countries, far away from their ancestral shtetls.
Many times, you may find that you are in possession of a household heirloom which you inherited from your ancestors. You will look at the item and wonder what and how it was used. Perhaps you will look at its design and think about what kind of material it is made from or where it came from originally. Its age also may tickle your curiosity.
What follows is an essay excerpted from a series of essays I wrote about household items, originally posted on the JewishGen Discussion Group and LitvakSIG Online Journal during the High Holidays, September 28—October 4, 2008. These essays are brief explanations of the role that some everyday items played in the lives of our ancestors.
More Than Just a Pair of Candlesticks
In retrospect, I ought to explain that I have always been enamoured with candlesticks. They have had a strange fascination for me with their fantastic variety of shapes, forms, and designs. Over the years, I have collected various types—be they metal, porcelain, glass, wood, or otherwise. I have often wondered who had used them and where they had come from before they landed on my table.
With this in mind, I attended a meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. (JGSPBCI) where the speaker, Rafi Guber, was scheduled to help provide identification for member-owned Judaica. In the aftermath of this meeting, I happened to speak to JGSPBCI member Helene Seaman z’l. She had with her a five-branched candelabra that she wanted to have identified, which had belonged to her grandmother, Hudel Glik Barkan, from Dusetos, Lithuania. When the speaker was unable to assist her directly, I told her that I would help her identify her family heirloom.
Helene sent me a picture of her item and I noted the hallmark on the underside of it: Derby S.P., Co., #02572. When I saw that, I realized that the item was not a foreign one made in “der heim” as she had thought, but one whose provenance had originated in the United States.
The Derby S.P., Co. inscription represented the Derby Silver Plate Company which was founded in Derby (originally Birmingham), Connecticut, in 1873. At some point in the early 20th Century, Derby joined the International Silver Company which had been founded in 1898 in Meriden, Connecticut.
This company was a conglomeration of a number of independent silver manufacturers and they specialized in making “silver-plated holloware including pitchers, bowls, mugs, teapots, coffee pots, and trays.” Candlesticks and candelabras were also produced by the company, especially what were called wedding candelabras. These items were used at the wedding itself as well as at the reception. In addition, one often found that the groom’s family would give the bride a gift of candlesticks, which were used during the wedding ceremony and thereafter.
In all probability, Helene’s grandmother had purchased the candelabra at some point after she had established her household in America. Its elaborate design was symbolic of a time when intricate ornamentation was commonplace and expected. It had come just prior to the next generation of modern clean-cut designs for household items, such as candlesticks.
Following this candlestick inquiry, another individual, Shelly Levin, then posted on JewishGen about wanting to identify a wonderful gift that she had just been given. The gift was a pair of brass candlesticks from Szczuczyn, Poland, that had belonged to her great-grandmother, Nechama Milewicz-Lipowicz. Evidently, Nechama had brought these candlesticks to America in 1939 and Shelly had been told that they had been passed down in her family for over 300 plus years or so. It is always a blessing to receive such a gift that exemplifies family history over such a long period of time.
In response to Shelly’s inquiry, I told her that brass candlesticks were quite popular in the period from the 1600’s onward, when her great-grandmother’s ancestors had reputedly obtained the candlesticks. They were a staple in the Galician woman’s arsenal of household items, along with her “perina” or goose-down comforter or duvet. Many women prided themselves on their candlesticks, which were the main, or sometimes the only, adornment of their Shabbat table, especially in poorer households.
In fact, my grandmother, Rose Oxenberg Fink, had a number of candlesticks and candelabras of various sizes and shapes which she used on the Shabbat table and which were later divided and given to each of her four daughters. However, the ones given to my mother were supposedly purchased secondhand in 1901 when my grandmother arrived in Manchester, England, from Drogobych, Ukraine. The candlesticks had “Made in England” stamped on the underside. This was her first purchase when setting up her new household, as had been the case with Helene Seaman’s grandmother when she settled in America.
At the time, Great Britain produced the best quality of brass in the world; particularly brass created in Birmingham, England. The candlesticks were later electroplated with silver, which was commonly done, and this eventually wore off requiring “re-silvering”. This spawned a whole industry to meet the need for upkeep on the candlesticks.
Many of the British brass products were exported and it is possible that Shelly’s great-grandmother’s candlesticks could have had a British origin, if there was a hallmark on the side or underside to that effect. However, it is more likely that the candlesticks were made locally or in a nearby larger city close to where her great-grandmother lived in Galicia.
Along with the butcher and the baker, the candlestick maker was an important facet of urban existence for not only Jewish housewives, but the entire community. Many times, housewives purchased their candlesticks from local craftsmen or at the markets in their shtetl or from peddlers who traveled on a regular circuit through their communities. If the shtetl were large enough, there would have even been actual stores where the candlesticks could be purchased and which were often called “colonial goods” stores as they were in Lithuania.
An example of such “colonial goods” was the brass “Made in England” candlesticks purchased by Leah Fein Cohen, a resident of Kupiskis, Lithuania. She bought them from a dealer in her shtetl and then carried them through Europe, sailed with them across the Atlantic Ocean, and finally arrived with them in New York in 1893. They were treasured by her, until her death in 1918, when they passed to her daughter and thence to her granddaughter, Linda Cantor, who has them to this day.
Candlesticks are quite interesting in conformation and shape and you can sometimes determine their origins by this alone. Many were constructed in parts and bolted together. They were made from many different metal materials, from the most expensive such as gold to silver, silver-plate, bronze, and to the least expensive, which was brass. In addition, there were also wooden candlesticks as well as ceramic, porcelain, and glass or crystal candlesticks which became popular as well.
In regard to my grandmother’s candlesticks, they were the only things that survived, along with the tablecloth they were on, after the family home was destroyed during the World War II Blitz in Manchester, England. I came to think of them as literal survivors, as were the Jews. Unfortunately, I was not in possession of the candlesticks after my mother passed away, and they disappeared last year and are no longer part of the family heritage. It was a poignant moment when I learned of their loss.” src=”cid:image003.jpg@01D794DF.CD29DE50″ alt=”image003.jpg” class=”Apple-web-attachment” style=”width: 1.7916in; height: 2.625in;”>
An interesting sidelight of Morris Rich’s story is that he opened the first wood-turning shop in Miami and catered to many celebrities, commercial enterprises, and governments with his skilled expertise. His brother, Abe Rich, on the other hand, chose to use his wood-turning ability as a carver of pool cues in America. In his small store in Miami Beach, Florida, he came to produce some of the finest cues available, which were used by many celebrities and professional pool players. You can read more about Abe and his famous pool cues at: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/1996-07-25/news/shooting–straight/full
When I was writing this article, I asked Linda Cantor for a photograph of her grandmother’s candlesticks. Imagine my surprise, when I saw them for the first time and realized that they were eerily reminiscent of my mother’s candlesticks that had been lost. Here were Linda’s candlesticks obtained in Kupiskis, Lithuania, and mine which had been obtained in Manchester, England, at about the same time, and they were identical!!! This confirms the remarkable extent to which international trade played in the distribution of everyday goods, such as candlesticks, to our ancestors’ shtetls and towns.
In conclusion, passing down precious family heirlooms, such as candlesticks, is an important responsibility. Something more critical, though, is to give your descendants a sense of how these heirlooms played an integral part in the history of your family and the Jewish people. Learn more about your heirlooms, take digital photos of them, and attach their histories, so that your children and grandchildren will appreciate what they are and where they came from. You won’t be sorry you did this and neither will your descendants.
Born in Manchester, England, genealogist Ann Rabinowitz is a resident of South Florida and has been involved in genealogical pursuits since the age of ten. A prolific writer, her articles have been published on the JewishGen Blog, in numerous Jewish genealogy journals, on Facebook, and in various newspapers.
Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain