Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky

Historian & Electronics Engineer

M.Sc.

Ph.D.

Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky

Historian & Electronics Engineer

M.Sc.

Ph.D.

 

Old Candlesticks

At the beginning of winter 2013, my mother began to consider renting out her old apartment in Tel-Aviv.  I had lived there for twenty years, but for the last several it stood neglected. I took upon myself the burden of renovating it and selling the contents, and my son Avraham volunteered to help me.

 

Seeing the furniture and possessions caused me to feel nostalgia for days passed. Since we had no way of keeping them, we had to give them up, and I worked hard to sell them to strangers. As I was organizing the old items I came across a bag with a pair of candlesticks inside. I remembered them well. My mother used them every Friday night. I didn’t think she was too keen on them because when she found new and modern candlesticks in a store she didn’t hesitate for long and bought them. The old ones were pushed aside to a secluded corner.

 

Indeed, the old candlesticks didn’t look so good. Their shine was gone and it seemed as though there was a permanent thick layer of dust on them. Still, there was something about these candlesticks that wouldn’t let me ignore them. Therefore I decided to take them out of their bag and put them on the table in the kitchen. At least I would enjoy their appearance before I sold them.

Between painting and cleaning, I would sit at this table and eat my meals hastily. While eating, the candlesticks would capture my glance and I was enchanted by their unique and antique look. Their impressive height and the good condition of the leaves etched on their length outweighed the lack of shine.

Ultimately, I chose to keep them and not get rid of them like the rest of the possessions. I told my mother and she didn’t oppose the idea, and even brought up memories about them:

 

We were deported from our home in Kovna on June 14, 1941 on a Saturday morning. Because of the restriction on carrying items on the Sabbath we refrained from taking household items, and we left on the long journey without basic necessities like candlesticks or even a prayer book.[1] During our exile in Bikov-Mis which is in the Arctic Circle, my mother used oil lamps as Sabbath candles.

 

A while later, a Lithuanian Jew who had been also deported to one of the settlements near us came to Bikov-Mis. He told us that his wife hadn’t survived the hardships and had passed away. He had her candlesticks which he didn’t use, and he sold them to my parents for 180 rubles. My mother didn’t love them. She thought they were simple metal candlesticks that didn’t compare to our elaborate ones that had been left behind in Kovna. However, they were a good solution for honoring the Sabbath and she used them while we were in exile.

 

When we were able to move to the city of Yakutsk which is in Siberia, I decided to return the shine which had disappeared from them. One of the factories supplied me with sawdust; with much hard work, it helped clean the pair of candlesticks. When we arrived in Israel, and we were more comfortable, I found a beautiful pair of silver candlesticks in a store, and I bought them for the Sabbath. The tin candlesticks I put aside…

It took several months of work in the apartment. We were finally able to sell all the contents, and the rest of the items, amongst them the candlesticks, I moved to our storage locker. One day I decided to take a look at them close up. I took one out of the storage unit and looked at it and its etchings carefully.  Suddenly I saw a very small imprint on its base… I immediately ran to retrieve the second one. There too was engraved a similar inscription.

I looked closely at the engraving. I saw very strange impressions with only one symbol I recognized: 1895… I stood there flustered and excited. Maybe they were only made of tin, but still! Ancient tin! Thrilled at my discovery, I tried to decipher the handwriting. All I could identify was the name SZEKMAN, i.e. Shekman. So, it was Polish writing from the end of the nineteenth century. Who was this Shekman? Was he the manufacturer or was it the name of a company? Here I was, trying to solve an historical riddle.

 

I started to investigate Shekman’s background. Soon I had found out that there was a silversmith named Yisrael Shekman, who had worked in Warsaw between 1886 and 1915, and produced candlesticks and other metal ware by hand. His commercial symbol was a fish, and there really was a fish on the right side of the tiny inscription. It was possible that he had died or been murdered at the beginning of World War One, and here, still in the world were several pieces that he had made!

 

In addition to the number for the year, the inscription had another number, 84. What was the significance of the number? I started to examine pictures of copper candlesticks that had been created by Shekman the silversmith. They were similar to ours, but for some reason the numbers on them did not resemble 84.

 

I had also come across references to silver candlesticks that Shekman had produced, and I decided to probe further and see what was inscribed on them. I found pictures of several, and on all of them the number 84 appeared! Was it possible that our candlesticks were silver!? Indeed, soon I found that they were, and 84 was the standard for the quality of the silver that was the same as “Silver 875”![2]

 

While trying to understand the significance of the other markings that were on the candlesticks, I slowly was learning the secrets of the world of silversmithing during the Russian Empire of previous centuries. Because the profession was known from the distant past to be susceptible to fraud and deception, towards the governments and the purchasers, Czar Peter the Great (1672–1725) decided to regulate the precious metals industry, and from 1700, a decree was announced about regulating produce of silver and gold vessels. The decree declared that all silver and gold items needed to be registered at an official institution and had to be inscribed with the stamp of both the silversmith and the metal quality essayer, the symbol for the local city and the quality of the metal itself.[3]

 

Indeed, I had already identified the silversmith by his signature and his commercial insignia. But what were the other markings? I learned that the rest were the work of the metal quality essayer, which he used to imprint on the item. These markings, which were actually one stamp, were called “troinik” (тройник), in other words the triple. It was essentially an abbreviation of the name of the essayer together with the year, the quality of the metal and the city code.

 

Who was the essayer of our candlesticks? I found out that his full name was Ossip (Joseph) Sosenkovsky (Осип Соснковский), that all that is known of him is that he used this mark in the years 1869–1896.[4] The mark of the city, Warsaw, was also clear, which indeed was where the silversmith Shekman lived.[5]

 

Therefore, I understood that our candlesticks had not been treated well for many years…

 
 
 

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[1] About the prayer book see Gitta Langleben-Klibansky, From the Ends of the Earth: The Struggle for Survival of a Jewish Girl from Lithuania on the Banks of the Arctic Ocean, Elkana: “History of the Lithuanian Jewry”, 2013, p. 69.

[2] The number 84 was the measure of 84 zolotniks. A zolotnik was a Russian weight measure, and accordingly, 96 zolotniks signified pure silver (1000/1000 parts). 84 zolotniks – the most frequently used silver quality in the Russian Empire in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century – meant therefore quality of 84/96 (or 875/1000 of pure silver), and in modern days language, “silver 875”.

[3] It was forbidden for the essayer to inscribe his seal before the silversmith himself had done so.

[4] He used the abbreviations IS in Latin writing from 1852 at least, and IC in Cyrillic writing from 1862 at least.

[5] In Warsaw, beginning in 1852, a Czarist government office initiated operations to inspect and supervise metals, and from then on Poland implemented the Russian method of marking.

 
 
 
 

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