Old dreidels are a rare find

Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 each year, but the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah falls on dates determined by the lunar, not the solar, calendar — so the dates are different every year.

Holidays have special objects connected with their celebrations. One object used during Hanukkah is the dreidel, a top about 2 inches tall used in a game. Spin the dreidel (rhymes with “ladle”) and it soon lands on one of its four sides. There is a Hebrew letter on each side that tells a player to pay into the pot or to take all, nothing or half of the pot.

Recent examples of dreidels have become more elaborate, with spinning figures or flashing lights or noise. Some designers have ignored the four-sided idea and have created dreidels in unusual shapes using metal, ceramics, plastic or wood.

Although dreidels date back more than 2,000 years, a collector today is lucky to find an example more than 100 years old. Prices range from more than $200 for old rarities to $75 for unusual examples made after 1948, the year Israel was founded.

Q: I inherited three sets of porcelain dishes that were hand-painted by my grandmother around the turn of the 20th century. My grandmother emigrated from Germany (Prussia) to the United States in 1895 and settled in Abingdon, Ill., about 1906. The dishes were painted on blanks (“whiteware”) that have the marks of Haviland, Limoges or Bavaria. I am not interested in the value of the dishes, but I am curious about how my grandmother might have accomplished the multistep process of painting and firing this many dishes.

A: From the late 1870s until World War I, thousands of American amateur artists were painting decorations on porcelain tableware, dresser sets, vases and other household items for pleasure rather than for profit. Instructions were regularly included in art magazines.

Most people did not have their own kilns and had to ship their items to a studio for firing.

Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.


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