Posted 1 year ago
These brooches have been popular souvenirs brought back from Israel for centuries. Every other visitor to Jerusalem has picked up at least one, and as a result they have, until recently, been ubiquitous—and inexpensive—on the ‘net. But I’ve noticed that lately that’s changing. A colleague in the UK sent me an auction-catalogue listing for an antique one which, though damaged, was up for 500 pounds. Plainly, these are good investment pieces.
Most Bethlehem stars have 5 arms, some have 7 or 8; some are doves of peace; some are Stars of David, or crosses; there are even elaborate nativity scenes. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate these hand-carved beauties. No matter how simple or complex, they’re all quite special, and I’ve collected them for years without ever suspecting that one day they’d be hot properties.
Mother-of-pearl carving is a traditional handicraft in Bethlehem, said to have been brought to the city by Franciscan friars from Italy in the 15th century. The first exhibition in the West of mother-of-pearl artifacts from Palestine was at The World’s Fair in New York in 1852. Two brothers, Giries and Ibrahim Mansur, exhibited their work and were a great success. Owing to the Mansur Brothers, the West discovered carved MOP and it has been popular ever since.
In past times, most of the oysters for Israel’s mother-of-pearl supply came from the Red Sea, which as recently as 2009 had a robust mollusk population. Today, however, the Red Sea has suffered a sharp decline in species and many are endangered. Therefore Australia, California, New Zealand, and Brazil are the main source of the MOP used in many, but not all, recent Bethlehem stars.
I cannot specify how old these are, but their (typically) unmarked pins are not oxidized, tho' their glue is slightly discolored, so I assume probably no earlier than mid-century. The brooches' simple pins are glued on with epoxy that won’t release unless you boil the star to loosen it. (I do this with clip- or screw-backs when I want to remove the findings so I can transform old medallions into new dangle earrings..)
In essence, these represent the star that guided the Magi with their gifts to the birthplace of Christ. Look closely to see that the small carvings between some points are doves of peace. Ponder this: these brooches came all the way from the Holy Land, and possibly even the Red Sea. They are artifacts of millennia-old tradition and history, and there’s no telling where they may have traveled in the years before they reached me, all the way out here in California. Though they've seen some mileage, they're still as lustrous and radiant as the day they were carved. I display them in my cabinet of wonders.
About 1.5" in diameter, or 1 & 7/8 wide.