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What is a Tzotchke?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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Some may call an inexpensive souvenir or a kitschy gift item a knick knack, a dust collector or a trinket. The Yiddish language gives us yet another word to describe such a piece; a tzotchke. A tzotchke, also rendered as chachki or chotchkey in certain sources, literally translates as "piece" from the original Hebrew word katikha. Virtually every tourist destination in the world will have at least one tzotchke store nearby, if not an entire street or village of them.

A tzotchke store located near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France would most likely offer cheap plastic snow globes of the tower, along with key chains, souvenir spoons, small French flags, and inexpensive berets embroidered with an image of the tower. Tzotchke stores near the Vatican would offer similar trinkets or memorabilia of the Pope or other religious icons. Tourists would most likely purchase a few tzotchkes as gifts for their friends back home or as affordable tokens of their trip.

The term tzotchke has come to imply cheaply manufactured or kitschy items with little intrinsic value. While many may consider a collection of tzotchkes to be a little tacky, the little trinkets and knick knacks do work as conversation pieces. Only a person who has actually visited Mount Rushmore or Disneyland would actually have access to certain tzotchke stores, so the trinkets do provide some street cred for frequent travelers.

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Some products originally dismissed as worthless tzotchkes can acquire significant value over time. Opportunistic vendors once produced thousands of inexpensive tzotchkes such as snow globes and plastic purses which featured the images of the Beatles, for example. Some of those cheaply produced items are now considered quite collectible, although many mass-produced tzotchkes are not. Other trinkets and knick knacks bearing the images or names of Disney characters or famous musicians such as Elvis Presley can also become valuable over time.

While few souvenir shops promote their offerings as tzotchkes, most tourists and local citizens are aware of the commercial nature of the stores. Authentic wooden shoes may be purchased from local craftsman in Holland, for instance, but a tzotchke store in Amsterdam may offer cheaper versions with "Welcome to Holland" or other tourist-related imagery emblazoned on them. Some visitors do not have the luxury of shopping in town, so they will often pick up tzotchkes in a souvenir shop or airport to commemorate their trip.

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