Kestenbaum & Company conducted an auction on January 31st of nearly 400 lots featuring a broad variety of Fine Judacia. In addition to Rare Books and Manuscripts, this particular auction offered an unusually strong section of Graphic Art and Ceremonial Objects which was very well-received by buyers. Consequently, the firm will continue to corral its resources in order to broaden and expand these collecting areas.
The celebrated 18th century portrait of Hayim Samuel Jacob Falk, the Ba’al Shem of London, was the star lot of the auction. Painted in oil on canvas probably by the French-British artist Philip James de Loutherbourg, it was featured on the auction catalogue cover and generated much international interest during the sale exhibition. The painting (which was estimated at $30,000-50,000) caused much excitement as the auction hammer came down at $75,000 after a fierce bidding battle between a bidder in the salesroom and a bidder on the phone. The consignor, the Director of a New York based museum, was quite by chance seated next to the winning bidder in the room, and joined the rest of the audience in a round of applause when the prolonged bidding ended. Also within the Graphic Art section of the auction, a large watercolor by Ephraim Moses Lilien from 1904 induced spirited bidding. Designed for a stained glass window in Hamburg, Germany, and featuring the Biblical Moses as Liberator, it sold for its high estimate of $15,000 (Lot 296).
A beautiful and opulent late 19th century Continental gold Megillah case housing a Scroll of Esther on vellum, was the top seller in the Ceremonial Art section of the auction, realizing $30,000 (Lot 334). Another rare piece of gold Judaica, an attractive Louis XIV-style Torah Pointer applied with jewels, achieved $10,000 (Lot 335). Of a different nature, a Passover Seder plate manufactured by Jewish Holocaust survivors in a German Displaced Person Camp, 1946, was also noteworthy. Estimated at $600-900, it was purchased for $1,800 after competitive bidding (Lot 365).
Abrahan ibn Ezra’s, Commentary to the Torah written in 1381, the earliest known Hebrew Manuscript written in Kastoria, Macedonia, was of great interest among the Manuscripts in the auction, and ultimately sold mid-estimate at $60,000 (Lot 255). Another manuscript highlight was Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach’s personal copy of the Chidushei Rabbeinu Chaim Halevi (Brisk, 1936) with his autograph marginal notes, which achieved $5,000 (Lot 271).
Performing well among early Hebrew printed books was Menasseh ben Israel’s Nishmath Chaim with the rare engraved portrait of the author, Amsterdam, 1652, which attained $22,000 against an estimate $15,000-20,000 (Lot 159), and a Babylonian Talmud, Masechta Zevachim, printed by Daniel Bomberg in Venice, 1548, which achieved $16,000, against its estimate of $10,000-15,000 (Lot 202). Leading a strong section of Chassidic books was a complete early edition of Elimelech of Lizhensk’s No’am Elimelech, Slavuta, 1794, which realized $30,000, selling over its pre-auction estimate of $20,000-25,000 (Lot 44).
Other books of note included three pamphlets in German by Moses Mendelssohn, 1757, which are historically significant for representing the first time Jews identified and with their broader host society and presaged the development of the Haskalah Movement. Estimated at $6,000-8,000, it was bought for $9,500 (Lot 163). Another rare text was Levi Alexander’s The Axe Laid to the Root…, London, 1808, an unusual polemic attacking the British Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschel who sought to raise the standards of Hebrew education in the early 19th century, which earned $12,500 (Lot 23).
The next auction of Fine Judaica: Hebrew Printed Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Graphic and Ceremonial Art, featuring a Private Collection of Zionist Historical Documents will be held in Spring 2013.
For further information, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197 or