Following recent highly specialized Judaica auctions, Kestenbaum & Company conducted an extensive sale on February 8th which offered a broad range of categories. Buyers had an opportunity to select from many prime examples of American-Judaica, Anglo Judaica, Fine Bindings, Important Early Printed Books, Illustrated and Art Books, Jerusalem Broadsides, Manuscripts, Historic Posters, Autographed Letters and Ceremonial Art.
The American-Judaica section performed especially well. High prices were realized for many of the coveted lots. Buyers were extremely enthusiastic about a set of important texts edited and translated by Isaac Leeser whose legacy to American Jewry was his endeavor to spread Jewish literacy. The lot included a 5-volume, First Edition Bible in Hebrew and English, edited by Leeser, Philadelphia 1845-46 together with a 7-volume, Sidur Sifthei Tzadikim (Sephardic prayer book) translated by Leeser, Philadelphia, 1857. This handsome and rare 12-volume set represents the pinnacle of Isaac Leeser’s achievements on behalf of early American Jewry and brought in $88,500, sailing over its pre-sale estimate of $40,000-50,000. Another top performer was the catalogue cover lot--Douglass & Aikman’s Almanack and Register for the Island of Jamaica, Kingston, 1780. This early specimen of Hebrew type in the Western Hemisphere realized $51,920 against an estimate of $20,000-25,000. A First Edition of Seder HaTefiloth-The Form of Daily Prayers, New York, 1826 also brought a strong response. The first Hebrew prayer book printed in America, it sold for $47,200 against a pre-sale estimate of $25,000-30,000.
Another book favored by buyers was Johann Simonis’ geographic survey of Biblical Israel with the celebrated “grape vine map” of the Holy Land. Highly uncommon, it is one of the very few pre-19th century Holy Land maps captioned in Hebrew, and was bought for $21,240, more than tripling its pre-sale estimate of $5,000-7,000. Further highlights in the Printed Books section included a splendidly printed pocket Renaissance Hebrew Bible, Paris 1543-1565 in a beautiful 8-voume set which garnered $18,880; and a 17th century study in Spanish of Constantinople by Moses Almosnino, an important Sephardic scholar, Madrid, 1638 which garnered $15,340 against an estimate of $4,000-6,000. Also noteworthy was a fine copy of a classic Rabbinic legal code, Toldoth Adam Vechava by Yerucham ben Meshulam of Provence, Constantinople, 1516 which sold for $18,880 and a controversial book of Christian Hebraism, Petrus Columna Galatinus’ De Arcanis Catholicae Veritatis, Ortona, 1518, which was purchased by an institutional library for $15,340 against an estimate of $8,000-10,000.
The Autographed Letters section also yielded strong bidding for many of the lots including an exceptionally rare autographed letter signed by Judah Touro to Rev. Isaac Leeser, New Orleans, 1849, $7,670, a letter of considerable historical interest by Samson Raphael Hirsch (the foremost Rabbinic leader in Germany, 1808-1888), Oldenburg, 1835, $7,670 and two letters signed by Physicist and Noble Prize winner Albert Einstein--one from Berlin, 1929 and the other from Princeton, 1939, which realized $3,835 each.
In the graphics section, much interest was shown for a half-dozen exceptionally scarce Russian and Ukranian anti-semetic posters from the early 1940s. Rounding out the sale was the Ceremonial Art section. Fine examples included a silver charity box from Germany 1900-1910 which reached $9,440 and a pewter plate dedicated to Napoleon with Hebrew inscriptions, Paris, c. 1806 which brought in $4,366.