Kestenbaum & Company conducted its spring auction of Fine Judaica on Wednesday, March 21st. The sale included a fine representation of Hebrew Printed Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Graphic and Ceremonial Art.
One of the top lots and highlights of the auction was the catalogue cover lot, the very earliest recorded autograph letter by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Written by the Rebbe from his hometown of Yekatrinaslov in the Soviet Union in 1925, this lengthy letter was penned to the great Rogatchover Gaon, the foremost Talmudic scholar of his time, and displays the extraordinary erudition and fluency in Rabbinic learning that the Rebbe had master over even as a young man of 23. The letter sold for $30,000 (Lot 284). Another Chassidic-related lot, the eminently scarce first edition of the Ma’aneh Lashon issued according to the custom of Chabad Chassidim, Shklov, c. 1813, was purchased for $20,000 (Lot 95).
Within the Manuscripts section, best performers included a rare Medieval Hebrew fragment from a lost text of Maimonides’ commentary to the Mishnah written by Saadiah al-Adani in 1222, less than twenty years after Maimonides had passed away, which garnered $23,000 (Lot 282); a fragment from an eleventh century Hebrew Psalms, written in the Near East (possibly Syria), which achieved $10,000 (Lot 257) and Hebrew fragments from Asher Ben Jechiel’s Hilchoth HaRosh, Spain, 14th century, which realized $3,500 (Lot 255). Also of note was Maimonides’ Seder Taharoth, Naples, 1492, this copy with several hundred manuscript glosses and corrections in a contemporary Oriental hand, which attained $17,000 (Lot 283).
Early texts favored by buyers included a rare Constantinople imprint of Nachmanides’ Dina DeGarmei, 1515-20, which earned $11,500 (Lot 204); David Ibn Yachya’s Hilchoth Treifoth, Constantinople, 1515-18, which sold for $10,000 (Lot 152); Solomon ibn Adret’s Piskei Chalah, Constantinople, 1515, which earned $9,000 (Lot 224) and a Latin Psalter, the first book published by Daniel Bomberg, Venice 1515, which brought in $11,000 (Lot 76).
American Judaica highlights included the very first complete set of Festival Prayer-Books printed in America, prepared by Isaac Leeser, Philadelphia, 1837-38. It realized $30,000 (Lot 26). Also noteworthy, an exceptionally rare Hebrew-English broadside by Moses Aaron Schreiber, issued to commemorate America’s Centennial July 4, 1876, New York, garnered $20,000 (Lot 36); Seder Shevach VeHoda’ah, a scarce pamphlet of prayers recited by the surviving Jews of Barbados on the first anniversary after a catastrophic hurricane decimated the island, 1832, hammered at $9,000 (Lot 22) and an historic autograph letter appealing to Rev. Isaac Leeser, Editor of the Occident, to help fight against the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, c. 1853, was purchased for $6,500 (Lot 252).
Generating interest in the Anglo-Judaica section was a fine copy of a particularly rare Spanish language Prayer-Book, Orden de las Oraciones Cotidianas, London 1772, which sold for $6,000 (Lot 189) and David Nieto’s Binah La’Itim, the first Hebrew calendar printed in London, 1718, which reached $5,500 (Lot 42). Also of note was Arthur Szyk’s richly illustrated Passover Hagadah printed on vellum, London 1939-40, which realized $25,000 (Lot 146).
Most popular in the Graphic Art section was a Ze’ev Raban designed Ketubah, partially hand colored, Jerusalem, c. 1940s, which earned $6,000 (Lot 315); an oil painting by Tully Filmus, entitled Dancing Chassidim, which realized $3,000 (Lot 299) and a watercolor of the Western Wall by Anna Rychter-May, which was purchased for $2,750 (Lot 318). Also noteworthy was Roman Vishniac’s signed photograph of The Scholar which brought in $3,750 (Lots 311) and Bernice Abbot’s signed and numbered photograph of S. Scharlin & Son Snuff Shop, which sold for $3,250 (Lot 310).
Within the small section of Ceremonial Art that rounded out the sale, standouts included an early 20th century tall silver Chanukah Menorah by Tiffany & Co., which earned $8,000 (Lot 327); Ludwig Wolpert’s original maquette of his Bauhaus-style Kiddush goblet, which reached $2,750 (Lot 342) and a 19th century Italian silver amulet which garnered $5,000 (Lot 349). The final lot of the auction, a Palestinian-Jewish helmet made for Magen-David-Adom, circa 1940 also found favor with buyers, and hammered down at $800 against a pre-auction estimate of $200-300 (Lot 351).
The next auction of Fine Judaica, including the Cassuto Collection of Iberian Judaica, Part III, will be held in June 2012.
For further information, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197.