There was much anticipation surrounding the two star lots of Kestenbaum & Company’s Spring 2009 auction of Fine Judaica. The sale on April 2nd featured more than 320 lots of Hebrew Printed Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Ceremonial and Graphic Art, but as expected, there was particularly intense interest in the top lots of the sale. In the end, the renowned Prague Hagadah with its magnificent woodcut illustrations and decorated pages commanded a premium price of $147,600 (lot124) while Abraham ibn Ezra’s Peirush ha’Torah, Naples, 1488, offered in pristine internal condition, realized $246,000 (lot 38).
Among the many other Important Early Printed Hebrew Books offered in the sale, a standout lot was a complete copy of Menasseh ben Israel’s Nishmath Chaim featuring the rare portrait of the author, Amsterdam, 1652, which earned $17,835 (Lot 189).
In the American Judaica section, buyers were drawn to Governor Worthington’s Speech on the Maryland Test Act, Baltimore, 1824, an important step in investing Jews with political equality, which sold for $34,440 sailing over its pre-auction estimate of $15,000-20,000 (Lot 24) and Mordecai Manuel Noah’s The Fortress of Sorrento: A Petit Historical Drama, New York, 1808, the first play written by a Jew in the United States of America, which attained $9,533 (Lot 11).
Kosher cookbooks have been selling well of late. The most prominent in the sale was the first Jewish Cookbook published in America, Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book, on Principles of Economy Adapted for Jewish Housekeepers, Philadelphia, 1871, which garnered $22,140, more than doubling its pre-sale estimate of $10,000-12,000 (Lot 92).
Further highlights in the Book Section of the sale were Francis Spilsbury’s travel book: Picturesque Scenery in the Holy Land and Syria, London, 1803, which attained $7,073 (Lot 144), an archive relating to the life of Isaachar Ber Ryback with some 100 unpublished photographs of the artist’s visit to Soviet-Jewish farmers in 1925, which sold for $9,225 against an estimate of $5,000-7,000 (Lot 206), and the first printed Hebrew edition of the Koran, Leipzig, 1857, which brought in $4,920 (Lot 171).
Most prominent among the Hebrew Manuscripts was Samuel Halevi Klein’s (The “Machatzith Hashekel”) signed “Chaver” Certification that he wrote for a disciple, Boskovice, 1788, which realized $23,370 against a pre-sale estimate of $15,000-20,000 (Lot 284). Also notable in the Manuscript Section was a unique Personal Album of Major Richard C. Limbert which documents the last year of the British Mandate in Palestine through the eyes of a British Military Official, which was purchased for $4,920 (Lot 272).
Most noteworthy in the Graphic Arts section were two large framed Maps of the Holy Land. The first by Dapper is hand-colored in brilliant hues, Amsterdam, 1677, achieved $3,075 (Lot 309) and the second, by Jacobus Bonfrerius from Leeuwarden, 1717, brought in $1,845 (Lot 308).