Kestenbaum & Company’s saleroom was filled-to-capacity as clients witnessed a singularly important item of Americana go under the hammer at the firm’s auction of Fine Judaica on May 27th. Consigned by Gratz College of Philadelphia, the first Passover Hagadah printed in America, New York, 1837, was part of the College’s Library for almost a century. After spirited bidding, the text ultimately realized $86,100 against a pre-sale estimate of $40,000-60,000 (lot 96).
The auction, which offered 360 lots of Hebrew Printed Books, Manuscripts, Ceremonial and Graphic Art, featured several iconic volumes relating to American Jewish history. Most notably, the first comprehensive set of Festival Prayer-Books printed in America, Philadelphia, 1837-38, sold for $46,740 (lot 270) and a beautifully bound copy of Joseph Schwarz’s Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, Philadelphia, 1850. Translated by Isaac Leeser, this was Leeser’s personal copy accompanied by correspondence with the author. It realized a premium price of $68,880, more than tripling its estimate of $20,000-25,000 (lot 275). Additional American Judaica of interest included the minutes of meetings held by the Agudath HaRabbanim (The Union of Orthodox Rabbis) from 1923-29 that brought a high price of $24,600, sailing over its pre-sale estimate of $3,000-5,000 (lot 296). A copy of the Gazette of the United States, the newspaper issue that contained a transcript George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Savannah, Georgia, 1790, garnered $12,300 against its estimate of $7,000-9,000 (lot 257).
Among Early Hebrew Printed Books offered was an incomplete copy of a Biblical commentary by David ben Joseph Kimchi, Soncino, circa 1485, which earned $11,685 against an estimate $5,000-7,000 (lot 30) and the Cremona edition of Nissim Gerondi’s Responsa, printed entirely on blue paper, which achieved $7,073 (lot 90). An edition of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Amsterdam, 1702-3, was sought after due to its impressive contemporary binding and attained $3,690 (lot 187).
In the Passover Hagadah section of the sale, a deluxe issue of the celebrated Amsterdam Hagadah, 1712, the printer’s personal copy in his original binding, and featuring a folding map of the Holy Land, garnered $19,680 (lot 95), Arthur Szyk’s richly illustrated Hagadah printed on vellum, London, 1939, brought in $45,550 (lot 103), and a Passover Hagadah, produced under primitive conditions in 1941 by German Jews held prisoner by the British at an interment camp in Hay, Australia sold at a price of $8,918 to the Australian grandson of the original editor (lot 104).
Among the contemporary historical material offered, Menachem Kirschbaum’s tragic Takanoth, an exceptionally scarce 1939 pamphlet containing instructions to Jewish Burial Societies in regard to the cremated remains of concentration camp victims, was bought for $7,380 (lot 110). An important text of Zionist literature, the first English edition of Theodor Herzl’s A Jewish State, London, 1896, realized $9,840 against an estimate of $5,000-7,000 (lot 221).
Further highlights included Joseph Solomon Delmedigo’s Sepher Mayan Ganim, a mint copy of one of the great scientific books of Hebrew literature, Amsterdam, 1628-29, which attained $23,370 against an estimate of $15,000-20,000 (lot 71) and the Soncino Gesellschaft Hebrew Pentateuch, Berlin, 1931, in an exceptional binding, which earned $3,936 (lot 226).
Headlining the Manuscripts section of the sale was a portion of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, the copy of R. Yichye ben Solomon Kafach, Yemen, 15th century, which went for $39,360, against an estimate of $25,000-30,000 (lot 321). Also generating tremendous interest was Eliezer Bavli’s manuscript, Sepher HaTzava, Bialystok, 1840-60, which contained a number of important Rabbinic autograph letters and earned $24,600, nearly tripling its pre-auction estimate of $6,000-8,000 (lot 302). A personal letter by Chaya Moussia Schneerson (the last Lubavitcher Rebbetzin) written just a few days prior to her wedding in 1928, additionally roused a strong response from buyers and garnered $7,995, well over its pre-sale estimate of $2,000-3,000 (lot 303).
Among the Graphic Arts in the sale, a charming petite oil painting of a Jewish Farmer by Issachar Ber Ryback in the artists’ original custom frame, earned $14,760 against an estimate $6,000-8,000 (lot 346) while Ze’ev Raban’s delightful Poster: “Tourism in Palestine-Come and See Erez Israel”, Jerusalem, 1929 also found favor with buyers reaching $14,760 against an estimate of $8,000-10,000 (lot 343)
In the Ceremonial Art section, a rare 18th century Nürnburg silver Kiddush cup, consigned by an historic New York Congregation, was highly sought after. After competitive bidding it reached $14,760, more than doubling its estimate of $5,000-7,000 (lot 350). A fine silver Chanukah lamp, Vienna, 1845, was another top performer garnering $11,070 against a pre-sale estimate of $4,000-6,000 (lot 348).
For further information relating to bidding or any other queries, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197.