Kestenbaum & Company’s auction of Fine Judaica on May 2nd truly found favor with buyers as extraordinary prices were achieved for Holy Land Travel Books from the Collection of Nathan Lewin, Esq. and for important Rabbinic letters consigned from the the Rivkin family of St. Louis. The well-attended sale attracted bidders from around the globe as they vied to acquire rarities from the rest of the broad range of Books, Manuscripts and Autograph Letters offered in the nearly 400 lot auction.
The Holy Land Travel books drew much attention and spirited bidding. Highlights included Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Die Heiligen Reysen gein Jherusalem, 1505, which sold for $32,000 against an estimate $12,000-18,000 (Lot 309), Thomas Fuller’s A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, London, 1650, an extraordinary hand-colored copy, which realized $24,000 (Lot 318), and Olfert Dapper’s Naukeurige Beschryving van Gantsch Syrie, en Palestyn of Heilige Lant, with every map, view and text illustration exceptionally hand-colored, Amsterdam, 1677, which was purchased for $19,000 (Lot 317). Further notable travel books were German theologian Heinrich Buenting’s, Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae, Magdeburg, 1593, complete with all maps including the famous “clover-leaf” map of the Holy Land, which earned $19,000 (Lot 312) and Jacob Auspitz’s Be’er Haluchoth with five hand-colored folding maps in Hebrew, Vienna, 1818, which garnered $19,000 (Lot 308).
Within the section of American Judaica, an exceptional lot was a large, visually striking illuminated Hebrew manuscript of the Book of Psalms by Morris Weingberg, Chicago, 1910-12. This creative and captivating example of Jewish Americana attained $70,000 (Lot 342). Another top selling example of Americana was Penina Moise’s Hymns Written for the Service of the Hebrew Congregation Beth Elohim, Charleston, S.C., 1842, noteworthy for being the first book of poetry published by a Jew in the United States and furthermore, that first person was a Jewish woman. It achieved $17,000 against a pre-auction estimate is $8,000-10,000 (Lot 11). Mordecai Manuel Noah’s Discourse on the Restoration of the Jews, New York, 1845, also evoked an enthusiastic response from buyers bringing in $10,000 against an estimate $3,000-5,000 (Lot 12),
Much attention was paid to an important text in the sale, the first Hebrew book printed in Fez, Morocco, indeed, the first book printed on the African continent in any language: Jacob ben Asher’s Yoreh De’ah, circa 1516-17. Never before offered at auction, it was purchased for $50,000 (Lot 198). Also attracting buyers was a Renaissance-era pocket-sized Hebrew Bible, beautifully bound in eight volumes, printed by Estienne, Paris, 1543-46, which fetched $13,000 (Lot 59) and Nathan Nata Shapiro’s Megaleh Amukoth, Cracow, 1637 which yielded $13,000 (Lot 267).
A series of ten lots of 18th century German pamphlets all sold at or above their high estimates. Of particular interest was Johann Gottlieb Hofmann’s Mei Jesu Gratia Habilitante, 1721, a sermon on the execution of Johann David Wagner a Jew from a small village close to Chemnitz, Saxony. It attained $ 2,600 against a pre-auction estimate of $1.000-1,500 (Lot 129).
A general book of interest, escalating well past its estimate, was Johann Jacob Scheuchzer’s Physique Sacree, ou Histoire Naturelle de la Bible, an enormous work, in eight folio volumes, representing an attempt to find correspondences between the Bible and the current state of scientific research and evidence. Estimated at $12,000-15,000, it ultimately crossed the auction block at $29,000 (Lot 262). Another lot of distinction was Jacob Judah Leon’s Afbeeldinghe van den Tempel Salomonis with a rare large hand-colored folding engraved plate of the Temple, Middelburgh, 1642 which hammered for $16,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $6,000-9,000 (Lot 216).
All books within the auction relating to Zionism were strong sellers. One example was Theodor Herzl’s Medinat HaYehudim, 1896, the first Hebrew edition of Herzl’s iconic text of modern Zionism, which brought in $5,000 (Lot 290).
Autograph Letters consigned by the Rivkin Family performed extremely well, selling for many multiples of their pre-sale estimates. A number of highlights included letters by Rabbi Meir Arik of Tarnow ($13,000-Lot 245), Ma’amarim of the first three generations of Chabad Leaders ($2,200-Lot 350) and an important collection of letters from the Courts of the past two Lubavitcher Rebbes ($9,000-Lot 376).
Elsewhere within the Autograph Letters section, a letter signed by Albert Einstein written to Mr. Maurice Paul, commending him for his rescue work on behalf of Jewish refugees during Dedication Week, 1939, was highly sought after by bidders, ultimately reaching $7,500 against a pre-auction estimate of $2.000-3,000 (Lot 354).
Also generating active bidding was Elchanan Yaakov ben Shmuel Dov Rosenblum of Pinsk’s Novellae and response, 1836-74, which sold for $4,750 (Lot 384) and a Pinkas HaKahal of the Jewish community of Kalsburg, 1835-70, which realized $16,000 (Lot 373). Further manuscripts of note included an original manuscript proclamation from 1935 praying for the recovery and restoration to health of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, signed by dozens of Rabbinic leaders and Chassidic Rebbes, which earned $27,000 (Lot 375), and a Papal Decree regarding the Jewish Community of Rome, 1615 which achieved $6,200 (Lot 369).
Kestenbaum & Company’s forthcoming auction of Fine Judaica: Ceremonial Objects and Graphic Art will be held on Thursday, June 20th at 3:00 pm. The next auction of Books, Manuscripts and Autograph Letters will take place in October, 2013.
For further information relating to bidding or any other queries, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197.or