Kestenbaum & Company’s June 26th auction of Fine Judaica, generated enthusiastic interest from bidders. Buyers were drawn to the varied sale which featured all areas of Judaica including Hebrew Printed Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Graphic and Ceremonial Art. Other noteworthy categories included Americana, Illustrated Books, Postcards, Anglo-Judaica, Chassidic and Kabbalistic Books, and Hebrew Books relating to Mathematics and Science.
Headlining the auction was a magnificent, elaborately illustrated Scroll of Esther. This Italian Megilah, from circa 1748, which was recently discovered and had never previously been sold at auction, was purchased for $116,850 (lot 284).
The Americana section performed well with fine examples such as the first Hebrew Bible printed in America, Philadelphia, 1814, which achieved $12,300 (lot 8) and the first edition in the English language of Joseph Schwarz’ Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, translated by Isaac Leeser, Philadelphia, 1850, which attained $12,300 against a pre-sale estimate of $8,000-10,000 (lot 17). Another piece of American Judaica of interest was a Hebrew broadside dated 1770 stating the overseas travel schedule of an emissary sent by a Yeshiva in Hebron which most unusually listed America as one of the destinations. It garnered $10,455, more than doubling its pre-sale estimate of $3,000-5,000 (lot 5).
Many important Hebrew Books were sold such as a complete copy of David Kimchi’s Sepher HaShorashim, Naples, 1490, which reached $58,425 against an estimate of $40,000-50,000 (lot 152); David Kimchi’s Sepher Michlol, Constantinople, 1534, which was bought for $7,380 (lot 153); and Nachmanides’ Dina de-Gamei, Constantinople, 1515-20, which earned $23,370, sailing over its pre-auction estimate of $12,000-16,000 (lot 175). Another highlight in the Hebrew Books section was Samson Raphael Hirsch’s personal copy of Sepher HaZohar, Amsterdam, 1715, which realized $24,600, above its estimate of $15,000-20,000 (lot 135).
Outstanding Bibles included David Kimchi’s commentary to The Later Prophets, Pesaro, 1515-16, which brought in $15,375 (lot 63) and a Venice Bible with Pentateuch, Haphtaroth and Five Scrolls, 1548, that achieved $19,680, escalating well past its pre-sale estimate of $8,000-10,000 (lot 65).
Attractive bindings were popular with buyers. The Estienne Bible, Paris, 1543, beautifully bound in seventeen volumes, realized $29,520 against an estimate of $15,000-20,000, (lot 64) and a Hebrew Book of Psalms with a lavish ornate silver brocade binding, Venice, 1753, garnered $4,305 (lot 76).
Among the many Passover Hagadahs in the sale, one standout offered a vivid glimpse into the tragic religious and social conditions of French Jewry during World War II. This rare Hagadahtogether with the drastic Passover regulations issued by the Rabbinic Association of Paris in 1941, brought $6,150 (lot 120).
Rare non-Hebrew books of note were Abraham Ibn Ezra’s important work of astronomy -- De Navitatibus, Venice, 1485, which attained $17,220 (lot 140) and Johann Simonis’ Lexicon of the Old Testament with Philological Treatise, Halle, 1741, which features the celebrated “grapevine map” of the Holy Land. It commanded a priced of $9,840, above its pre-sale estimate of $5,000-7,000 (lot 141).
Further books of note included a selection of travel books such as Richard Pococke’s A Description of the East and Some Other Countries, London, 1743-45, which garnered $7,134 (lot 214); Benjamin of Tudela’s Voyages…en Europe, en Asie & en Afrique, depuis in a fine contemporary tortoise-shell binding, Amsterdam, 1734, which reached $9,225 (lot 215); and Thomas Shaw’s Travels, or Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant, Oxford, 1738, which sold for $3,690 (lot 213).
Rounding out the book section were two curious lots that were well-received: a miniature Bible purportedly the smallest Hebrew book printed, Warsaw, circa 1880, realized $1,230 (lot 178) and the first Yiddish Edition of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Vilna, circa 1920s, attained $554 (lot 91).
In the Manuscripts section, an important archive of more than 200 letters from rabbis of communities throughout North America all written to Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968) at the time he was President of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, evoked tremendous interest. The lot ultimately reached $15,990 after spirited bidding against a pre-sale estimate of $4,000-6,000 (Lot 258). Also notable in the Manuscripts section was a collection of Pinkasim (Communal Ledgers) of various synagogues and community organizations in New York at the turn of the 20th century, which was purchased for $7,995 against a pre-auction estimate of $3,000-5,000 (lot 261).
From the Illustrated Books section, some favorites included a group of more than 120 rare postcards of American Synagogues from the 20th century which fetched $7,995 against an estimate of $4,000-6,000 (lot 250); Evreiskie Pogromy, 1926, a detailed illustrated album highlighting the horrific pogroms suffered by the Jews in the Ukraine, which sold for $3,383 against an estimate of $1,000-1,500 (lot 201); and Issachar Ber Ryback’s Shtetl. This copy with the rare original publisher’s slipcase,Berlin, 1923, attained $5,535, doubling its pre-auction estimate of $2,000-2,500 (lot 256).
Among the many Autograph Letters featured in the sale, one written by The Grand Rabbi of Satmar, Joel Teitelbaum, sold for an impressive $11,685, sailing over its pre-sale estimate of $4,000-6,000 (lot 283).
An appealing highlight in the Graphic Art section was Isidor Kaufmann’s The Cheerful Scholar, in pencil, watercolor, and oil on panel, Austrian, 1853-1921, which earned $15,990 against an estimate $10,000-15,000 (lot 286). Significant in the Ceremonial Art section, a bronze Synagogue Memorial Plaque from the Jerusalem Bezalel School, circa 1920, achieved $10,455 against an estimate of $4,000-6,000 (lot 300); a Bezalel Rug from Jerusalem, circa 1908, sold for $6,150 (lot 328) and a scroll of honor in a silver case, Jerusalem, 1926 realized $2,460 against a pre-sale estimate of $700-900 (lot 310).