Despite the current state of the economy, Kestenbaum & Company’s successful sale of Fine Judaica held on June 25th proved that when quality material is on offer buyers will still eagerly bid and spend to acquire rare texts and other sought-after Judaica. While the prices achieved were on occasion more conservative then they would have been during an up market, the results were impressive nonetheless. The auction, which featured the Library of the Late Dr. Max Kimche of Zurich, included a large selection of Important 16th Century Books, Incunabula, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters and Graphic Art.
Dr. Kimche’s supreme collection of books which was devotedly acquired by him over the course of three decades was the auction’s star attraction and the results reflected as such with 95% of his collection selling, many at premium prices. In fact, the Book Section in general had an 85% sell-through rate by lot. With 279 books in all offered in the auction, just 38 were left unsold.
The tone of the auction was set from the very start. The opening three lots all commanded spirited bidding in quick succession and sold for nearly double or triple their pre-auction estimates: Aaron Halevi of Barcelona’s Sepher HaChinuch, Venice, 1523, brought in $18,450, sailing over its pre-sale estimate of $4,000-6,000 (lot 1); Don Isaac Abrabanel’s Perush Nevi’im Rishonim, Pesaro, 1511, realized $12,300 against an estimate of $7,000-9,000 (lot 2) and Abrabanel’s Perush Nevi’im Achronim, Pesaro, 1520, was purchased for $13,530 against an estimate of $7,000-9,000 (lot 3).
The enthusiastic bidding continued for other 16th century books such as Judah Halevi’s Sepher HaKuzari, Fano, 1506, which achieved $36,900 against an estimate of $20,000-25,000 (lot 131); a complete edition of the Mishnah with commentary by Maimonides, Venice, 1546-7, attained $39,360, against an estimate of $15,000-20,000 (lot 200); Jonah Gerondi’s Sha’arei Teshuvah, Fano, 1505, earned $35,670 against an estimate of $20,000-25,000 (lot 124) and Jacob Ben Asher’s Arba’ah Turim, Augsburg, 1540, reached $29,520 against an estimate $15,000-20,000 (lot 151).
Further 16th century texts generating interest included a selection of Babylonian Talmud Tractates such as Masecheth Yevamoth, 1522, which fetched $34,440 (lot 247) and two Bibles: the first Polyglot Bible, Genoa, 1516, garnered $18,450 against an estimate of $10,000-15,000 (lot 59) and the second Biblia Rabbinica, Venice, 1524-25, was purchased for $23,370 against an estimate of $10,000-15,000 (lot 60).
Not surprisingly, the top lot of the day was one of the singular Incunabula from The Kimche Library. Moses of Coucy’s Sepher Mitzvoth Gadol, Soncino, 1488, brought in $89,175, nearly double its estimate of $40,000-60,000 (lot 208). Another exceptional incunable, Joseph Albo’s Sepher Ha’Ikarim, Soncino, 1485, realized $34,440 selling above its pre-auction estimate of $20,000-30,000 (lot 12).
Also drawing bidders and high prices in the Kimche Collection were Kabbalistic works such as Shimon bar Yochai’s Sepher HaZohar, Mantua, 1558-60, which went for $27,060 against an estimate of $10,000-15,000 (lot 232) and Sepher Yetzirah, Mantua, 1562, reached $27,060 more than tripling its estimate of $7,000-9,000 (lot 165). Both of these mystical texts are first editions. Another book of note was Theodor Herzl’s Medinat HaYehudim, the first Hebrew edition of “Der Judenstaat” Warsaw, 1896, which brought $2,460 (lot 259).
In addition to the Kimche Collection buyers favored many of the Illustrated Books that were offered in the sale. Highlights included Bernard Picart’s three volume visual Description of the Religious Duties, Manners and Customs of all the Nations of the World, Amsterdam, 1727-38, which achieved $4,920 (lot 270); Hugo Steiner-Prag’s Auguste Hauschner. Der Tod des Lowen, Leipzig-Prague, 1922, attained $3,075 (lot 271) and Max Liebermann’s Der Rabbi von Bacherach, Berlin, 1923, earned $1,476 estimate $1,200-1,800 (lot 269).
Most interesting among the Manuscripts was a Brazilian Ketubah (Marriage Contract), written in Bahia, in the year 1844, uniting Grazia Levi and Isaac Amzalak, a Portuguese Jew who played a pivotal role in the Brazilian Jewish Community. It was purchased for $7,380 against an estimate of $4,000-6,000 (lot 284).
In general, the Autograph Letters section did not fare as well as expected. However, one lot in particular was hotly contested: a group of 33 letters signed by the Grand Rabbi of Bobov, Solomon Halberstam performed particularly well bringing in $12,300 against an estimate of $2,000-3,000 (lot 302).
In the Graphic Art section, of note was Janssonius’ exceptionally large Map of the Holy Land, 1658, which realized $6,150 (lot 319) and a group of drawings and etchings by Issachar Baer Ryback and Hermann Struck were all well received.
For further information, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197.