Kestenbaum & Company held its early Summer auction of Fine Judaica on Thursday, June 21st. The auction covered a broad range of collecting categories from Printed Books, Manuscripts and Autograph Letters to Illustrated Books, Graphic Art and Ceremonial Objects. Also featured within the sale was Part III of the Alfonso Cassuto Collection of Iberian Judaica.
The two top selling lots of the auction were featured in the Manuscripts section. Highly sought after was an attractive, 18th century illuminated Passover Hagadah, owned for nearly a century within the family of the famed Jewish artist, Ephraim Moses Lilien (1874-1925). Composed on thick parchment with pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations, this lovely manuscript realized $46,000 (Lot 261). Secondly, a singular 15th century Yemenite manuscript of Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah, also found favor with buyers earning $38,000 (Lot 280).
One of the most important lots of the sale, and featured on the auction catalogue front cover, was the Ferrara Bible, one of the great landmarks in the history of printing and a masterpiece of 16th century book production. Printed in 1553, it is the first Spanish translation of the entire Hebrew Bible printed for Jews who had carried the Spanish language with them into exile. Although this particular copy of the Ferrara Bible was missing several leaves, it fetched $37,000 (Lot 307).
Another Iberian related lot performing very well, was a volume in a Jacques Auguste de Thou binding, from the Cassuto Collection: The first edition of Marrono explorer Pedro Teixeira's travel-book Relaciones de Pedro Teixeira d’el Origen, Descendencia y Succession de los Reyes de Persia, y de Harmuz, Y de un Viage Hecho por el Mismo Autor Dende la India Oriental hasta Italia por Tierra (1610). Estimated at $2,000-3,000 it was finally hammered down at $15,000 (Lot 339).
The Manuscripts section also included Autograph Letters covering topics both religious and secular. An original signed proclamation issued in Jerusalem 1931, which protested the decision of the sports organization Maccabi to schedule soccer matches on the Sabbath, garnered much attention. Seeking to preserve the communal unity of Jews in Palestine, the protest was organized and endorsed by over thirty of the country’s leading intellectuals almost all of whom were not religious themselves. The lot attained $16,000 against a pre-auction estimate of $10,000-12,000 (Lot 262). Also of interest was an historic autograph letter written by Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik relating to his son’s (Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik) campaign for appointment as Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, 1935, which sold for $8,500 (Lot 296). Additionally offered in the auction was a range of sumptuous illuminated Marriage Contracts, such as an eye-catching 18th century Roman Ketubah which was bought for $4,800 (Lot 268).
Within the Bible section, a rare Venetian edition printed by Daniel Bomberg in 1528-33, was popular with bidders, realizing $14,000 against an estimate of $8,000-10,000 (Lot 67) and a scarce Sepher Tehilim with commentaries by R. David Kimchi, printed in Solonika in 1522, and although incomplete, it sold for $6,000 (Lot 59).
Among the general section of printed books were noteworthy early texts such as the very first edition, in any language, of the Kabbalistic work, Sepher Yetzirah, Paris, 1552, which yielded $8,000 (Lot 213) and Benedictus Arias Montanus’ Tractatuum Biblicorum…which includes the rare map of the world captioned in Hebrew, Frankfurt am Main, 1696, which realized $6,000 (Lot 195). Also of importance was a complete set of the first edition of Moses Mendelssohn’s monumental Bible translation, Berlin, 1783, which reached $19,000 against an estimate of $8,000-10,000 (Lot 194).
American Judaica highlights included the first Aschkenazi Festival Prayer Books to have been printed in America, New York, 1854, which was purchased for $14,000 (Lot 20), and an autograph letter signed by Rev. Isaac Leeser, written in July, 1840 to Joseph M. Asch of Philadelphia concerning the campaign Leeser waged for the vacant position as Rabbi, reached $4,000 (Lot 250).
A Holocaust related lot of note was Hans Severus Ziegler’s Entartete Musik: Eine Abrechnung, in which the author supports the Nazi held view of “degenerate music”, that is, primarily anything composed by Jewish musicians, Dusseldorf, 1938, sold for $5,000 (Lot 145).
Graphic Art standouts included two works by Shalom Moskowitz of Safed: Kabbalists of Tzfat, which sold for $3,200 (Lot 364) and Sacrifice of Isaac which earned $3,400 (Lot 365); Eliahu Adler’s painting, Jerusalem Marketplace, 1967, which attained $2,500 (Lot 344); and J. Edelmann’s painting, Morning-Prayers, Vienna, 1930, which brought in $3,000 (Lot 346).
Rounding out the sale within the section of Ceremonial Objects, a unique 19th century Ukranian painted porcelain Chanukah Lamp earned $4,500 (Lot 382), a highly attractive Bezalel silver Chanukah Lamp, reached $4,250 (Lot 384) and an ingenious American Synagogue Sabbath Charity Device realized $2,100 (Lot 419).
The next auction of Fine Judaica, featuring Printed Books, Manuscripts and Autograph Letters to Illustrated Books, Graphic Art and Ceremonial Objects will be held in Fall 2012.
For further information, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197.