September 2006 — Kestenbaum & Company’s first auction of the 2006 fall season was a resounding success with the sale of Exemplary Hebrew Printed Books: The Library of Joseph Gradenwitz on September 12th. The collection of just 150 lots featured many of the most important and distinguished books in the entire field of Hebraica, and brought in a total of nearly $1.2 million. Adding to the rarity of the books were the exquisite bindings in which so many of the volumes were found and the fact that many of these books had not been seen at auction for some years while others were entirely new to the market.
Unquestionably, the most prominent highlight of the sale was the single manuscript in the Collection, an 18th century miniature illuminated liturgical work. This exquisite book of prayers featured illuminated illustrations that were captivating in their delicate beauty and detailing. After much excitement in the salesroom, it ultimately sold to a telephone bidder for $263,600 against a pre-sale estimate of $150,000-200,000.
Buyers were also enamored by an exceptionally rare complete first edition of Joseph Karo’s Shulchan Aruch, Venice 1565, which had never previously been offered at auction. This important text evoked an enthusiastic response from bidders both in the room and on the phones and finally reached $179,600, nearly tripling its top pre-sale estimate of $40,000-60,000. A second edition Shulchan Aruch, Venice, 1567 was also offered and brought $18,880 against an estimate of $10,000-15,000.
Sixteenth century Talmud Tractates also contributed to the success of the sale. A volume of Masechta Temurah, was highly sought after attaining $56,050, more than doubling it’s pre-auction estimate of $20,000-25,000, as was the Tractate Nedarim which yielded $29,500 against an estimate of $15,000-20,000.
High prices were also achieved for: A magnificent copy of Sepher Kitzur Piskei ha-RO”SH [digest of legal decisions] in mint condition, Constantinople, 1515, which was purchased for $53,100 against an estimate of $15,000-20,000; Jacob Emden’s book of liturgy, Amudei Shamayim, with the exceptionally rare original unexpurgated test relating to sexual activity, Altona, 1745-48, which went for $43,660 against an estimate of $20,000-25,000; and for Shimon B”R Yochai’s Sepher ha-Zohar, a first edition of the Bible of Jewish Mysticism, Mantua, 1558-60, which realized $29,500 against a pre-sale estimate of $10,000-15,000. Also commanding a high price was a very rare edition of Nachmanides’ Peirush Ha-Torah [Commentary to the Pentateuch], Pesaro, 1513-14, which earned $20,060, sailing over its pre-auction estimate of $7,000-9,000.
A beautiful Hagadah, replete with woodcut illustrations throughout, Venice, 1609, evoked spirited bidding achieving $17,700 against an estimate of $7,000-9,000 while another Hagadah, the first one printed in Venice, 1545, reached $7,080 in good part due to its sumptuous modernist binding. Additionally noteworthy was a Hebrew Bible in a grand Gothic binding which brought in $4,720 against an estimate of $2,000-3,000.
Further interesting lots rounding out the sale were the first post-incunable edition of Moses of Coucy’s Sepher Mitzvoth Gadol [The Great Book of Commandments], Venice, 1522, which sold for $16,520 against an estimate of $7,000-8,000; a book against gambling written by a former complusive gambler, Leon de Modena’s Sur Mera [Escape from Evil], which reached $7,080 against an estimate of $4,000-5,000; and Me’ah Berachoth (One Hundred Blessings), a most striking volume from Amsterdam, 1687, of collected prayers and instructions issued for Marrano refugees, which realized $5,900 against an estimate of $2,000-3,000.