Auctioneers of Rare Books, Collectibles and Fine Art

November 2000 Cover

Auction 11 - November 28th 2000

Important Hebrew Printed Books and Manuscripts
From the Library of the London Beth Din
Together With:
Fine Judaica:
Ceremonial & Graphic Art
Choice Selections from Private Collections.

“Not since the first Sassoon Auction at Sotheby’s London in 1970,
has a Judaica auction room’s atmosphere been so electric!”

“I have not enjoyed an evening out this much in years!”

Such is how two illustrious bidders described the most recent, highly anticipated auction of Kestenbaum & Company which took place on Tuesday, November 28th, 2000.

Upon the instruction of the Honorary Officers of the United Synagogue, Kestenbaum & Company was honored to offer at auction, the Library of the Beth Hamidrash of the Court of the British Chief Rabbinate and its Beth Din. The Library’s heart and soul is the Collection of Solomon Hirschel (1762-1845), England’s first formally recognized Chief Rabbi. The scion of one of Europes’ most distinguished Rabbinical dynasties, Hirschel inherited many important books from his celebrated forebears. Thus the chain of custodianship of this Collection from at least the 18th century (if not earlier) to the present, is clearly defined. Many volumes contain learned marginal notations, and ownership inscriptions mostly by various members of the Berlin-Hirschel Family.

On the 28th of November, nearly 150 people filled the Auction Room at the Doral Park Avenue Hotel in New York City to capacity and numerous phone and commission bidders participated in what was to date, Kestenbaum & Company’s highest grossing and most highly anticipated sale. Most every important figure in the close-knit segment of the rare book market was involved as noted figures from private, academic, museum and library collections around the world vied to outbid each other for the prestigious volumes new to the market from this historic collection.

The November 28th, 2000 auction was Kestenbaum & Company’s highest grossing sale to date realizing a total of $1.9 million. 78% of the total lots offered sold, of the 150 books and manuscripts from the Library of the London Beth Din, 99.6% sold (all but one lot).


David Kimchi’s Sepher Ha’sharashim
David Kimchi’s Sepher Ha’sharashim,
Naples, 1491, fetched $48,875.

A full listing of sale results (prices realized) by lot number can be found here.

Highlights of the sale included (all prices include buyer’s premium):

  • As predicted by Daniel Kestenbaum in the press days before the sale, the most prized items were ten volumes from the 1520 Bomberg edition of the Talmud. In a dramatic show-down, after some half-dozen bidders in the room were defeated, only two battling telephone bidders were left dueling for the rarest and most desirable Tractates, realizing record prices. Amidst gasps of amazement, the highest grossing volume; Masechta Shabbath fetched $207,000 — more than twelve times the high estimate. Another volume in the group, Masechta Pesachim bound with several other Tractates reached $201,250, ten times the high estimate. Masechta Bava Bathra brought $178,250 and Masechta Bava Kamma bound with Masechta Bava Metzia sold for $126,500.
  • Sepher Ha’sharashim, the medieval grammarian and Bible commentator David Kimchi’s grammatical work, Naples, 1491, fetched $48,875.
  • Jacob Emden’s personal copy of Abraham Zacuto’s historical Sepher Yuchasin, Constantinople, 1566, with Emden’s signature on the title page and his extensive autographed marginal notes, sold for $34,500.
  • Psalterium ex hebreo diligetissime ad verbum fere tralatum, Venice, 1515, an important Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalms in a splendid contemporary binding, sold for $19,550.

The Second Part of the Auction was: Selections of Ceremonial & Graphic Art from Private Collections. Highlights included:

  • "The Contemplative Elder" circa 1900, by Isidor Kaufmann, (Arad, Hungary 1853- Vienna 1921) the "Rembrandt of the Soul of the Eastern European Jew," sold for $69,000. * Additionally, his "Portrait of Lotte Kreiser," circa 1890, sold for $40,250.
  • "Sabbath Eve Prayers in the Russian Countryside" the dramatic and moving painting giving expression to the historical persecution and oppression of Russo-Polish Jewry in 1915 by M. Schonrrano, sold for $23,000.
  • An unusual Polish gilt-wooden Sukkah Embellishment, carved in 1883, to commemorate the Seven "Guests" who symbolically visit the Sukkah, sold for $33,350, more than twice the high estimate.

Bomberg Talmud
Ten volumes from the 1520 Bomberg edition of the Talmud,
the rarest and most desirable Tractates, realized record prices.


"The Contemplative Elder" by Isidor Kaufmann
"The Contemplative Elder" circa 1900,
by Isidor Kaufmann, sold for $69,000.