Kestenbaum & Company conducted a sale of Fine Judaica on Thursday, December 18th. Recognizing these difficult economic times, the auction proved to be somewhat subdued; and yet, we have cause to be satisfied with the results. Indeed, it has been suggested this is a good time to buy Rare Books and similar artwork.
Important Early Hebrew Books were well received by buyers. Among the standout lots sold in the auction were Yerucham ben Meshulam of Provence’s Toldoth Adam ve-Chavah. Sepher Meisharim [Rabbinic Code], Constantinople, 1516, which was purchased for $12,300 (lot 261), Jacob Ben Asher’s Arbah Turim [Rabbinic Code], Hanau, 1610, which garnered $5,289 against a pre-sale estimate of $3,000-4,000 (lot 196) and Chaim Soloveichik’s Chidushei Rabbeinu Chaim Ha-Levi, Brisk, 1936, which reached $2,706 (lot 252). Grouped lots of assorted Rabbinic works ranging from the 16th to 18th centuries also found favor with buyers and invoked very enthusiastic bidding.
Notable among the Hebrew Bible section was the Vilna Gaon’s Arba’ah ve-Esrim, 1820 (one volume only). This copy included a rare engraved map of the Third Temple prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel. After competitive bidding, the lot attained $4,182, sailing over its pre-auction estimate of $500-700 (lot 258).
Among the many Passover Hagadahs in the sale, of particular interest was the historic and exceptionally rare Rainbow Hagadah, of the U.S. 42nd Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Harry J. Collins Commanding, Germany, 1945, which brought in $12,300. This Hagadah was the very first Hebrew religious work printed in Germany since the beginning of the War (lot 150).
Highlights in the American Judaica section included an intriguing item of printed ephemera: A list of religious Hebrew books offered for sale to the American public, New York, circa 1861, which sold for $3,998 (lot 26) and an Address delivered by Isaac Leeser at the official opening of the Schoolhouse of the Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia, 1851, which realized $3,383 (lot 21).
Within the Anglo-Judaica section, a favored lot was a Royal Warrant signed by George III, King of England for payment to Moses Franks, London, 1762, which garnered $4,920 (lot 295A).
A collection of 19th and 20th century Kosher Cookbooks rarely seen at auction generated much enthusiasm. The most noteworthy among the collection was the first Kosher Cookbook in the English Language: The Jewish Manual; Or, Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery, With a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette, London 1846, which earned $11,070 against a pre-sale estimate of $7,000-9,000 (lot 111).
Additional books of note included the anti-Semitic text: “Rabbi Samuel”, Cologne, 1493, which realized $5,166 (lot 238); the first appearance in the English language of Theodor Herzl’s herald of modern Zionism—A Jewish State, London, 1896, which sold for $9,840 (lot 159); and a miniature Hebrew Bible, purportedly The Smallest Hebrew Book Printed, Warsaw, c. 1880, which attained $2,706 (lot 226).
Among the top performers in the Manuscripts & Letters sections of the auction was a private letter written in 1953 by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik concerning the permissibility of teaching Talmud to girls, which achieved $3,690 (lot 318) and an autograph letter by Joel Teitelbaum, the Grand Rabbi of Satmar, displaying the Rebbe’s concern both for private individuals and the Jewish nation as a whole, May 25, 1967, which brought in $3,690 (lot 321).
A popular lot in the Illustrated Books section of the sale was a collection of Jewish Book-Plates belonging to scholars, rabbis, communal leaders, artists and collectors. Estimated at $2,000-3,000, it finally ended at $6,765 after enthusiastic bidding.
Noteworthy among Ceremonial Art on offer in the auction was a Bezalel hanging brass Chanukah Lamp, which commanded spirited bidding and reached $7,688 against an estimate of $1,500-2,500 (lot 349) and a 19th century Frankfurt Wall Hanging with Hebrew excerpts and illustrated scenes from the Passover Hagadah, which also performed well, bringing in $3,998 against an estimate of $1,000-1,500 (lot 358).