Published: March 29, 2011
Kestenbaum & Company’s Jubilee sale of Judaica conducted on February 24 was met with exuberance by clients worldwide. After a highly attended four-day exhibition, bidders packed the company’s Manhattan salesroom on the day of the auction for a chance to acquire selections from the fine and extensive assembly of Hebrew printed books, manuscripts, autograph letters, graphic and ceremonial art on offer.
Headlining the auction was the historic Cassuto Collection of Iberian-related books and manuscripts, a centuries-old private collection of books and manuscripts begun in the Seventeenth Century by the Namias family of Hamburg and then acquired and meticulously expanded by the Cassuto family. The collection was consigned to Kestenbaum & Company by the distinguished composer and conductor Álvaro Leon Cassuto, artistic director of the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra.
The collection featured theological, historical and liturgical texts, as well as books and manuscripts relating to the Inquisition, literature, science and medicine. A handsome manuscript by Isaac Orobio de Castro, Prevenciones Divinas contra la vana ydolatria de las gentes, Amsterdam, circa 1700, sold for $31,980.
Isaac da Fonseca Aboab’s Parafrasis Comentado Sobre el Pentateuco with the rare frontispiece portrait, Amsterdam, 1681, realized $22,140 against an estimate of $5/7,000; and Joseph Penso de la Vega’s Rumbos Peligrosos , Antwerp, 1683, brought in $8,610.
Two Inquisition-related books of note included Henri Mauroy’s, Apologia , Paris, 1553, which garnered $7,380, and Martin de Zellorigo’s exceptionally rare attack on the Inquisition, Madrid, 1619, which achieved $11,685. Among the medical texts, Elijah Montalto book on ophthalmology reached $9,840.
Elsewhere in the 420-plus lot auction, a broad range of categories were offered, including Incunabula, liturgy, Chassidic and Kabbalistic texts, bibles, Passover Hagadahs, American and Anglo Judaic imprints, anti-Semitic and Holocaust-related materials. Illustrated Books in the auction featured works by Max Liebermann, El Lissitzky, Reuven Rubin and Issachar Ber Ryback. In particular, Reuven Rubin’s set of 12 lithographs of Visions of the Bible on Arches paper (one of 150 copies) was popular with bidders, bringing in $10,455. Other sections included a significant collection of autograph letters, graphic art, a single-owner collection of fine photography and ceremonial art.
Incunabula in the auction included Joseph Albo’s classic text of Jewish philosophy- Sepher Ha’Ikarim, Soncino , 1485, which earned $30,750; a wide-margined copy of David ben Joseph Abudraham’s commentary to the prayers, the second book printed in Lisbon, 1489, garnered $24,600, and Alphonso de Spina’s Fortalitium Fidei , Nürnberg, 1485, was purchased for $12,300. An important post-incunable is a crisp set of Daniel Bomberg’s Biblia Rabbinica, presented in four volumes in a fine, uniform contemporary binding, Venice, 1524′5, realizing $98,400.
Among the Chassidic books, the rarest was undoubtedly an extraordinarily fine copy of Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Sepher Likutei Amarim , the fundamental exposition of Chabad Chassidic philosophy, Slavuta, 1796, which sold for a world record price of $116,850. Other notable Chassidic texts in the sale included a first edition of the celebrated Shela”h Siddur, Sha’ar HaShamayim , Amsterdam, 1717, which earned $24,600, and the first anthology of the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Kether Shem Tov, two parts bound in one, Zolkiew, 1794, which attained $10,455.
Arthur Szyk’s opulently illustrated Hagadah printed entirely on vellum (one of 125 numbered copies), London 1939‴0, was the top performer among the Passover Hagadahs, selling at its high estimate of $49,200. Also noteworthy was a beautifully designed Hagadah by Albert Daniel Rutherston rarely seen at auction (one of 100 copies printed on handmade paper), London, 1930, which finished at $8,600.
The autograph letters section of the sale boasted an impressive selection of written correspondence by prominent Rabbinic thinkers and Chassidic leaders. A letter written by Israel Meir Kagan, the “Chofetz Chaim,” reached $17,220 after spirited bidding.
Also finding favor with buyers were letters by members of the Halberstam family and correspondence from the Schneerson family, written from Latvia in 1927 shortly after the family’s expulsion from the Soviet Union, all of which attracted a great deal of interest and sold above their estimates.
Far and away, the most prominent lot auctioned in this section was an immensely rare autograph letter written by the paramount Chassidic leader, Reb Nosson of Breslov in 1842 to a close disciple, Reb Meir Mirkis of Teplik, who was ailing at the time. The missive had remained with the Mirkis family for nearly two centuries and contained, at its heart, one of the central philosophies of Breslov Chassiduth: “Joy is the remedy for all sicknesses.” It garnered its high estimate of $73,800. Another star lot in this section was a group of childhood photographs and autograph letters written by Oskar Schindler, the renowned rescuer of Holocaust-era Jews. The letters were written to Schindler’s first cousin Emily Tyrolt and brought in $9,840.
Well received among the manuscripts was an important autographed pedagogic work by Yitzchak Aryeh Zekel Leib Wormser, the Ba’al Shem of Michelstadt (1768‱847), which realized $18,450; a bizarre and rather fascinating Kabbalistic manuscript of folk remedies, Eastern Europe, Eighteenth Century, which yielded $3,075; and a colorful Persian Ketubah, 1867, which went out at $3,936.
Other areas of interest in the sale included a Hebrew map of the world by Benedictus Arias Montanus, Antwerp, 1571, which achieved $3,075, and a Yizkor family tree illuminated on vellum, Hungary, 1903, which ended at $10,455. Not often included in the firm’s Judaica sales but in this particular auction happily received, was a single-owner consignment of photography in which the Roman Vishniac lots performed particularly well; prices ranged from $3,000 to $4,000.
The sale concluded with an attractive selection of ceremonial art. A Seventeenth Century Italian bronze Chanukah lamp earned $22,140, a pair of Continental silver and silver filigree Torah finials, circa 1800, attained $6,765, and an exceptional Italian embroidered synagogue textile, dated 1698, realized $8,610.
“A delight to the eyes and a boon for scholarship” is how Dr Arthur Kiron, Schottenstein-Jesselson curator of the Judaica collection at the University of Pennsylvania Library described the opportunity to examine and bid on some of the exceptionally rare titles in the precious Cassuto family collection.
Prices quoted reflect the buyer’s premium.
The next auction of Judaica, including the Cassuto Collection, Part II, will be conducted in mid-June. For information, www.kestenbaum.net or 212-366-1197.
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