US: THE BOOKS and manuscripts sold as part of a March 16 ‘Judaica’ sale held by Sotheby’s included material from the library of the late Alfred Rubens (1903-98), a distinguished historian and collector whose Jewish Iconography of 1954 became the ‘bible’ for scholars of Jewish prints.
The monumental collection of prints that Rubens amassed over several decades was presented to the Jewish Museum of London that he had served in so many ways, as scholar, chairman and benefactor.
Sold at $85,000 (£51,515) was a prayer book written and decorated by an unknown scribe in 1717, one who claims in the title that his letters were “as beautiful as the letters printed in Amsterdam”. The decoration, an example of which can be seen illustrated above, is a fine example of the remarkable revival of manuscript illumination that was going on in Bohemia/Moravia at that time.
Among the printed Rubens lots was a good copy of Simon Levi Ginzberg’s Minhagim (an illustrated account of Jewish customs in old Yiddish) printed at Dyhrenfurth by Shabbetai Bass in 1692. Woodcut illustrated and interleaved with annotations in Hebrew and Ladino, it was valued at just $1000-1500 but sold for $19,000 (£11,515).
The first 44 lots in the sale had come from the library of an even more famous collector, Salman Schocken (1877-59), a German businessman and publisher whose fabulous collection of Hebrew books and manuscripts was transferred from Berlin to Jerusalem in 1934. Parts eventually passed to the Schocken Institute in Jerusalem, others parts went to his family.
The lots offered here included, at $65,000 (£39,395) apiece, a defective example of the first portion of the Bible to be printed in Hebrew, a Tehillim or Psalm book printed in North Italy (Bologna?) in 1477, and a copy of the Rabbinic legal code [Sefer ha-Halakot] as distilled from the Talmud by the 11th century, Algerian born scholar Issac ben Jacob Alfasi, known as the ‘Rif’. This edition was printed in 1509 in Constantinople by David and Ibn Nahimias, brothers who had been responsible for initiating printing in that city.
A third very successful Schocken lot was a very rare Tefillah ke-fi Minhag Roma, a daily prayer book according to the Roman rite, printed in Bologna in 1537 by Ralph Talmi, for the Company of Silk Weavers, at $60,000 (£35,715).
From other sources came a Tefillah ke-fi Minhag ha-Ashkenazim, printed at Sulzbach in 1712, and an example of an expensively printed prayer book on parchment, which made
a lowish estimate $85,000 (£51,515), and an illuminated Haggadah Shel Passach of 1737 from the Netherlands(?) which was sold for $120,000 (£72,725).