A rare trove of 11,000 Hebrew books and manuscripts went on display at Sotheby’s this week as the auction house seeks to find a buyer for what is considered the greatest collection of Judaica in private hands.
The Valmadonna Trust Library includes documents of unparalleled significance including a copy of a 16th-century Hebrew Bible once owned by Westminster Abbey. Some have burn or water marks or other signs of religious persecution.
“I don’t know any other collection quite like it in private hands. It even rivals some of the great institutional collections in the world,” Arthur Kiron, curator of Judaica collections at the University of Pennsylvania, said. “There are very few cultural moments like this one where a collection of such great significance is made available for sale.”
The complete library, valued at more than $40 million, is being shown in its entirety for the first time at Sotheby’s Manhattan galleries until Feb. 19. The trust has asked the auction house to facilitate the sale of the complete collection to a public institution or private collector. It will not break up the collection or sell individuals works.
The Valmadonna Library is the lifelong pursuit of Jack Lunzer, an 88-year-old collector from London who was in New York on Monday for the opening of the exhibition.
Lunzer will not benefit from the proceeds of the sale, which is being handled by the trust, which will also decide whether to accept an offer from a collector or an institution.
But Lunzer has made his wishes known. “I would like our library to be acquired by the Library of Congress,” he said. “That would be my great joy.”
Sharon Mintz, curator of Jewish art at the Jewish Theological Seminary, which owns the largest public collection of Judaica in the United States, said any institution that acquired the library would immediately be catapulted “to one of the top-tier places of study of Hebrew culture.”
See also PR (PDF)
Update: See also
There is also an exquisitely preserved edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1519-23) made by the Christian printer Daniel Bomberg in Venice, an edition created with the advice of a panel of scholars that codified many aspects of how the Talmud is displayed and printed. This set made its way into the collection of Westminster Abbey, where Mr. Lunzer saw it, covered with dust, perhaps untouched for centuries. He ultimately acquired it in a trade, offering a 900-year-old copy of the Abbey’s original Charter.