Wednesday, December 17, 2008


If you have a serious look at an auction sale of Judaica artefacts or memorabilia you can have a very good surprise because those items are in high demand by the Jewish community on one hand and by learned collectors on the other. Judaica represents a wide and diverse area of collecting comprising three main categories: Hebrew manuscripts and books, ritual objects, and fine arts, including paintings and graphics.

Investing in good Judaica is rarely a risky business and you have the certitude that with time your investment will increase in value even moderately.
Sotheby's New York held this week an important Judaica sale of more than 160 lots of which some fetched incredible high prices, setting them on a par with the most expensive purchases of recent Contemporary art.

Although some might consider better to be a Jew than a Roman Catholic to buy a Judaica I strongly disagree. A Hebrew Bible is as good a collectible as a Roman Catholic Codex and a manuscript of Psalms is as valuable as the Collection of Rabelais writings.

For instance this beautiful
18th century Sefer Tehillim (Psalms) illuminated and decorated manuscript fetched the astronomical price of $92,500 for an
estimate of only 30,000/40,000. It has 113 leaves (4 7/8 x 3½ in.; 124 x 89 mm) including 103 leaves on vellum. Each title within full-page contains painted scene and there are 31 additional miniatures decorated in gouache, page frames and many initial words in liquid gold while the sectional titles are illuminated with floral decoration painted in yellow and red, occasional marginal drawings in gouache.
The work is a gift presented by a devoted son to his father-in-law, the Shtadlan Michel Segal and his wife Hannaleh in Hanover in 1734. The gift of the manuscript coincided with the Festival of Purim (1) and was sent in the tradition of mishloah manot and is dated: Friday, Purim [14 Adar II, 5]494 (=19 March 1734).

Another striking example is the fate of this 4-volume Biblica Rabbinica that belonged to Rabbi Moses Judah Belgrado (inscriptions of his father's death in 1667 and his wife's death on the final folio of volume 1).

In 1516 Daniel Bomberg, a wealthy Christian, was granted the privilege of publishing Hebrew books in Venice. Among the first works he printed was the
Mikra'ot Gedolot (Rabbinic Bible) a folio edition of the entire Bible with the leading commentaries. Pope Leo X gave his imprimatur for this book and Felix Pratensis, a monk who had been born a Jew, was the editor. Bomberg published the edition because of growing interest in the Hebrew language and the Bible among learned Christians. This very well preserved Bible fetched the incredible price of $134,500 this week at a auction sale at Sotheby's NYC for an estimate of only 50/70,000.

But the cherry on the cake was represented by the sale of this magnificent pair of early english parcel-gilt silver large baroque Torah Finials, made by William Spackman arounf 1719, of multi baluster form embossed and chased with bands of lobes alternating with stemmed bell flowers, pierced with arches framed by chased flowerheads against matted ground.

Early English torah finials are exceptionally rare. Of the few surviving however, eleven pairs are recorded with the mark of Abraham de Oliveyra, who was born in Amsterdam in 1657 and relocated to London in the 1690's. The other specialist maker was William Spackman, a gentile who followed Dutch prototypes. This pair of a height of 18in. (45.8cm) fetched $338,500 at Sotheby's NY for an estimate of $300,000 /500,000.

(1)Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther.

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