A Journey Into History, Rare Judaica Auction – Part 3

In the first 2 parts of this series we wrote about seforim, kisvey yad (manuscripts) and letters. Here I’ll mention some of the ceremonial and fine arts that were also auctioned off.

The items commanding the highest prices in the Ceremonial Art category were:

On the left:

Finished maquette. Height 7.5″

Accompanied by: Sketched design, drawn and signed by Wolpert, dated 2/5/73.

Ludwig Wolpert (1900-81) was a Bauhaus trained craftsman and designer who later founded and directed the Toby Pascher Workshop at the Jewish Museum, New York.

It sold for $2,750.00.

At center:

Of classic form, marked on bottom. 19.5 by 14.5 inches


It went for $8,000.00

On the right:

Of ovalform, engraved with name of God on each side, set within shield of leafy clusters. Marked with town “Alessandria.” 4×3 inches


It sold for $5,000.00

The two highest selling items in the Fine Arts category were:

Printed Kethubah, surrounded by gouache borders. Signed “Ze’ev Raban, Jerusalem” in English and Hebrew. 20.5 by 13 inches.

Jerusalem, circa 1940’s

This marriage contract, written in English and Hebrew is set in traditional architectural inspired border. Raban’s kethubah design is comprided of a range oof biblical motifs. At the base is a Jerusalem cityscape, flanked by columns set on resting lions and a biblical passage. The text is bordered on each side by twelve cells depicting the twelve tribes (right) and similarly, the twelve months and corresponding zodiacal signs of the Jewish year (left).

A grapevine and pomegranate design surround a central Boblical medallion appropriately depicting Eliezer – the Bible’s first “matchmaker” alongside the young Rebbeca.

It commanded $6,000.00

A photograph by Roman Vishniac, The Scholar, sold for $3,750.00. As a child of Poilishe Holocaust survivors, as someone who met and spoke with Mr. Vishniac a”h at length, as a photographer myself, this gelatin print – signed by the artist – in a 12 by 10’5 inch format – as well as many of his other shots of a tragically wiped out world, brings me closer to my parents’ roots. The facial expressions of Vishniac’s subjects, the city or village foreground and background bring those moments, those subjects back to life, even if only for a fleeting moment… One can almost hear the street noise, see the movement, hear the subjects’ conversations, read their thoughts….

Among the many items in this auction, we found the well known classic texts and the not so so well known, controversial ones like Azariah de Rossi‘s Me’or Eynaim, lexicons, grammars and more. Alongside them you could find the first Yiddish translations of such works as Onkel Tom’s Kebin (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Karl MarxDos Kapital – Kritik fun der Politischer Ekonomye (Das Kapital), Charles Darwin‘s Di Opshtamung fun Mentshen un der Oysklaib Beshayces tzu Geshlect (On The Origin of Species), or Baruch Spinoza‘s Di Etik (Ethics, the main work that caused Spinoza’s excommunication by the Rabbis of his community).

Not only works that had been considered infamous or quasi-infamous, in its day, were among the auctioned lots, but emotional, heart breaking, memoirs were represented as well… Mendel  Beilis‘ (the real life subject of Bernard Malamud‘s The Fixer) first edition of his Di Geschichte fun Meyne Leyden (The Story of My Sufferings), printed in 1925 with a portrait and autograph by the author. Beilis was the victim of a vicious blood libel charge that brought world condemnation of Czarist Russia’s justice system. He was acquitted on October 28th, 1913.

This auction was, for me, truly a journey into history! It afforded me a glimpse into what had been our religious, cultural and artistic life of the past, while helping me understand why in spite of all, in spite of every foe – past or present – our future as Jews is well assured!


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