Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2016 Issue

What Now for the Vast Valmadonna Trust Library?


The Babylonian Talmud, courtesy of Sotheby's.

In what could be described as saving the best for last, the most expensive book sold at auction in 2015 was hammered down on December 22 at Sotheby's in New York, the last major sale of the year. That book was a complete Babylonian Talmud, published in Venice by Daniel Bomberg in the early 16th century. It sold for $9,322,000, almost three times the price of the runner up. The second highest priced item, the only known Hebrew Bible published in England prior to the expulsion of the Jews in 1290, sold for $3,610,000. Both of these items were offered at the Sotheby's sale of December 22, one of just 12 items in the sale. The single owner seller was the Valmadonna Trust Library of London. Nine of the 12 items sold, bringing in $14,868,000.


Prior to the sale, the Valmadonna Trust Library owned approximately 13,000 books and 300 manuscripts of Judaica. It was said to be the finest collection of Judaica held in private hands. A quick calculation indicates they still own about 13,291 items. What were sold were clearly some of the finest items from the collection, which leads to the question, what will become of the rest? The trustees aren't saying, but there is an implication there will be more sales. Sotheby's labeled the Valmadonna sale as "Part 1."


The Valmadonna Trust Library began over half a century ago. It is essentially one man's collection. That man is Jack Lunzer, a Belgian born retired British industrial diamond merchant. His wife's family had a small collection of Hebrew books, which fueled Mr. Lunzer's collecting passion. The collection built over the decades, and became something of a solace for Mr. Lunzer after his wife died in 1978.


The collection was placed in a trust by Mr. Lunzer for his five daughters. The trustees operate independently of him, though with obvious concern for his wishes.


A few years ago, with Mr. Lunzer then in his 80's, it was determined plans needed to be made to find a home for his library after he died. However, Mr. Lunzer made a few stipulations. He wanted the collection to be kept together, and to be available to researchers. This created a problem. The library, which before the sale was valued at something in the $40 million range, was too expensive for most of the institutions that are logical buyers to afford. Its size may also have posed obstacles as 13,300 very old items require much space and care.


A few years back, it was reported that the Library of Congress was interested. There were reports that it was willing to pay $20 million, but this is uncertain. The Library never said whether it made an offer. Nothing ever happened, presuming there was an offer, possibly because $20 million was insufficient, or other reasons.


In 2009, the Trust brought the collection to Sotheby's in New York to try to arrange for a private sale. At the time, it was said that $25 million was the minimum bid that would be accepted. Unconfirmed reports said there was a bidder at that price, but the bidder was unwilling to meet the requirements that no part of the library be sold off or that it be made available to scholars. What is clear is that no one was willing to meet all of the requirements of the Trust, including the price. No sale was made.


Today, Mr. Lunzer is 91 years old. It is said that he is no longer able to fully participate in plans for his library. This has made the need to come up with a long range plan more urgent. It appears that his five daughters keeping the collection together is not an option. Unable to sell the collection en bloc, the trustees decided to separately sell some of its most valuable items. It is likely that the two items that headed the list of highest book auction prices for 2015 were the two most valuable. The thought was that if the most expensive items were sold separately, and these nine alone have taken in almost $15 million of the $25-$40 million the trust expects, the remainder of the library could be priced at a figure some institution might be able to afford.


What happens next? Other than the "part 1" implication another sale is coming, it is unclear. Will the Trust attempt to sell off some more top pieces in hopes of further reducing the required price for the bulk of the material? Will another attempt be made to sell the remainder of the collection as a whole, in accordance with Mr. Lunzer's wishes? This is undoubtedly the hope of most Hebrew scholars, but whether such a buyer exists is unknown. Those interested in the outcome of this story, or perhaps even in buying the Valmadonna Trust Library, should keep an eye on Sotheby's upcoming sales.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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