Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2017 Issue

The Greatest Private Library of Judaica has been Sold to the National Library of Israel

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Jack Lunzer with the Valmadonna Trust Library (from Sotheby's video).

What was believed to be the largest private collection of books of Judaica recently found a home after almost a decade of uncertainty. The problem was that the collection was too large and valuable for any one buyer, and yet its owner, Jack Lunzer, wanted the library kept together. Finally, in late 2015, a couple of the most expensive pieces were sold off separately, but the remaining 10,000-plus items remained together. Now, they have been sold, and the buyer is the most logical one – the National Library of Israel.

 

The story of this library of Judaica is almost as fascinating as the material itself. The man who put it together, Jack V. Lunzer, was not the most likely candidate for such a spectacular collection. Naturally, he was well off, though there were others of far greater means than he. Lunzer was a diamond merchant, but not of the enormously valuable ones you use in jewelry. He sold industrial diamonds.

 

Lunzer was born in Belgium, where his father worked as a dealer for De Beers. That is where he started, but moved on to start his own business selling industrial diamonds. In 1948, he married an Italian woman whose father had a small collection of Hebrew books. He was hooked. Lunzer decided to build on that collection. His daughter recalled his scouring far off rural communities and such to find treasures to add to his collection. He called it the Valmadonna Library, named after a small town in Italy. It was his passion, and after his wife died in 1978, that passion was ratcheted up a few notches as it became the center of his life.

 

A few years after the turn of the century, Jack Lunzer reached his 80's. At that point, he realized he needed to make plans for his library after he died. He had five daughters, but none was a candidate for maintaining something so large. The collection was placed in a trust, the Valmadonna Trust, and he began looking for a buyer.

 

In 2009, he brought the collection to Sotheby's, hoping to sell it en bloc. He had a bid at $25 million, his minimum price, but the buyer backed out, unwilling to meet Lunzer's stipulations about making it available to scholars. He continued to search for buyers, but no one emerged at the asking price. There were reports that the Library of Congress offered $20 million, but if so, that would still have been $5 million short of his minimum price for a collection he believed to be worth more like $40 million.

 

Finally, in 2015, Lunzer's memory now fading, the trustees decided to put a couple dozen of the more desirable items up for sale. That sale was held at Sotheby's in December 2015, and it certainly helped confirm Lunzer's valuation of the library. The top two most expensive auction prices in the books and paper field for all of 2015 were achieved at that sale. Far and away the highest price of the year went for a complete Babylonian Talmud, nine volumes printed in Venice by Daniel Bomberg in 1519-1539. It sold for $9,322,000. Runner up for the year was Lunzer's copy of a Hebrew Bible published in England in 1189. It was the only surviving English Jewish manuscript from prior to the expulsion of the Jews in 1290. It sold for $3,610,000.

 

Sotheby's described that sale as "Part I," the implication being obvious. However, no further sales were held through all of 2016. Then, in December of that year, Lunzer, age 92, died. That likely spurred on movement toward a final dispersion of the bulk of the items in the library. With Sotheby's still facilitating the transaction, a sale was finally made to the National Library of Israel, the most logical place for it to go all along. The library is constructing a new facility which is expected to be open to the public in 2020. It's hard to imagine a better place for Lunzer's collection to be.

 

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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