Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2016 Issue

What Now for the Vast Valmadonna Trust Library?

C1d1a3ae-3c5b-4750-a7e3-fdcc798769dd

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>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions