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>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
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    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Franklin, Benjamin. <i>The Independent Whig.</i> First Magazine Published in America, Philadelphia: Keimer, 1723-4. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
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    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
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