The Valmadonna Trust Library is on display at Sotheby’s (72nd Street and York Ave, NYC) until Thursday February 19th at 5pm. Rush over and see this extraordinary collection while you can. This exhibit is for lovers of old books, manuscripts, Jewish learning, world and Jewish history and beautiful hand made book bindings.
If you cannot go, take the time to read this exhibit catalog.
The shelves are lined floor to ceiling with unique books, many open to particularly fascinating pages for viewing. The collection includes examples of nearly half of all of the earliest Hebrew printing, books from the Ottoman Empire, all of Europe, India and the Far East and Africa.
Each book is a story; it is awesome to see the complete Bomberg Babylonian Talmud, originally acquired by Henry VIII (hoping to find something in support of divorce), which arrived too late to help him out of his dilemma. These volumes of Talmud sat unused for 400 years in Westminster Abbey until acquired by the trust in exchange for a copy of the original charter for the Abbey. They are in perfect condition. It is wonderful to see them in great condition, especially after considering the history of Talmud burning and censorship in Europe by Christian authorities.
On display are many volumes from various cities in Italy from the golden age of printing, also a small volume which was first book ever published in Africa, there are ”broadsides”, that is, calendars and public notices and a charming Alef-Bet chart with illustrations of animals for teaching young children to read, all meant for temporary use which have somehow survived for so many centuries, and there are books from every community that had a Jewish population.
Also, a room of fine manuscripts which includes a Samaritan Torah Scroll in the original ancient Hebrew alef-bet. The Samaritan Torah contains an eleventh commandament: to meet at Mount Seir for the annual sacrifice of a lamb for Pesach (Passover). There are other much less dramatic differences as well.
The books are secular as well as religious.
This is the largest collection of Jewish books in private ownership. The Trust intends to sell this as one collection to an institution. This photo was taken with the permmission of Mr. Lunzer and his daughter, when we went back for a second visit.
A steady stream of visitors fill the galleries of the exhibit and the curator gives a tour full of explanations and colorful stories about this wonderful collection. You can feel the viewer’s pleasure with these volumes. It feels like a pilgrimage of love of the book, a love of learning and Jewish history. We are going back again today and take our time looking over favorite parts of the exhibit.
Let’s hope that this library is acquired by a great institution, a university or museum and available in the future. Perhaps it belongs at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
*** Caroline corrected this and says that Mr Lunzer did buy the land near Valmadonna Italy after WWII. Please see her full comment below the photos.