A few weeks ago, The Forward published a great story by Paul Berger about the famed Valmadonna Trust Library coming back on the market.
For those of you who don’t know, the Valmadonna is a $25 million treasure trove of rare Jewish books — Talmuds, Bibles and more — collected by diamond merchant Jack Lunzer over the past 50 years.
It was feared lost to the public back in December when the collection went on the auction block at Sotheby’s. Scholars and Jewish biblio-philes everywhere feared the worst when an anonymous bidder appeared ready to send a check.
But, as reported in The Forward, the deal apparently fell through because the buyer would not agree to the conditions of the sale: 1) the collection must be made available to scholars and 2) it must be kept intact.
Luzner called the auction “a fiasco” and said the conditions had been written clearly. It sounds like the bidder had plans to sell off the collection piecemeal, which would have been devastating to many people interested in the books for their academic value.
Here’s more from The Forward’s piece:
The Valmadonna’s importance to Jewish history and culture is undisputed. The library contains more than 300 handwritten Hebrew documents, some almost 1,000 years old, and about 13,000 printed Hebrew books from the past 550 years, produced in centers of Jewish life across the world, many now forgotten. A three-week viewing of the Valmadonna collection at Sotheby’s in New York last year ahead of the auction was mobbed. At its peak, about 4,000 people viewed the exhibition each day, prompting lines that snaked around the block.
“Everybody understands the Valmadonna is a one-time opportunity to acquire the greatest Judaica library in private hands,” said Sharon Lieberman Mintz, curator of Jewish art at the Jewish Theological Seminary Library in New York and a senior consultant for Judaica at Sotheby’s. “Mr. Lunzer has created such a remarkable achievement, it really couldn’t be done again in the collecting and acquisition of Hebrew books.”
This story isn’t over yet. We’ll have to wait and see who coughs up the $25 million. The Forward handicapped the sale by noting that only a few institutions can pay that kind of cash and have the wherewithal to handle the collection.
The institutions? The names floated were the National Library of Israel, Columbia University, New York University and the University of Pennsylvania.