National Library of Israel Buys Vast Library of Rare Jewish Books

Posted: 2/15/2017 7:13:00 PM
Author: Graham Bowleyan

National Library of Israel Buys Vast Library of Rare Jewish Books
by Graham Bowleyan. 18, 2017

The Valmadonna Trust Library when it was shown at Sotheby’s. Credit Sotheby's
The National Library of Israel has acquired what has been described as the greatest private library of Jewish books and manuscripts ever assembled.

Compiled by collector Jack V. Lunzer over more than six decades, and stored at his home in London, it became known as the Valmadonna Trust Library, a reference to the Italian town that Mr. Lunzer’s family has long been associated with.

The collection comprises more than 10,000 items that “chart the spread of Hebrew printing and the global dissemination of Jewish culture,” the National Library of Israel said in a statement.

These items include an incunabula of the Pentateuch, printed in Lisbon in 1491, and one of only two surviving copies of a Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556.

The collection, however, does not include some materials that were sold off from the library in recent years, including an edition of the Babylonian Talmud made by the Christian printer Daniel Bomberg in Venice. One of 12 items from the collection offered for sale at Sotheby’s in New York in 2015, it sold for $9.3 million.

Mr. Lunzer, a merchant of industrial diamonds from Britain who was born in Antwerp in 1924 and died in December at 92, had intended for the collection to be sold as a whole, keeping all of its materials available for scholars in one place.

An attempt to sell the complete collection in 2010, however, when the thousands of books and manuscripts were displayed at Sotheby’s exhibition space in Manhattan, fell through.

In recent years, as Mr. Lunzer developed dementia, trustees of the library chose to sell off some of the most prized individual items.

Some scholars, however, have objected to the fact that the collection was not being kept whole, describing it as a loss to Jewish culture.

The collection, acquired by the National Library of Israel, through a private sale arranged by Sotheby’s, will be housed in a new building at the National Library in Jerusalem. The building, designed by the firm Herzog & de Meuron, is set to open in 2020.

A price for the acquisition was not disclosed.