Ferdinand Columbus, the famed explorer’s bastard son, had a serious beef with the first multilingual edition of the Book of Psalms, a pristine copy of which goes up for auction in New York next week.
The Polyglot Psalter was printed in Genoa a decade after his father’s death, in 1516, but its two-page footnote on the life of Christopher Columbus on a verse in Psalms 19 mentioning “the ends of the earth” rubbed him the wrong way.
The Polyglot Psalter was the second book ever printed in Arabic, which appeared alongside the original Hebrew and Aramaic, Latin and Greek translations of the text. (The first book printed in Arabic, incidentally, was neither the Quran nor Muslim. Four surviving copies of Kitab Salat al-Sawa’i, a Christian book on the hours of prayer, printed in Italy in 1514 have that distinction.)
Ferdinand Columbus took umbrage at author Agostino Giustiniani’s description of his father’s humble origins, and complained to the Genoese Senate. Columbus went on to pen his own version of his father’s biography, and the Senate eventually ordered the 2,000 copies of Giustiniani’s psalter destroyed.
The Polyglot Psalter going on the block on March 16 at New York’s Kestenbaum & Co. auction house is one of a handful of copies that survived the centuries, and hasn’t even had its pages cut.
“This is the most pristine copy of this book that we have,” David Wachtel, a researcher at Kestenbaum, told The Times of Israel. “It’s literally never been read.”
The psalter belongs to “a private European collection” that the auction house declined to disclose.
Three copies of Giustiniani’s 1516 psalter sold at auction in recent years for $17,500, $18,000 and $19,200. The sellers are looking for a cool $12,000-18,000. Wachtel counseled any prospective buyers not to cut the pages.
The psalter is just one of 131 Judaica items, from books and artwork to rabbinical letters and Japanese passports issued to Holocaust survivors, up for grabs.
Among the books that stand out are a 1484 copy of Solomon ibn Gabirol’s “Choice Pearls,” printed in Italy. It’s an exceedingly rare incunabulum, the term used to refer to the earliest books printed, in Hebrew — one of around 138 texts in existence printed before 1501. The compilation of proverbs and maxims is attributed to 11th century Spanish Jewish poet, though modern scholars have disputed that contention.
Whether or not Ibn Gabirol actually authored “Choice Pearls,” the fact that the Soncino family decided to print it is testament to its significance.
“To have a Hebrew incunable in a complete state is a very, very special thing,” Wachtel said.
The copy that’s going on the block for $50,000-$60,000 is complete and in excellent condition, Wachtel said, and is being sold by another “private European collection.”
A 1796 first edition of George Washington’s “A Collection of the Speeches of the President of the United States… Addresses to the President, with His Answers” printed in Boston might not seem like the most conventional piece of Judaica, but its inclusion of letters and speeches to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island makes it a rare find.
Washington’s speech at Touro Synagogue on August 17, 1790 includes the oft-quoted statement that the US government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” the first statement concerning the equal status of Jews in the fledgling country. What most tend to overlook is that Washington’s comment was an homage to Moses Seixas, a leader of the Newport community.
It was Seixas, a Portuguese Jew, who first uttered “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” in his speech before the congregation, and Washington echoed it in his subsequent address.
The volume going on auction for $4,000-$6000 also contains the letters exchanged between Washington and the Jewish communities of Philadelphia, Newport, New York and Richmond, and another letter to Seixas. For that reason it’s become “a quite popular piece for Jewish Americana collectors.”
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