15th-Century Italian Torah Fetches Record $3.87M

Highest Price for Any Hebrew-Language Book

christie's

By JTA

Published May 01, 2014.
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A 15th century printed book of the Torah fetched a record $3.87 million at an auction in Paris.

Three buyers attempted to outbid each other over the telephone during the sale which the Christie’s auction house organized on April 30, the news website actualitte.com reported Thursday.

Christie’s listed the buyer as “anonymous” but said the sale broke two records. According to Christie’s, the item was the world’s most expensive Hebrew-language book and fetched a higher price than any printed book known to ever have been sold in France.

The book was printed in Hebrew in Bologna in January 1482, according to Christie’s. “The volume represents the very first appearance in print of all five books of the Pentateuch as well as the first to which vocalization and cantillation marks have been added,” according to the Christie’s website.

Prior to the auction, Christie’s estimated the item’s worth at up to 1.5 million euros, or $2.08 million.

The back of the copy bears the signature of three 16th and 17th century censors, testifying to its presence in an Italian library until at least the mid 17th century, according to Christie’s.

“Over the last hundred years only two copies of this rare edition have come to auction: the first in 1970, printed on vellum and complete, the second in 1998, printed on paper and missing eight pages,” Christie’s added in a news release before the sale.

The copy sold Wednesday was printed on vellum and is complete, apart from the rear free-end paper, and is “in exceptionally fresh condition,” the auction house said.

In 2012, the Paris office of Christie’s sold a 15th century mahzor, or Jewish holiday prayer book, for $2.41 million. It was created in Florence, Italy and was richly embellished with intricate designs.


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