It was announced earlier this week by the National Library of Israel that it has acquired the Valmadonna Trust Library:
The National Library of Israel announced today that it has acquired the finest private collection of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world, the renowned Valmadonna Trust Library, through a private sale arranged by Sotheby’s. The acquisition, made jointly with Archaeology, Books and Judaica collectors Dr. David and Jemima Jeselsohn, will be housed and highlights will go on show in the National Library of Israel’s landmark new building in Jerusalem, designed by award-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, due to open to the public in 2020.
On the face of it, the acquisition isn’t much of a story beyond the world of Judaica and rare book scholars. Until you remember that the first exhibition of the Valmadonna Trust Library caused lines around the block at at Sotheby’s in 2009.
What is the Valmadonna Trust Library?
Valmadonna Trust Library [is] the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world. Assembled over the past century, this extensive group of over 11,000 works is monumental in its significance as a primary source on both world history and Jewish life and culture. The collection boasts rarities dating from the 10th century to the early 20th century from Italy, Holland, England, Greece, Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, India, and China, documenting the spread of the Hebrew press and the dissemination of Jewish culture around the globe. Among the treasures in the collection are: the only surviving manuscript written in England before the expulsion of the Jews in 1290; arguably the finest copy of the Babylonian Talmud produced between 1519 and 1523 by famed printer Daniel Bomberg, which was previously in the collection of Westminster Abbey; as well as the preeminent group of Hebrew books in existence from the dawn of printing (15th century).
The remarkable part of the story is that the collector, Jack Lunzer, who assembled the Valmadonna Trust Library and refers to himself as its ‘custodian’ was eager to see the library find a home intact. Gathering these works had been a lifelong pursuit. The collection was far greater than the sum of its parts. But finding an insitution that could buy the collection was not easy.
Eventually, in December of 2015, nearly seven years later after the first showing of the Valmadonna Trust, Sotheby’s held a sale of 12 works from the library including one of the best surviving copies of the Bomberg Talmud first printed in Venice in 1523. That sale brought in nearly $15m, the bulk of the value resting in the Bomberg Talmud which sold for $9.3m.
Still, the Valmadonna Trust Library itself remained without a home. Now that the National Library of Israel and the Jeselsohns have acquired the collection, a decade of sales and marketing has come to a close.