Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

Basic HTML Version

ISRAEL MEHLMAN
What Makes Antique Hebrew Books
So Rare?*
T
he
F
r e n ch
w r it e r
Gustave Flaubert was the au tho r, shortly
before his fifteenth birthday, o f a captivating and grotesque tale
entitled
Bibliomania.1
It deals with a young, ascetic bookseller,
whose sole interest and love was books. He lived a secluded life in
Barcelona, and he devoted his all to the collecting o f strange and
rare books. He eventually became involved in extreme criminal
acts in o rde r to obtain a book tha t was considered to be the only
existing copy o f its kind, and he was sentenced to death.
Rare books have a value and fascination that transcend the ir
intrinsic importance — scholarly, literary o r artistic, but only few
feel this fascination. Besides a num ber o f wealthy individuals,
who are eager to own ra re books for scholarly o r decorative
purposes, there are also individuals who may not be blessed with
riches but are fascinated by ra re books. One who has such a
passion for such books is drawn to them by some magical force; it
is not the contents and format o f the works alone tha t influence
him.
Rare books are worthy o f consideration and discussion from a
number o f viewpoints. We shall deal here with the question: What
are the reasons for the rarity o f Hebrew books?
The meaning o f the term “ra re” is a flexible and varied one.
Sometimes a book is termed ra re if it is not easily available. This is
the common practice o f knowledgeable booksellers who wish to
guide their customers and to raise the prices o f their books. Much
can be learned from the ir listings. T he descriptions which are to
be found in the catalogs that have been p repa red for auctions in
* Translated from the author’s volume of bibliographical essays,
Genuzot Sefarim,
published by the Jewish National and University Press, Jerusalem, 1976.
1 G. Flaubert,
Bibliomanie,
1836. First printed in 1910.