Page 14 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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Amsterdam and London are instructive in this regard , and some
attest to expert knowledge and professionalism. One should not
overlook the list o f ra re books by Ephraim Deinard
,Atikot Yehudah
(1915). While the list is not free o f erro rs and was p repa red for
commercial purposes, still most o f the books in it are rare .
However, the re is also ano ther meaning to the term “ra re .” I
re fe r to this designation by public and private libraries o f books
which have come down to us in few copies. Two great bibliog­
raphers — Moritz Steinschneider and Joseph Zedner — used this
designation. Steinschneider tried to be exacting and to d if fe ren ­
tiate between various degrees o f rarity (not readily available; rare;
very rare; most rare; unique). Still he could not completely di­
vorce himself from subjective judgem en t. Zedner was meticulous
in his listings and considered as rare only those books which he
knew to have come down in three copies o r less.
O f course, the rarity o f books changes from one period to
another, and even from one place to ano ther. J. Vogt, who made a
science o f evaluating rare books, expended much effo rt (during
the middle o f the 18th century) to p repa re a list o f ra re books in
various languages.2 He relied not only on his own experience but
made use of the best findings o f experts. For example, he listed as
very rare only 2 editions o f the Hebrew Bible: Brescia (8°), 1494,
and Paris (4°), 1539-1544. The Brescia edition is still very rare ,
and only a number o f copies are extant. On the o ther hand , the
Paris edition is available for sale from time to time. And most
importantly — there are many scarcer editions than these two.
Many o f the books listed as ra re by Steinschneider are now
readily available, such as
Shefa Tal,
by Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz
(Hanau, 1612). According to Zedner’s catalog, the first edition o f
Joseph Caro’s
Shulhan Arukh
has come down in only one copy. But
a number o f complete and incomplete copies o f this edition have
been discovered. At any rate, the so-called “unica” sometimes play
tricks and proliferate. Thus, in an article dealing with p rin ted
rarities in the Hebrew Union College Library there is rep roduced
2 J-
Catalogus Historicus-Criticus Librorum Rariorum
. .
Sumptibus Christiani Heroldi, 1747.