Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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There is testimony that as early as February 1984, the Jewish
Theological Seminary told Sotheby’s of its interest in purchasing
privately the fifteenth century illuminated Prague Bible and a four­
teenth century Catalan Machzor—the two prize lots of the sale.
Sotheby’s declined because the consignor preferred “a public auc­
tion because it would generate a higher sales price.” “In late May
or early June 1984—after various Jewish groups had begun to com­
plain about the June 26 auction—Saul Kagan, the Executive Sec­
retary of the JRSO, approached Menahem Schmelzer, the chief
librarian of the JTS, and urged that the JTS purchase the Bible and
Machzor. Mr. Kagan told Dr. Schmelzer that such a purchase [by
a public institution] would constitute a complete resolution of the
concerns of the Jewish Community regarding the June 26 auc­
A few days before the auction, on June 22, 1984, the negotia­
tions for this private sale were completed, and JTS is reported to
have bought these two lots for $900,000, $25,000 less than the
higher side of the estimated prices at auction. It was very widely ru­
mored that it was Ivan Boesky who provided the gift funds to JTS,
or perhaps was the actual purchaser who would later give the
manuscripts toJTS .7There is a likelihood that the Jewish National
and University Library also negotiated for a private sale, but noth­
ing seems to have come of it.8
This private sale proved to be a source of major disagreement
between the Attorney General and Sotheby’s, et al. After the series
of complaints about the sale from the Anti-Defamation League,
the JRSO, and various private persons, the Attorney General be­
gan an investigation into the propriety of the sale, given the ques­
tions of provenance, the unnamed consignors, and legal title. A
belief apparently emerged that, if the two prime manuscripts could
be sold to an appropriate Jewish public institution where they
6. Findings o fFact and Conclusions o fLaw o fDefendants. . . (6/14/85), pp. 59-60.
7. Richard J. Davis, A ffidavit. . . , August 14, 1984, p. 6.
8. Majorie E. Stone, A ffidavit. . . , June 27, 1984, p. 6.