Beautiful editions of Szyk's The Haggadah and Statutes of Kalisz dominate auction

Last week, Swann Galleries' auction of Literature; Art, Press & Illustrated Books concluded, and the full results have now come through with some pleasing news for rare book and art investors.

Fans of the old master Francisco Goya will have been excited to see a series of his etchings entitled Los Caprichos, and that showed in the bidding with the $8,000-10,000 estimate left behind for a final price of $18,000.

Etching by Goya
Etching by Goya

Hemingway collectors were likewise keen to see a first edition (there was only one) copy of the great writer's first book, titled simply Three Stories and Ten Poems, of which only 300 were printed.

Held in its original blue-grey wrappers with two small chips along the spine, professionally repaired with minor expert colour restoration and mostly in fine condition, it was expected to sell for $15,000-20,000 and nearly topped that, bringing $19,200.

The star of the show however was Arthur Szyk. In particular the graphic artist, book illustrator, stage designer and caricaturist was represented by two celebrated works: a first edition of his version of The Haggadah and one of 500 facsimile copies of the Statutes of Kalisz.

The original Statutes of Kalisz were the Charter of Rights granted to the Jews of Poland by Boleslav the Pious in 1264, and renewed by other rulers over the following centuries.

In 1926, following Marshal Jozef Pilsudski's coup d'etat in Poland, Szyk wanted to create a work that might help welcome the Jews into full and equal participation in the newly re-established state, so he turned to this medieval document for inspiration.

Szyk translated the original Latin into Polish, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Italian, German, and Spanish as an example of tolerance of all European nations - swimming against an unpleasant tide in Europe at the time. The work sold for $36,000 - a fine investment.

Szyk's Haggadah
First edition of Szyk's Haggadah
(click to see inside or here for the inscription)

The star of the show however was The Haggadah, which is a Jewish religious text that sets out the order of the Passover Seder. One of just 125 copies on vellum, signed by both Szyk himself and editor Cecil Roth, it is the most famous edition known and was listed at $30000-$40000.

In fact, excited collectors pushed past this and the classic finally sold for $46,000.


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