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By the Book

C. Rosenberg

Jews are called the People of the Book. While collectors of antiques enjoy many types of collections, many frum collectors have, unsurprisingly, built seforim collections

Monday, May 29, 2017

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We Jews are known as the People of the Book. The “Book” we’re best known for is the one we were gifted at Har Sinai, the Torah. While collectors of antiques enjoy many types of collections, many frum collectors have, unsurprisingly, built seforim collections. From handwritten papyrus scrolls to “silk” paper to modern printing, there’s quite a collection of written material to help keep our mesorah intact.

High Prices, High Demand

Chances are that at least one room in your home is lined with shelves of seforim. But years ago, people’s homes were smaller, money was scarce, and seforim weren’t as easily available. The average Jew owned a siddur, a Tehillim, and perhaps a set of Chumashim, but most seforim remained either in the beis medrash or in the rav’s home.

In comparison to secular books, however, seforim were printed in abundance (though the numbers don’t come anywhere near to what is printed today). “Our survival is based on Torah,” Nechemia, an antique seforim dealer in Canada explains. “Most of the general population was illiterate, but reading was an essential part of being a frum Jew. Therefore, we took advantage of the printing presses to spread Torah knowledge.”

Today, the value of those seforim is based on many factors including rarity, age, condition, printing house, and previous ownership. And of course, as the rule in any marketplace is dictated by supply and demand, it’s also true in the world of antique seforim.

Rabbi Yehuda Klitnick, owner of Seforim World, a store that sells out-of-print seforim and rabbinical manuscripts elaborates: “A collection of letters or a manuscript just several decades old can sell for several thousand dollars, while a sefer of several hundred years old will often be sold for just a few hundred dollars. The difference is in what people want, and how available that is.”

 

He also explains that a sefer that belonged to a gadol has special chashivus; the tzaddik’s nefesh goes into what he writes and what he learns from, and that makes it valuable. One handwritten page of the Chasam Sofer’s chiddushim, for example, can be sold for over $20,000. Some people frame it and keep it as a segulah for shemirah in their homes.

It is said of the Chofetz Chaim that he only used seforim printed in the Zhitomir or Slavita printing presses, both owned by descendants of Rav Pinchas of Koritz, whose owners used to immerse their printing plates in the mikveh before using them to print seforim. Today, these seforim are sold at high prices due to their history. (Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 662)

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