Sotheby’s is proud to offer for sale Important Judaica from the collection of the late Abraham Halpern. Mr. Halpern’s collection was legendary in the field, with an unparalleled breadth and depth, and his enthusiasm for the subject is well remembered by generations of scholars and collectors.
Mr. Halpern began collecting in the 1970s and continued for almost 50 years. He acquired magnificent silver objects, textiles, books, and manuscripts from the most famous Judaica collections to come to auction in the 20th century, such as those of Davidowitz, Zagayski, Jacob Michael, and Sassoon. He also purchased privately and was active in the numerous Judaica auctions held at Sotheby Parke-Bernet during this period. Mr. Halpern was close with Jay Weinstein, Sotheby’s longtime Judaica specialist, and many of his purchases were featured in that specialist’s seminal 1985 publication, A Collector’s Guide to Judaica.
Mr. Halpern was also an enthusiastic lender to important Judaica exhibitions, including the famed Sephardic Journey, 1492-1992 and Ashkenaz: The German Jewish Heritage exhibitions held at the Yeshiva University Museum, among many others. He remained fascinated with Judaica until the end of his life, and as his collecting entered its fifth decade, he loved to share his treasures with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, showing them how a motif continued in use across a long period of time or how an anomaly here or an unexpected detail there revealed the innovation and creativity inherent in these objects.
The Halpern Collection represents the most important collection of Judaica to come onto the market in a decade and the finest group of Judaic textiles ever to appear at auction. No other Judaica sale has boasted the breadth and comprehensiveness, temporally, geographically, and stylistically, that can be found here. Sotheby’s invites the public to enjoy and learn from this encyclopedic survey of Jewish art, tradition, and culture, and to participate in this historic sale from one of the great private collections of Judaica.
Session I of The Halpern Sale is a live auction, on Thursday, December 15, offering a curated selection reflecting the incredible breadth of the collection.
15th to 18th Centuries
Featured will be rare early pieces, created for Jewish communities in the 18th century and before. A rare survival from the turn of the 18th century is an imposing Italian Bris Chair, sumptuous in its gilt woodcarvings, painted surfaces, and rich textiles. From 18th century Italy comes a beautifully embroidered blue silk Tallit Katan and a vividly-colored Ketubbah, the latter commissioned for a 1772 wedding in Casale Monferrato, near Turin. A miniature sefirat ha-omer liturgy produced in Central Europe in 1717 showcases the artistry of the 18th century revival of Hebrew manuscript culture among wealthy Court Jews and financiers. An example of the important textiles in the collection is a large Torah Ark Curtain with matching valance, impressively embroidered with architectural motifs and incorporating three-dimensional passages.
North African, Ottoman and Far Eastern
A particular interest of Mr. Halpern’s was non-European Judaica, leading to important holdings in North African and Near Eastern pieces. Highlights here include a luxuriously embroidered Ottoman Torah Ark Curtain, with colorful flowers and silver and gold arabesques on a ground of cream silk. From Algeria comes Torah Crown dated 1866, engraved Makhlouf and featured in Jay Weinstein’s book. Set of finials from North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and India show the regional variations of the form.
The 19th century was a great period of Judaica creation. From the beginning of the century comes a large and important Polish parcel-gilt silver Torah Crown; it has a slightly later inscription from Kaminetz in Western Ukraine, and sold previously from the estate of the Admor of Medzhybizh, the Apter Rav, Isaac Meir Heschel. The later Neoclassical era saw the creation of an elegant German silver-gilt Torah Shield by George Zeiller, Munich, 1795 and a pair of Torah Finials en suite. An impressive architectural-form Hanukkah Lamp from Zitomir shows the luxury of Jewish communities in the eastern Russian Empire. A monumental bronze menorah evokes the vanished synagogues of this region, while elaborate textiles evoke women’s roles in decorating their places of worship.
Mr. Halpern also collected more modern works, including those produced in the 20th Century. He acquired several important pieces from the Bezalel School in Jerusalem, while Eastern Europe is evoked by a beautifully carved wooden Torah Ark signed by its maker and presented to Napthali Hirsch, Baron Günzburg, the Russian philanthropist and advocate for Jewish rights and culture. Moving into the modern era are creations by Shuki Frieman, David Moss, and Yossi Swed.
Session II of the Halpern sale will be an online offering, fully exhibited and closing the following week on Tuesday, December 20. This selection of lower-priced material, much of it offered Without Reserve, will showcase the incredible range of Mr. Halpern’s collecting, with dozens of examples of Hanukkah Lamps, Spice Containers, Torah Finials, and Torah Shields as well as rarer forms such as Amulets, Passover Towels, Memorial Lights, and examples of Jewish costume from varied traditions. Also included will be a fine group of rare printed books, manuscripts, and wall plaques.