Auction of Rare 15th Century Torah May Fetch $2.1 Million

A rare 15th century Torah volume, the first printed version to unite all five books of the Hebrew Bible, is coming to the auction block next month in Paris.

Estimated at 1 million euros to 1.5 million euros ($1.4 million to $2.1 million), the book will be offered at Christie’s on April 30, according to an e-mailed statement today from the auction house.

The 438-page volume was printed on vellum in Bologna in 1482. The Pentateuch text in the center of the page is surrounded by the commentary of Rashi, the medieval Jewish scholar, a prototype of the format used through this day.

“This is a landmark in the history of printing,” Christoph Auvermann, head of the books and manuscripts department at Christie’s in Paris, said in a telephone interview. “It was a major technical achievement to be able to produce this book.”

In the past 100 years, only two copies of this edition have come to auction, Christie’s said. The first, in 1970, was printed on vellum and complete; the second, in 1998, was on paper and missing eight pages.

The $14.2 million auction record for any printed book was achieved in November, when “The Bay Psalm Book” sold at Sotheby’s in New York. David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of private-equity firm Carlyle Group LP, was the buyer of the 1640 volume, the first book published in the U.S.

Last year, a 15th century illustrated volume of Mishneh Torah from the collection of hedge-fund manager Michael Steinhardt was jointly acquired by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The handwritten copy of Moses Maimonides’s code of Jewish law, had been estimated at $4.5 million to $6 million by Sotheby’s.

Christie’s Torah “was kept in France and was completely unknown,” Auvermann said. “Every now and then we do find amazing things.”

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