Meshal HaKadmoni – Italy, 1497 – Incunabula – Many Illustrations, Mostly Hand Colored – Bound with Three Hebrew Books from the Early 16th Century – Copy of Rabbi Yitzchak Lampronti

Opening: $100,000
Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000
Sold for: $325,000
Including buyer's premium

Meshal HaKadmoni, by R. Yitzchak ibn Sahula. Many woodcut illustrations, mostly hand colored. [Italy]: Gershom son of Moses Soncino, [ca. 1497]. Incunabula.
Meshal HaKadmoni, the first illustrated Hebrew book, was first printed by Gershom Soncino in Brescia, ca. 1491. This is the second edition of the book, also printed by Soncino.
The author, R. Yitzchak son of Shlomo ibn Sahula, was a philosopher, physician and kabbalist. Born in Spain in 1244, he presumably passed away in late 13th century. His composition Meshal HaKadmoni is a collection of fables, parables and poems, striving to inculcate ethics and positive attributes. Various animal fables are employed by the author as moral allegories. The composition takes the form of a dialogue between the author and his opponent, who argue over the importance and necessity of cultivating moral virtues.
The book includes many woodcuts illustrating scenes from the parables and fables, depicting both animal and human figures. The illustrations originate in the manuscript of the author, R. Yitzchak son of Shlomo ibn Sahula (now lost). They were copied in later manuscripts, and were printed for the first time by the Soncino family.
The present copy comprises 76 woodcuts (out of 81). The book is lacking three leaves (which originally featured five woodcuts). Some of the missing text was completed by hand in Italian script (from the period of the printing of the book).
The present edition includes two illustrations omitted from the first edition (pp. 53a and 61a), as well as an illustration original to this edition (the final illustration in the book). Most illustrations are hand-colored.
Poem in praise of the book on p. 1b, set in a woodcut frame.
Large woodcut on first page – printer's device of Gershom Soncino, depicting a walled tower with two guards, set on a background of acanthus tendrils and flowers. Caption above the woodcut: "Gershom the printer, son of R. Moshe… of Soncino". The verse "The name of the Lord is a tower of strength; the righteous runs into it and is strengthened" is inscribed above and below the tower. This device only appears in the present book, Soncino later used a different, simpler device (see: A. Yaari, Diglei HaMadpisim HaIvriim, Jerusalem 1944, no. 5, note on pp. 123-124).
The Soncino family were prominent printers in the 15th and 16th century, and particularly in the incunabula period. They established their first printing press in Soncino, Italy, ca. 1483, and later wandered through various Italian cities with their printing equipment, resuming their printing operations wherever they settled. One of the prominent members of this family was Gershom Soncino, printer of the present edition.
Incomplete copy. [63] leaves. Originally: [66] leaves. Lacking three leaves: sixth leaf of first gathering (text of recto replaced in manuscript over a page and a half, followed by a blank leaf); two leaves of second gathering – first leaf (blank leaf bound in its place) and eighth leaf (entirely replaced in handwriting). (Book originally comprised nine gatherings; gatherings 1-8 with eight leaves each, gathering 9 with 2 leaves. Present copy: gathering 1 – 7 leaves, gathering 2 – 6 leaves; other gatherings complete).
Approx. 19 cm. Fair-good condition. Stains, including dampstains and dark stains (traces of past dampness to first leaf with printers' device, with large, dark dampstains). Tears, including open tears affecting text (open tears to inner margin of leaf [2] with book title, affecting text, repaired with paper on both sides of leaf; open tear on leaf [6], affecting text). Worming, affecting text in several places (worming to inner margins of some leaves, close to spine, affecting text in approx. six final leaves). Upper margins trimmed close to text, affecting text in several places, with some loss (margins of first leaf trimmed, with damage to upper part of woodcut border). Several places reinforced with paper. Some detached or loose leaves. Handwritten inscriptions. Early leather binding, damaged (open tear to upper part of spine), partially detached, with extensive and significant worming. Placed in a new slipcase.

Exceptionally rare edition. Does not appear in the NLI catalog (which only includes a microfilm of the incomplete JTS copy), and to the best of our knowledge has never before been offered at auction. Offenberg lists only 8 extant copies, scattered in 7 libraries throughout the world, including some incomplete copies (see below).
M. Marx, Gershom Soncino, in: Sefer HaYovel LiChevod Alexander Marx, New York 1943, pp. I-X.
Sh. Iakerson, Catalogue of Hebrew Incunabula from the Collection of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York and Jerusalem, 2004-2005, pp. 362-367.
Hebrew Incunables, a Bibliographical Essay, by Lazarus Goldschmidt, Oxford, 1948, p. III, footnote 6.
A.K. Offenberg, Hebrew Incunabula in Public Collections, Nieuwkoop 1990, no. 60; Catalogue of books printed in the XVth century now in the British Museum. pt. 13 (2004), Hebraica, p. 76.
Bound at the beginning of the book:
• Mehalech Shevilei HaDaat, by R. Moshe Kimchi, with commentary by R. Eliyahu HaLevi Ashkenazi – HaBachur. [Pesaro: Gershom Soncino, ca. 1515]. Second edition. Printed without title page. First page blank. Colophon: "Printed by the printer from the Soncino family, who resides in Pesaro".
[4]; [12]; [18] leaves. Leaves bound out of sequence. Originally: [22]; [12] leaves. [12] leaves of part II bound in middle of part I, after leaf [4]. Good-fair condition.
• Leshon Limudim, grammar, by R. David ibn Yichye. [Constantinople: David and Samuel sons of Nahmias, 1506]. First edition.
[60] leaves. Good condition. Stains. Minor tear to final leaf, slightly affecting text.
• Pirkei Eliyahu, on the rules of Hebrew grammar "brief rules about letters, vocalization and other topics", by R. Eliyahu HaLevi Ashkenazi – HaBachur. [Pesaro: Gershom Soncino, 1520]. First edition.
[19] leaves. 19 cm. Good-fair condition. Many stains, including dark stains and dampstains to title page and other leaves. Leaves trimmed close to text, slightly affecting text in several places. Many handwritten inscriptions.
Copy of R. Yitzchak Lampronti, with his signatures on the title pages and first pages of all four books. R. Yitzchak Lampronti (1679-1756), scholar, physician and leading Italian rabbi. Rabbi and yeshiva dean in Ferrara. His disciples served as rabbis of prominent Italian communities. He was famous for his monumental work, the Pachad Yitzchak series – first halachic encyclopedia, part of which was printed in his lifetime.
Other signatures and inscriptions (including: "My acquisition, Moshe son of R. Meshulam of Camaiore"). Marginal glosses in Italian script. Censors' signatures on final (blank) page of Meshal HaKadmoni.

Incunabula and Early Manuscripts – 14th and 15th Centuries
Incunabula and Early Manuscripts – 14th and 15th Centuries