2010 Bookseller Resource Guide
Harry Sondheim
Harry Sondheim will be part of a panel discussing “Collecting Your Roots at the California International Antiquarian Book Fair to be held in Los Angeles February 17–19 For the time and date and the names of the other panelists visit www.labookfair.com.
Jewish customs and ceremonies
In the early 1970s, my wife (who passed away last year) and I visited Amsterdam and went to the Weigh House, which housed the Jewish Historical Museum at the time. In one half of the building there was an exhibition on the Holocaust. The other half was devoted to the contributions Jews made to the Netherlands. That exhibit included a series of pictures by Bernard Picart, a French engraver who worked in Amsterdam. The images were from his book Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde [Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World], which included many depictions of Jews in various ceremonies like Passover and weddings.
I bought some postcards of Picart’s prints, and when I came back to Los Angeles, I went to Jake Zeitlin’s shop. I showed him the Picart postcards and asked if he had any of the prints. He didn’t. About two weeks later, he called to say that someone had just come in to sell a bunch of Picart prints. He offered them to me and I ended up buying them all. And that’s how I got started.
I began to collect depictions of Jewish customs and ceremonies, generally before 1920, and the work of Arthur Szyk, which is a bit later. I liked the concept of these customs having a long history, and it’s interesting to see how different artists depicted them. Some of the plates were used over and over again in different books. I’m not generally interested in getting all the editions of a particular plate. I’m more interested in getting depictions I don’t have.
I don’t collect biblical illustrations because we don’t have any original art from that time. I also don’t collect anti-Semitic works. I’m not interested in pogroms. I’m more interested in things that are accurate or reasonably accurate. There is an exception, however. Johann Pfefferkorn was a Jew who converted to Christianity and wrote a very anti-Semitic work in 1508 that happens to depict Jewish customs.
I have some Haggadahs, too. When we have our holiday of Passover, we read from a Haggadah, a book that tells of the Jews in Egypt and the exodus from slavery. Many Haggadahs are illustrated, and I like them because they represent the spirit of freedom.