Several of the best-selling lots in a recent US sale came from the estate of the late Roman Vishniac (1897-1990), a Russian-born, US photographer whose Jewish family fled Russia in 1918.
They first settled in Germany and Vishniac later made his name with a much admired series of photographs of Russian neighbourhoods there – taken on the eve of the Second World War but only first published in 1947 as Vanished World: Jewish Cities, Jewish People.
Among the Vishniac lots offered at Bonhams New York (27.5/26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) in an auction on April 12 was a 15th century German alchemical manuscript of 48 leaves, almost half of which had brown and red ink illustrations of chemical apparatus inserted into the text.
Like many such manuscripts of the age, said Bonhams, it would have been driven by the hope of finding ways of creating gold or silver from baser metals. It sold for $60,000 (£46,155).
Bid to $38,000 (£29,230) was a 1493 Leipzig edition in a modern, but antique style calf binding of Anathomia Mundini.
Edited by Martinus Mellerstadt and containing a single full-page woodcut, this was a first illustrated printed edition of the works of Mondino de’Luzzi, who from 1303-26 taught anatomy in Bologna, often using the bodies of condemned criminals in his practical lessons. The work remained a popular text for some 200 years.
Now in a modern calf binding, a 1500 first of Hieronymous Brunschwig’s Liber pestelentialis de veneris epidemic…, the most important work of its age on the plague, lacked two leaves, but as the only copy seen at auction in recent times it sold at $22,000 (£16,925).
Not part of the Vishniac property was an 1861 carte-de-visite photoportrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky, one that is inscribed and dated to verso (in Russian) “Alexander Herzen in memory of our meeting in London…”
Herzen, the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, known as the ‘father of Russian socialism’ and a critic of the Russian feudal system, had a considerable influence on Tolstoy and many other Russian writers – though it seems from his later comments, said Bonhams, that Dostoevsky had not made any great impression on Herzen.
The inscribed photo-portrait was nonetheless a very rare item and it sold at $45,000 (£34,615).
Bearing an estimate of $300,000-500,000, a doctoral diploma awarded in 1906 by the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Zurich for a dissertation by Albert Einstein on ‘A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions’ was not sold.