Old letters and envelope as a background

How Much Should I Invest in Ancient Sefarim and Manuscripts?

A handwritten letter by the Chafetz Chaim. The personal autographed gemara of Rabbi Akiva Eiger replete with handwritten notes and marginalia… Ancient sifrei kodesh, manuscripts of our Gedolei Torah, letters of supreme historic and spiritual value, and Judaica items fingered and used by our Rabbanim and Rebbes. These items and others have long been treasured for their spiritual and sentimental value, and are regarded as remarkable segulos whose value only increases with each passing year.

What transforms an item into a collectible?

The primary challenge in dealing with antique and ancient items is evaluating their exclusivity and value. An authentic appraisal of the market value of a collectible is usually garnered with the help of an expert or antique appraiser, yet there are times when the appraiser’s fee will equal the cost of the item itself, which is why it is recommended to first attempt to assess the value on your own.

The first step in the process is examining the item/collection closely, searching for signs of exclusivity or intrinsic value, and if the item has a unique, emotive or heartwarming story to tell. It should be noted that the rarity of an item alone is not sufficient, as an item is only regarded as exclusive if it was special or unique in the era that it was produced, as well (i.e. a book prior to the era of the printing press). Obviously, an item must be authentic, and if it features a special story behind it then its value increases as well.

One of the aspects that impact the value of a collectible beyond its production year or even its rarity is the identity of its original or former owners. For example, a letter signed and autographed by the Ramchal sold at a former Genazym auction in 2020 for $231,800, and a Sefer Torah written in the Middle Ages was sold in 2018 in Sotheby’s for $250,000!

Collectors & would-be collectors

If you own a unique collection or collectible, then you’ve probably had your share of encounters with antique dealers or auction houses that have assessed the value of your items and deemed them as warranting disposal or, in contrast, as collectibles. We recommend visiting several auction houses and dealers that handle the specific category of your item in order to get an accurate idea and estimate of the value of your item.

It’s important to note that if the estimates you receive vary by several hundred shekels or dollars, then these are all likely realistic estimates, and you should then go ahead with your best offer. However, if one dealer offers a substantially higher bid, then it is recommended to visit a professional appraiser, because you may have stumbled upon an item of great value or rarity.

When and where to sell?

If you received an exciting proposal, it may seem counterintuitive, but don’t rush to sell! If you possess an especially rare item, then its value is likely to continue rising. Moreover, never rush to sell an entire collection, but rather appraise each item and its value individually.

And if you’ve decided to go ahead and sell, then do it right!

There are dozens of international auction houses dealing in Judaica items, Rabbinical manuscripts and antique sefarim. Consult with more than one auction house and take note of the way that they relate to each item in your collection. An auction house or dealer that treats your item with respect and values it will ensure that it sells for a good price. Similarly, be on the lookout for an auction house with a loyal client base that also appreciates the value of such items and are both willing and financial capable of purchasing it for a good price.

Proceeds from collector’s items

The proceeds from each item will dependent on the item itself, its durability, but are still not a guarantee of anything. However, if the item is both rare and valuable, then it is likely that its value will consistently escalate. There were some cases in which book collections yielded the following revenues:

In 1991, an investor purchased an Ashkenaz siddur on parchment from Sotheby’s for $76,000, and then sold it in 2019 for $279,000—an annual profit margin of 6.8%!

Are you already collector? Would like to become one?

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