Thursday, December 22, 2005

eBay & Blue Paper

The sefer Sheulos U'Teshuvos Meil Tzedakah was printed in my family's shtetl in 1835 on blue paper. Even though I used Auction Sniper, I still did not win it when the auction closed Tuesday on eBay.

I became interested in the history of Jewish printing houses in Ukraine after starting to collect seforim from my family's shtetl. In 2002, I corresponded with Brad Sabin Hill of the YIVO Institute to learn more about this subject. When I asked him to explain the significance of printing on blue paper, he kindly sent me a copy his exhibition notes "Carta azzurra: Hebrew printing on blue paper: an exhibition in the King's Library" (London, The British Library, 1995) that contained the following information:

"A separate but unrelated phenomenon, often confused with the earlier convention of deluxe printing on blue paper, took place in Eastern Europe at the end of the eighteenth and in the early nineteenth centuries. During this period, books were issued on 'bluish' paper by Hebrew printing houses throughout the Ukraine, White Russia, and Lithuania. Cheap blue-tinted paper, inferior in quality to white paper, was widely used by indigent printers in towns such as Dubno, Jozefow, Kopys, Koretz, Ostrog, Poryck, Slavuta, Sudilkov, Vilna, Zhitomir, and Zolkiev. Thus, unlike the blue-paper books of earlier centuries, the Eastern European Hebrew books on bluish paper were not deluxe copies; indeed, a major portion of the Hebrew book production was on this paper.

There are, however, a few Eastern European imprints on blue paper which do appear to be deluxe copies, or seem intended to be appreciated for their aesthetics. Sometimes it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the economical use of bluish paper, and the intentional use of blue paper for aesthetic reasons, and it is likely that in some instances the two motives coalesced in the production of a book. As the Hebrew poet Bialik once noted, the Eastern European books printed on bluish paper had a great influence on the mind and imagination of generations of Talmud students. It is these Eastern European editions, if not the earlier deluxe copies from Italy or western Europe, to which the Yiddish novelist I.B. Singer drew attention in a memorable phrase, 'blue as the leaves of old Hebrew books.'"

I am grateful to Brad Sabin Hill and Dan Rabinowitz of Seforim for all the information they have provided me on seforim printed in my family's shtetl. Collecting these seforim has opened up a whole new world for me. I realize there is still so much more to learn.

The sefer printed on blue paper that I did not win on eBay

eBay description: Responsa Meil Tzedakah. Printed in 1835. Nice book. Blue paper. With many illustrations. Some handwritten notes on the margins. Some wormholes, but mainly good. In one page some lines missing by tape.


At December 22, 2005 at 9:28:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

re. the Aryeh Kaplan quote:

I've always loved older Jewish seforim, wondering whose hands held them open, what trials and tribulations the owners or the cheder or shul inabitants went through to learn from these books. When I attended the University of Toronto, I would davka go into one of the major libraries' Judaica collections (rarely used, limited lighting in that part of the library), sit on the floor, start opening old books to look at the copyright information and/or if these books came from personal collections with maybe owners' handwriting throughout the sefer.

At December 22, 2005 at 9:34:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Pearl: I knew a bibliophile like yourself was going to like today's postings.

At December 22, 2005 at 9:43:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

BTW, the name of that eBay sefer (sorry you lost out on the bid) is beautiful, translating as "The Coat of Charity."

What, though, is "Basrilkev"? (as I undertand it to say)

At December 22, 2005 at 9:46:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

It is "B'Sudilkov" - meaning that it was printed "in Sudilkov"

At December 22, 2005 at 9:48:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

I see it now; I took the daled as a resh.

At December 22, 2005 at 4:08:00 PM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Pearl, I have done the same thing at university libraries! ASJ, how many copies of this sefer were printed? Which sefer from Your family's shtetl that you do not yet have is at the top of your most wanted list?

At December 22, 2005 at 7:29:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I am not sure how many copies of this sefer were printed.

On top of my most wanted list would be a simple Chumash, sefer Tehillim, or a siddur.


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