Mad Collectors #3

I was wandering around the prestigious New York Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Amory when I saw a man walking with a sandwich board on which was written back and front that he bought Judaica books, prints and maps. This seemingly 'mad' man was shouting, several times like a town cryer, 'Judaica I buy!' As an international dealer how could I resist going up to this crazy, so I thought, collector and introduce myself - Jilliana from London and Paris, Judaica dealer which then was not even true. However fiction was to become fact!

New York was at my feet. I was in my ultimate destination to make business contacts for two months and had rented someone's flat on Bleecker in Greenwich Village. And contacts, new colleagues and clients I made, not only in Judaica but in Pre-cinema, conjuring, Transatlantic shipping, penny farthings, toys, tins, perfume, Mickey Mouse, Baden Powell and the scout movement et al. New York was the Mecca of the vintage Collectables World and I was the British Queen. They all adored me except one jealous shipping dealer. I exhibited at the Madison Square Garden show on my first trip and returned two years later in 1982.

The 'mad' man was no other than Dr Al Moldovan who I would befriend along with his delightful wife Jean over the years to come.  As in Paris, collectors would invite me to view their collections so I could fill in the gaps. It was like a jigsaw, you had the pieces but there were difficult gaps and it was as if the jigsaw was only completed when the owner died.

Al had no contact with London in 1980 for buying 'Illustrated London News' and 'The Graphic' prints or anti-Semitic prints from the satirical 'Punch' magazine.  I was to become his English and French supplier. The British engravings were easy to find in London and Paris, depicting life in European places like his birthplace Roumania. The prints showed scenes of Central European life on market day in the shtetles, synagogues or wearing typical traditional apparel. The problem was in those days there was only the expensive slow postal service and laborious letters. It would be Jean who would write as Al was too busy at his surgery in East Harlem.

What a contrast from their smart address on 444 Central Park West where I was welcome to an educational dinner and a viewing, not only of antiquarian maps, ephemera and prints but also religious artefacts such as silver yads (Torah Pointers) and European menorahs et al.  Al had amassed a private museum which I now see is online and digitalised at the Penn libraries, the originals, so he told me when we last spoke a few years ago in New York before his death in 2013, were still in the large family apartment.

Al collected anything, even educational games with a Jewish theme. I read in the New York Times he was born in Manhattan but over dinner at The famous historical Algonquin Hotel, I distinctly recall he said he was born in Roumania. We had arranged to meet in the sumptuous hotel lobby and ended up having a surprise dinner in the hotel dining room.  Another time I was on my way to visit him for dinner when I twisted my ankle for no reason. I hobbled into his home and my already swollen ankle was immediately treated by the kind doctor.

Jean was a delightful affectionate hostess but never showed me her important Juvenilia collection or asked me to look for her. It never came up and so she never knew I dealt in French and English Juvenilia such as mechanical Meggendorfers, Kate Greenway, Dulac and Walter Crane children's illustrated books between London and Paris. I only discovered when her son wrote me the news she had died. I sent some ephemera with my condolences. I suppose they must have found my London details in her address book going through her papers. A sad loss.

By the time I got to Chania and met Nikos Stavroulakis, I discovered that he knew Al from when he had been the curator of the Jewish museum in Athens. So thus I discovered Al was known worldwide as a prominent Judaica collector and educator.

The last time we spoke, 30 years later in New York. I thought I would visit him and he would be at home at the age of 92. Are you kidding!  He had no time to see me as he was still bidding at auctions and running around the city like the 'mad' man he was. I asked about his renowned collection and he disappointed me by saying anyone could see it at his apartment. I recall thinking at the time what a waste; the public or scholars could not access it. Then one morning he told me not to come as he was not feeling so well. I instinctively thought it would be the end and now today in 2017, I see I was right.

I only thought about him today for the first time in years and googled his name learning that he had died in 2013. However I pleased to read his family had digitalised his unique Holy Land map collection at the Penn Libraries. I thought it should have gone to the Smithsonian in Washington. However I am glad that for many years I helped complete his Judaica jigsaw. A wonderful human being and I think of him fondly.

Written in Villa Perla, Kaleici, Antalya on St Patrick's Day 17/3/17.


Dr Alfred Moldovan MD
New York Times - obituary 2013
ABAA New York antiquarian Book Fair
Jean Sorkin Moldovan
Moldovan Holy Land map collection
Wikipedia - Shtetl
Algonquin Hotel 
Google - Nikos Stavroulakis
The Guardian 10/7/09 - Antony Lerman 21/1/10 - Antony Lerman