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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A rare manuscript collector sees his treasures auctioned away

Posted By on Tue, Mar 18, 2008 at 5:43 AM

For almost 20 years, Akron native Bruce Ferrini was one of the world’s most important dealers in rare books and manuscripts. His collection included everything from the Gospel of Judas and the Dead Sea Scrolls to Leonardo da Vinci’s code encrypted journals and the personal correspondence of George Washington. But last week, the massive collection was reduced to an online auction…, an online antique site, is now selling off the majority of Ferrini’s collection. As of March 15, a 2,800-year-old portion of The Book of the Dead, valued at $3,000, was starting at bids of $1. Ferrini first earned headlines in 1995, when he helped authorities bring down a retired Ohio State art professor who’d stolen a 14th century manuscript from the Vatican. He was in the news again when National Geographic came to Akron to photograph his precious fragments from the Gospel of Judas, lost to the world for over 1,700 years, until Ferrini purchased it from Egyptian treasure hunters. But by 2004, Ferrini’s ambition had caught up with him. Numerous clients, from a Paris art gallery to a former partner, sued Ferrini, accusing him bilking them out of their treasures. A California man said that Ferrini had cheated him through a Sotheby’s sale. An Indiana couple, who had commissioned him to sell their artifacts, claim they never saw any money from the sales. And some began to speculate that Ferrini had acquired the Gospel of Judas, which he’d stored in his subzero freezer next to chicken breasts, through illegal channels. There were at least $5 million in claims against him. Ferrini quickly spiraled into bankruptcy. His treasures were seized. Last week, a receiver working on behalf of creditors placed the items up for bidding. While some bids are starting at $900, most are going for as little as $2. – Denise Grollmus

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