Photo: Guernsey’s / Peter Sachs
Born in 1881, Hans Sachs began collecting posters and ads as a teenage hobby and over the years became Germany’s top acquirer, with 12,500 posters in his collection.Some were painted by top artists of the day, like Toulouse-Lautrec and Kandinsky. They advertised cigarettes, cabaret, fashion and fast cars.
Then, in 1938, on Kristallnacht, the Gestapo confiscated them all. Sachs escaped the Nazis and died in 1974. He never saw the posters again.
Earlier this month, 4,344 of the posters surfaced at Guernsey’s auction house in New York. They fetched $2.5 million.
This is how it happened, according to GalleristNY.
He eventually accepted $150,397 in compensation for their loss from the former West German government.
After the Berlin Wall fell, the German Historical Museum in Berlin began displaying a few of the posters at a time.
In 2005, Sachs' son Peter, living in Florida, became aware that a large portion of the collection was intact, and archived at the museum.
He brought a legal action claiming ownership of a single poster. (In Europe, if you lose a lawsuit you must pay the defendant based on the value of the assets disputed.)
The museum did not dispute that the posters belonged to the Sachs family. Instead, it argued that because Hans Sachs had accepted compensation, the Sachs' claim on the ads was over.
It also had an advisory opinion from a German art restitution body that said Hans Sachs would have wanted the posters to remain on display in Germany.
Peter Sachs disagreed, and sued in 2007. It took several rulings and appeals, and at one point the German courts said that although Peter was the rightful owner he could not possess them because of a quirk governing the split of East and West Germany into two different countries after the war.
A condition of the ruling was that the compensation fee paid to Hans Sachs be returned to the German government.
German customs officers attempted to confiscate part of the collection to cover the fee, but the museum stepped in and paid it.
Even then, the posters were not free from peril. They were shipped to JFK airport in New York on the eve of Hurricane Sandy. JFK was in a flood zone.
The shipping company moved the posters out of JFK to Manhattan as the floodwaters rose around its warehouse.
Peter Sachs kept a few posters for his family, and selected hundreds for museums. The rest went under the hammer at Guernsey's, for $2.5 million.
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