Hans Sachs was a dentist in Berlin during the Third Reich. He also happened to be Jewish, and in 1938 the Nazis seized his property, among it a collection of about 12,500 posters. For years, the family thought the posters—which were created by such artists as Alphonse Mucha, Jules Ceret, Gustav Klimt, Toulouse-Lautrec, and more—had been destroyed by the Nazis. The German government had even granted the family compensation for the posters in 1961, which was equivalent to about 500,000 euros ($667,250).
But then Hans’ son Peter discovered that about a third, or 4,300, of the posters were being held in storage by the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Following a victorious seven-year-long legal battle, the posters were returned to the Sachs family.
The colorful posters are vintage advertisements for art, opera, propaganda, sports, and more. Some posters date back to the early 19th century, and as a whole it is worth somewhere between $5.75 million to $20.44 million. This is according to Arlan Ettinger, who is president of Guernsey’s auction house, where the posters will soon go up for auction.
Beginning Friday, the auction will run through the weekend. The posters are currently on display at the National Bohemian Hall in New York. Peter Sachs had originally hoped to find a museum interested in taking on the collection as a whole and displaying them—as his father would have loved them to have been—but was unable to find one willing to take on the task. He hopes that by selling them, they will finally be on display for those who love and appreciate them.
“There’s of course no practical way that I could frame and hang 4,300 posters, so I just didn’t see any other alternative than to do what we’re doing,” Sachs, now 75, said. “But I don’t feel guilty in any way whatsoever—even with them being auctioned, I think it’s far preferable that they will end up in the hands of people who truly enjoy them and appreciate them rather than sitting in a museum’s storage for another 70 years without seeing the light of day.”