The dark depths of the auction world
June 20 2011
In my day job, I spend a lot of time scouring auction catalogues. In practically every other general sale these days (in regional auction houses) there are pieces of what is called 'Nazi memorabilia'. American auctions particularly are full of the stuff. And it isn't cheap either. There's a whole underworld of collectors, some of them very rich, who are obsessed with anything Nazi-related.
What really baffles me, however, is the relish with which some auctioneers sell Nazi items. Take J P Humbert, for example, who tomorrow will sell a set of four drinking glasses engraved with swastikas and Hitler's initials. Mr Humbert is 'excited' to be selling Hitler's glasses. He tells The Telegraph:
"There is every chance that Adolf Hitler himself sipped from these very glasses.
"It was well known that Hitler had a personal valet in his bunker, and that he dined alone most evenings, using only the finest silver and glassware.
"Certainly the quality is there - the etching is superlative and the mouth and foot of each glass is superbly gilded.
"Whilst there is no written provenance, the fact that the same vendor owned Hitler's sword means that there is every chance that Adolf Hitler himself sipped from these very vessels.
"This really could be a little piece of history in our sale rooms. The glassware is estimated at £5,000-£8,000 but prospective buyers will have to make of it what they will."
As with all Nazi memorabilia, Mr Humbert added they were always mindful of people's feelings. "We have to be tasteful in all we do and would not wish to upset anyone with the item."
I wonder if the tasteful thing would have been to politely decline the lot.
Every now and then someone rings the gallery and mutters something like; 'Can you get me a portrait of Hitler?' With Gestapo-like efficiency, I tell them where to go.*
*ie, sod off.