On the night of 9-10 November 1938 — ‘Kristallnacht’ — Dr Hans Sachs, a Jewish dentist from Berlin, was arrested and imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Captivated by the strong graphics of early 20th-century poster design, Sachs had accumulated one of the largest and most important collections of posters in the world, featuring designs by leading artists from Germany, France, Scandinavia and North America. When he was arrested, his vast collection was seized by the Gestapo; it would never be seen by Sachs again.
Sachs’ posters captured life before the Second World War. ‘In the early 20th century, many news products and services were introduced to the public through the poster,’ explains specialist Nicolette Tomkinson. Sachs’ collection included posters promoting winter sports and travel, as well as products including champagne, chocolate, cars, cigarettes and absinthe.
Also featured were works by the Vienna Secession artists, including Egon Schiele, Alfred Roller and Koloman Moser. Sachs’ interest lead him to establish the first poster collecting society, as well as Das Plakat (The Poster) — an international magazine, which gained a loyal following.
With the help of family and friends Sachs was, miraculously, able to secure his release, moving to America with his wife and their 14-month-old son Peter. The sale of a roll of Toulouse-Lautrec posters, smuggled into the US by a friend, allowed the Sachs family to support themselves in their new life. Sachs believed his personal collection to have been permanently destroyed.
In 2005, however, Sachs’ descendants made a remarkable discovery. Far from having been lost, the collection Dr Hans Sachs had amassed prior to his capture had been preserved — stored in the vaults of Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum. After a seven-year legal battle and a landmark ruling, the collection’s ownership was restored to Peter Sachs.
The collection will be on view at Christie’s South Kensington salesroom from 25 May, to be auctioned on 8 June as the evening portion of our Interiors auction. ‘The sale will offer collectors the opportunity to own both a piece of poster history and an artwork from this seminal collection,’ comments specialist Nicolette Tomkinson. Estimates range from £800 to £18,000.