Hitler desk to be auctioned in Stamford
STAMFORD -- A brass desk set owned by Adolf Hitler, believed to have been used during the signing of the Munich agreement of 1938, is expected to fetch a handsome sum when put on the block by a Stamford auctioneer.
The desk set will be among 1,100 historic items and documents offered in a live auction held Dec. 8 and 9 by Alexander Autographs, according to Bill Panagopulos, owner of the auction house.
Signed in the wee hours of Sept. 30, 1938, by British and French leaders, the Munich agreement gave approval for Nazi Germany to annex the Sudetenland along the Czechoslovakian border, which was home to many ethnic Germans.
"There is a ton of history in this," Panagopulos said. "This desk set was used to sign a document that basically in my opinion gave Hitler the go-ahead to take the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and then other Czech territories and assured Britain and France were flat-footed when he invaded Poland."
The pact is commonly recalled for British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's hopeful declaration that it established "peace in our time" by averting war with Nazi Germany, but the agreement soon became infamous as a disastrous turn that emboldened Hitler to annex neighboring Czechoslovakian territories of Bohemia and Moravia and overrun Poland, sparking World War II less than a year later.
"It is a horrible document in its relation to Western appeasement towards Nazi aggression," Gavriel Rosenfeld, an associate professor of history at Fairfield University, said. "Everyone thought in Munich in the fall of 1938 they had dodged a bullet and Hitler was going to be satisfied, but it soon became clear he was stringing people along."
Panagopulos said interest about the ornate desk set among collectors is driven more by its connection to the catastrophic Munich pact than ownership by Hitler. The set displays the hallmarks of Hitler's characteristic taste, Panagopulos said, including the Nazi Party emblem of an eagle with its head turned to the left displayed next to his initials and inkwells cast to resemble Roman-styled colonnades of ancient architecture.
The artifact has already drawn widespread attention from collectors, Panagopulos said, and could sell for more than $750,000 when it is auctioned on the first day of a two-day auction.
The desk set's authenticity is supported by newsreel footage showing Hitler, Chamberlain as well as French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini signing the document using it.
The set was brought to Panagopulos by John Luke McConn Jr., a U.S. Army lieutenant who was in command of a small detachment ordered to occupy Hitler's former Munich offices in 1945 to protect art and other valuables hoarded there.
Near the end of his assignment in August 1945, the 21-year-old McConn claimed the bulky desk set as a keepsake, mailing it to his father's home in Houston, Texas.
"I built a wooden box and slapped as much postage as I could onto it," McConn said. "I was shocked when it arrived in Texas at my father's house without being pilfered in the mail."
McConn went to law school and became a civil trial lawyer, keeping the set tucked under a bed in his family's home for decades unaware of its significance until seeing a documentary showing footage of the signing, he said.
"When it's sold, I'll give some of the money to charity and the rest to my family," said McConn, who became a civil trial lawyer and raised five children. "If I had my preference I would hope that it would be sold and go to a museum."
Other prominent World War II lots to be offered, Panagopulos said, include a ledger book recording Hitler's personal spending from the spring of 1944 to April 16, 1945, and personal effects of Major General Charles D.W. Canham, who commanded the 29th Infantry Division's siege of Omaha Beach during D-Day on June 6, 1944.
Major entries in the book include entries showing Hitler spending more than 14 million marks to acquire art for a future museum to be dedicated in his name, and 1 million marks to an informant who betrayed Hitler's political nemesis Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, a German politician who sought to depose Hitler.
"This is such a good find that I actually wish I had the time to dedicate to pore through and decipher it," Panagopulos said.
Also among the items for sale next month are a signed 16th Century book of English playwright and poet Ben Jonson's works, a gold-plated microphone and black revolving stool used by Frank Sinatra in concert, and a Union Army draft call issued by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in August 1863 seeking the conscription of 2,000 troops from the State of New York.
Panagopulos said the New York draft call document's collectibility is enhanced because it followed quickly on the New York City draft riots, a violent uprising in July 1863 in which more than 100 people were killed.
"It was basically shows Lincoln saying, `I don't care what you think, I need these troops,' " Panagopulos said.
Rosenfeld said while the desk set sounded like it belonged in a museum collection, in Germany, curators and academics have been sensitive about whether to display weapons, flags and other totems of the Third Reich and their historic value compared to first-generation documents.
"In the case of Germany, the concern is that neo-Nazis show up and ogle these objects and say, `Well, Hitler may have touched that,' " Rosenfeld said. "It doesn't teach us any larger moral or historical lessons about the events that took place."