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Sotheby's at 275

Celebrating 50 Years of Sotheby's in Germany

By Heinrich Graf von Spreti

T his year Sotheby’s celebrates its 50th anniversary in Germany. I have been lucky enough to witness 40 of these 50 years working for the great auction house. In the early years from a distance, as I was first trained at the famous Sotheby’s London headquarters in New Bond Street. But then, in 1986, I was chosen to work in Europe, in Munich.

Heinrich von Spreti

This was the city where the first German Sotheby’s office was opened, and also my home town. Looking back I have been most fortunate to have taken part in this success story of Sotheby’s in Germany. Many colleagues and former colleagues became real friends and together we always worked hard to achieve splendid results. Our greatest achievement was to have initiated a series of memorable house sales — starting with the two week-long auctions at the Thurn und Taxis Palace in Regensburg in 1993.

This put Sotheby’s definitively among the leading auction houses in Germany. Many seemingly insuperable difficulties had to be overcome to create an auction so far from our London base. At the time, the biggest problem appeared to be the basic logistics — could we ever manage such a Herculean task? It was a monster job to catalogue all the thousands of items, from tiaras to footstools.

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Heinrich Graf von Spreti preparing for the sale in 1993.

For example, we had to transfer 75,000 bottles of wine — not all Chateau Gloria — back into cases and bring them up from deep down in the huge vaulted cellar of an old abbey into daylight and ready for sale. It was so exciting to see the sale room take shape in the magnificent neoclassic riding school, the Marstall, welcoming an eager and seemingly never-ending crowd of collectors, reporters and camera teams from around the globe.

Selling lot 1 from the rostrum on that first day of the auction series was one of the most memorable moments of my career at Sotheby’s. The result was a resounding victory: a very contented seller, masses of delighted buyers, media praise from not just the German press but worldwide coverage. We hoped other such sales would follow, and indeed they did, in Baden-Baden and in Hanover.

After four decades at Sotheby’s, I really want to thank everyone who has passed my way, whether as valued colleagues, passionate buyers and/or sellers, enthusiastic collectors, or knowledgeable dealers and art historians, for being the most important part of my life at Sotheby’s. To belong to the art world and to Sotheby’s was what I had always wanted. I am so thankful that it all worked out even better than I could ever have imagined.

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