Herbert van Mierlo's Rediscovered Treasures from Across Germany

By Herbert van Mierlo

S ince I started working in Germany in 1999, my main responsibility has been conducting valuations across all categories in Germany and the greater part of North West Europe. Many of my colleagues from the various specialist departments usually know what they are about to inspect on their visits, and by comparison I only have a very general overview – meaning the collection, the house, the castle looks promising – but no real idea about what I will encounter.

It is exactly this element which is one of the most thrilling aspects of my job, especially if you find the proverbial ‘golden nugget’ within the multitude of objects I see during a year.

Herbert van Mierlo.

It is for this apparent talent I have finding these special objects that I have achieved the nickname ‘Trüffelschwein’ (truffle swine) from my German colleagues. A few of the most exciting (re-)discoveries I have made are as follows…

In 2001 I did a valuation of restituted property for the heirs of the von Bardzki family which was stored in various locations in Gera. The last of these was a rather dilapidated storehouse which literally had holes in the roof. In it, was the incredible Royal writing desk by the Spindler brothers and Melchior Kambly made for King Frederick the Great of Prussia. Its condition had suffered over the years and the three drawers on the front were missing.

I immediately told the owner to promise the people who were in charge of the warehouse a fully paid holiday if they could track these drawers, which unfortunately did not happen. The desk surely would have made a world record price but apparently some mistakes were made with the restitution; the piece was withdrawn from the sale and later returned to the Neues Palais in Potsdam where it is now again part of the collection.

In 2003, I visited the estate of a noble family. When we were drinking a cup of coffee in the library I noticed a
nice bracket clock carrying one of the most famous clockmakers names of Thomas Tompion. I knew that a few years ago we sold a very similar clock from the collection of the Time Museum in New York for over $2 million. The owners did not know this, and could only tell me that the clock had been standing in the same place for generations.

I told them that because of the value they perhaps should put the clock in a safe-room and gently asked them if I could write them a few lines about its importance. The family kindly accepted and in the end they also decided to sell because of the too great value. It fetched about £900,000.

Over the years I organised also various valuation days on location in hotels where the clients could simply come to show their objects. In 2007 in Berlin a man visited us carrying a box where you could immediately see the very recognisable shape of Frederic Remington famous Bronco Buster. I had seen at least ten similar sculptures in Europe, but all of these were clear fakes. This one was an original cast, number 16 and although it was not in perfect condition, it fetched over $600.000.

In 2008 I did a visit at the estate of the von Schorlemer family where I discovered this important Renaissance bronze of a man wearing a satyr’s mask. Again the family did not know about its importance and the bronze was standing the garden, although luckily at a place protected from the elements. It fetched over £1 million.

In 2011 I did a valuation of an estate from a German noble family. Between the many items (furniture, paintings, works of art) I also happened to notice a small medal which was lying under glass of the salon table which incorporated a display case. This turned out to be a rare and important Russian order of St. Catherine fetched about £250,000 in sale.

And last year I did a valuation for the heirs of the late Ludwig Theodor von Rautenstrauch in Cologne. There was specifically one piece of which the family thought nothing of and were even reluctant to show me. This salver again turned out to be a really small treasure which sold for about £150,000.

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