Solana Beach: Hitler desk set temporarily on display at collector’s office
By Diane Y. Welch
Craig Gottlieb was bitten by the collector’s bug when he was a kid. Unlike other kids his age, though, his interests weren’t in commonplace objects like coins, stamps, or comics, instead, Gottlieb collected daggers. It’s a fascination that has stayed with him all his life and over the years his collection has grown to include other weapons, U. S. militaria and Nazi collectibles.
What has catapulted Gottlieb into the spotlight recently is the bronze desk set that Adolf Hitler used to sign the Munich Pact in 1938, which is temporarily displayed in Gottlieb’s Solana Beach office, along with his permanent collection of Nazi uniforms, war posters, medals, swords and World War II weapons and memorabilia.
The desk set, with the initials, A. H., and its stained patina, is a verified piece of World War II history, “on which the fate of nations was decided,” said Gottlieb, 39, who is the selling agent for owner Jack McConn, a former Army lieutenant who was in Hitler’s headquarters in 1945 when the war ended.
McConn was 21 when he took the 50-pound souvenir, which includes two large ink-wells, a large blotter, and a heavy base. “I boxed it up, and sent it to my dad in Houston and believe it or not, it got there!” said McConn, who also wrote a letter to his family on a piece of Hitler’s personal stationery.
Over the decades, McConn, now 87, kept the desk set under his bed and said that he didn’t understand the true significance of it. Then he saw it on television in a newsreel that captured the infamous Munich Pact signing by Germany’s Adolf Hitler, England’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, Italy’s fascist leader Benito Mussolini and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier, and he suddenly realized the history that the set represented. The agreement was a failed attempt to prevent Hitler from his engagement in conquest. A year later he invaded Poland and World War II started.
A retired Houston lawyer, McConn is ready to part with the desk set, which was moved to a bank vault, and said he has no emotional attachment to it. He chose Gottlieb as broker because of his reputation in the business.
Gottlieb, of Jewish heritage, whose father is an American WWII Navy veteran, is now an international dealer of German war-related antiques. A graduate of Cornell, he has authored several books about, and given lectures on, militaria. From a very young age he was exposed to his father’s wartime stories. “And when I was 6 he gave me a German bayonet, it became a treasured possession,” he said.
Raised in Miami, Gottlieb would go to the swapmeets and sell hermit crabs. “Then I’d take the money I made and by a piece of militaria.” When he was 11, a neighbor gave him a rare German dagger and by the time he left high school he was a serious collector.
A treasure hunter at heart, even when he was in the Marine Corps, Gottlieb, a second lieutenant, at the time based in Okinawa, took his marines caving. “We explored former Japanese battle sites and I found a dog-tag. Searching on the internet, which was just starting to emerge, I was able to trace the family and return it,” he said.
In 1998, coinciding with the Internet explosion, Gottlieb started a website for daggers and began a forum for others interested in militaria. “It launched me from being an obscure private collector to being a personality within this very esoteric field.” Within a couple of years he was able to become a full-time dealer.
Both Gottlieb and McConn hope that the desk set will be purchased by a museum. Estimates up to $1 million are realistic, said Gottlieb, who believes that humanity will be better served if this type of historic artifact is held publicly because of what it represents. “From this desk set comes the famous quote by Chamberlain, ‘Peace in our time!’ Then 60 to 80 million lives were lost as a result of Hitler’s actions. 12 million of them eliminated by a government, as a matter of policy. This is a powerful lens through which we may view the human tragedy that was the Holocaust, and remember it.”
To find out more about Craig Gottlieb, his collections and his books, visit www.craiggottlieb.com.
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