Obituary: Edgar Mannheimer
Wednesday 12 January 1994
WHETHER greeting you with an engaging grin or parting with a treasure on a spoken promise, Edgar Mannheimer showed remarkable warmth and trust in a world that had murdered his family and destroyed his youth. A leading figure in the art-market boom that began in the Sixties, Mannheimer dealt in most things at one time or another, but specialised in clocks, watches, scientific instruments and gold boxes. He broke many auction records and leaves us with a mystery surrounding his last purchase of a 19th-century calculator at Christie's for pounds 7.5m, 350 times the estimate, which remains unpaid. Speculation about his part in this affair is devalued by the fact that he was under strong medication and in rapidly declining health at the time.
Before the long illness which etiolated him beyond recognition, Mannheimer was an energetic burly figure with white curly hair. He always sat at the front of an auction, usually with a sixth sense for what was going on behind his back. Unlike most dealers, he was not normally secretive about his intentions, cheerily informing anyone who would listen as to the lots he was determined to buy. The list was occasionally a long one; indeed he holds the possibly unique distinction of having bought every lot in a major auction. This happened at Christie's in 1965 with the third part of the Salamon Collection of Breguet watches. These watches, incidentally, were later divided between two collectors who, at Mannheimer's suggestion, tossed a coin to decide who had first choice.
Like his buying, Mannheimer's style of selling was also refreshingly unsubtle. He was not one for velvet drapes: valuable objects often emerged from his mackintosh pocket. His pitch was usually confined to releasing two bits of information; the price he paid and the price he wanted. His eye for quality, though, was finely focused and this enabled him to forage successfully in different fields, where he was never afraid to pay top prices. A memorable instance of this was the Augsburg silver-mounted centre table and torcheres which he bought at Sotheby's in 1973 for the then enormous price of pounds 160,000.
As many concert soloists turn to conducting, so, in the mid Seventies, Mannheimer turned to auctioneering, eventually forming Uto Auctions in Zurich. He was a splendidly unconventional auctioneer with a smooth reverse gear if an opening bid was not forthcoming. He would sometimes announce that he had bought the last lot himself, adding jovially that he was going to do very well out of it.
He was born in Neutitschein, a small town near the border with Poland in Moravia. His mother- tongue was Slovak. His father's confectionery business, Marzmalz, was proudly displayed on the first van owned by the Jewish community there. A skeletal Mannheimer, already white-haired at 19, emerged from Auschwitz having survived by shoemaking. Post-war Germany provided many opportunities to acquire works of art, and after a spell selling homemade Schnapps, Mannheimer opened a night-club and there met American servicemen looking for antiques. He quickly concentrated all his efforts on dealing. Barely a decade after the war's end, he had a well-established and lucrative business, as well as a new home in Zurich. However, the achievement which meant most to him was his marriage in 1956 and the creation of a new and very close family. His wife Jeannette would often accompany him on business trips. Her linguistic skills, including fluent English, were not employed as much as they could have been. Such was the urgency and economy of Mannheimer's negotiating style, he would have found the absence of a common tongue while bargaining of little hindrance, if indeed noticeable.
In a business where there is much rivalry, Mannheimer provoked unusual affection. Even the most committed adversary would salute his courage.
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