The three most popular What’s It Worth column subjects are about my son (endearing), when we lose money
(endearing but depressing) and stories from “back in the day.” Today, I’ll recount a circa-1990 story that I remember with crisp details and a few vague areas as well.
Bruce Watters Jewelers, the venerable century-old stalwart of Tampa Bay, relied on me to help them when something
expensive came into the store. They alerted me to a gentleman who had a lot of old silver and something he urgently wanted to talk to me about, but it had to be in private.
We set up a meeting at Watters’ elegant Beach Drive store. The old gentleman said that before he showed me what
he had, I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. I mentally rolled my eyes, since usually when people ask this, they have something of very little value. I signed. He then told me he had Hitler’s diary. My eye rolling became overt. “I really have a busy day; I have to get back to my office,” I said.
He implored me to listen, unfolding a tale of him, as a young, mid-ranking officer in WWII, being directed to Hitler’s summer home, Berchtesgaden, at war’s end to burn everything inside of it. My interest piqued, he handed me a small, early 1930s day planner for the first six months of that year. Not a real diary, but it looked of the period. Filled with mundane things like “took the dog to the vet today,” grocery shopping lists, etc., it also had scores of entries about meetings with Himmler and at least a dozen uses of the word “Nazi.”
History + Provenance = Stunning Value
When he got to Berchtesgaden, the gent recalled, the French had already been there, leaving behind a huge pile
of burnt rubble. He searched the rubble, fishing out a few souvenirs that were salvageable or partially burned. The story was getting interesting. The piece de resistance of the unlikely story was an old black and white photograph of the officer and his crew standing by his Jeep next to a pile of rubble near a mountain chateau that looked very much like Berchtesgaden!
I immediately called my contact at Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department. He always took my calls because I
often came up with cool or historical stuff, but immediately upon hearing the words “Hitler’s diary,” said, “Jeff, I have to
go; very busy up here… bye.” I begged him to look at his fax machine.
A day later, he called. “Jeff, this looks like it ‘might’ be legit, but we have a staunch rule about not auctioning Nazi
memorabilia; sorry.” The gent was demoralized. I visited him in his expensive Snell Isle home to give him the news, and he showed me several silver items given to him by Jewish groups to honor him for his war efforts.
Soon, another call from my Sotheby’s colleague. Because it was a historical document, they’d be interested, with a
conservative six-figure estimate. But first they had to send the document to Germany, where a scholar on Hitler’s
handwriting and documents lived who would need to see it to authenticate it.
It never happened.
This document still exists, I suspect. Somewhere on Snell Isle, since the gentleman who owned it would not let it go to
Germany for inspection. And since Sotheby’s would not sign an NDA. Value in today’s market? If proved genuine, and depending on content (it was hard to read in the dialect written), from the low six figures to low seven figures.
ALWAYS BUYING important autographs, ephemera and political memorabilia.
Go ahead. Google us. Three former sothebys.com associates and two art
historians on staff. You read about us in the Wall Street Journal, The New York
Times and Fortune magazine. Do you have a valuable historical item for sale?
Contact us! We have sold the contents of museums and collections for USF.
This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.