Auctioneer's copies of the catalogues of the auction house Hugo Helbing
Well over 800 auction catalogues from Galerie Helbing in Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt am Main are currently known to researchers. Hand copies (also known as: “protocol catalogues”) of the catalogues of the Munich auction house Hugo Helbing are now made available via “German Sales”.
The more than 1,000 annotated hand copies known to date differ from the catalogues annotated "at random" or selectively and particularized by visitors to the auctions in that they generally provide much more complete and thus reliable information on the consignors - and consequently provenances - of the auctioned artworks, as well as on the buyers and the prices realized at auction. This unique source material on the history of the German art trade is of exceptional importance for many research questions. In many cases, lists of objects offered or traded "outside the catalog" are attached to the hand copies.
Hugo Helbing (1863–1938) had opened his first art dealership in Munich in 1885, and from 1887 onwards he organized a steadily increasing number of auctions. With the move in 1900 to the corner house at Liebigstrasse 21 built by Gabriel von Seidl (1848–1913), Hugo Helbing's 100th art auction could finally take place in April 1902 in his own “museum-like rooms”. In the spring of 1906 Theodor Neustätter joined the general partnership, and in 1915 Dr. Ernst Spiegel and Hugo Helbing's son from his first marriage, Fritz Helbing (1888–1943) joined as partners.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the art auction industry in Germany experienced a heyday, and the number of auctions held at Helbing rose rapidly. Elaborately illustrated scientific catalogues were published for more than 800 auctions that Helbing organized between 1885 and 1937. For his services, Helbing was awarded the title of Kommerzienrat in 1911, and in 1918 the title of Geheimer Kommerzienrat (“Secret Commerce Council”).
Despite the collapse of foreign business, the First World War brought hardly any economic losses in the art market sector. In 1916 Helbing opened a branch in Berlin and founded an auction partnership with the art salon of Paul Cassirer (1871-1926). Together with the Cassirer firm - represented after Cassirer's death by Grete Ring (1887–1952) and Walther Feilchenfeldt (1894–1953) - Helbing organized over 80 auctions of important collections up to 1932 at a price level that could compete with houses in Paris and London.
In July 1933, the "Gleichschaltung“ of the Verband des deutschen Kunst- und Antiquitätenhandels e.V. was carried out, i.e. the Association of German Art and Antiques Trade was "brought into line". The Munich art dealer Adolf Weinmüller (1886-1958), a member of the NSDAP since 1931, was appointed chairman. He was jointly responsible for the law on the auctioneer trade passed on October 16, 1934, which henceforth denied Jewish dealers an auctioneer's license. In August 1935, forty Jewish art and antique dealerships as well as second-hand bookshops were asked by registered mail to “regroup or close down” the business within four weeks. Even though the “processing” and “Aryanization” of the Helbing Gallery would drag on until 1941, the business was already paralyzed by the new auctioneer legislation. Under the management of the “Aryan” authorized signatory Adolf Alt, only a few auctions could be held at Helbing between 1935 and 1937.
Hugo Helbing was arrested during the "Reichsprogromnacht", brutally beaten and succumbed to his severe injuries a few days later at the age of 75 on November 30, 1938.
In addition to the branch in Berlin, Hugo Helbing had established another branch in Frankfurt am Main in 1919 in the villa built in 1883 at Bockenheimer Landstrasse 8 - owned since 1917 by Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (1843-1940). Helbing had hired the art historian Dr. Arthur Kauffmann (1887-1983) as an authorized signatory, who soon became director and equal partner. In the spring of 1935, the Frankfurt art dealers also had to submit an application for renewal of their auctioneer's license, which Kauffmann, however, was prohibited from doing because of his Jewish ancestry. In 1938 he emigrated with his family to London and did not return after the war.
The DFG project "Unique Source Material on the German Art Trade: Digitization and Indexing of the Hand Copies of the Catalogs of the Munich Auction House Hugo Helbing (1887 to 1937)", a joint project of the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte (ZI) in Munich and Heidelberg University Libraryin cooperation with theTU Berlin, will start on January 1, 2021. On the one hand, the aim is to digitize and make available online in a sustainable manner the previously known and not yet digitized hand copies of the catalogs of the Munich auction house Hugo Helbing (1895 to 1937) on the servers of Heidelberg University Library. On the other hand, the scientific description of the annotated catalog copies, a typification and systematization of the auction annotations as well as the development and evaluation of a model for their structured recording based on the Heidelberg annotation tool heiANNO will be carried out within the framework of the project at the ZI in Munich.