Bonhams to sell antiquities of a man who caught one of the last American ships out of Nazi Europe before Pearl Harbour attack

The collection of Joseph Klein (1899 - 1987), New York

24 Oct 2012
London, New Bond Street

Bonhams' sales of Antiquities in London on October 23 - 24 feature a collection of works belonging to a man who sailed on one the last American ships out of Nazi Europe before Pearl Harbor.

Bonhams is delighted to bring the Joseph Klein Collection, which has been in storage for nearly thirty years, to a new generation of collectors. The Antiquities are estimated to sell for £225,000. Part I of The Joseph Klein Collection of Antiquities will be offered at our Knightsbridge saleroom, London on October 23. Part II of The Joseph Klein Collection of Antiquities will be offered at our New Bond Street saleroom, London on October 24.

Part I of The Joseph Klein collection of Souvenirs of the Grand Tour will be offered through the Fine Furniture, Decorative Arts & Chinese Export Porcelain Sale, San Francisco on October 29. Part II will be offered through the Period Art & Design Sale, San Francisco on November 18.

Joseph Klein collected in the manner of an 18th century connoisseur. He surrounded himself with an amazingly diverse array of artefacts acquired over nearly forty-five years of collecting. His collecting tastes encompassed the arts of ancient China, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome. Contrasting these antiquities with European Gothic and Renaissance objects to souvenirs of the Grand Tour, Joseph Klein can truly be described as a Renaissance man whose scope and breadth of collecting would no longer be possible in today's world.

Items in the October 24 sale include:
A Roman mosaic glass inlay of a female theatre mask, circa 1st Century B.C./A.D. £4,000 to 5,000.
Four Egyptian glazed composition 'Sons of Horus', Third Intermediate Period, circa 1079-800 B.C. £6,000 to £8,000.
An Egyptian brown stone statue of a woman, Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, 1991-1786 B.C. £6,000 to 8,000
A Roman marble draped figure of Aphrodite, Circa 1st-2nd Century A.D. £6,000 to £8,000;
A Hellenistic stone vessel fragment of Silenus, circa 3rd-1st Century B.C., £3,000 to 5,000

Joseph Klein was born in Warsaw, Poland. While still a teenager his family moved to Paris where they established a luxury leather goods factory. The family by good fortune escaped from Paris after the city fell to the invading forces of Nazi Germany. Abandoning everything they owned, the Kleins eventually made their way south to Lisbon, Portugal where they obtained passage on the SS Excalibur one of the last American ships leaving Europe in December 1941. The Excalibur was instrumental in the success of the war-time Emergency Rescue Committee; transporting thousands of refugees from Nazi Europe to freedom in the United States.

Joseph's nine-year-old nephew Bert struck up a friendship with the ship's radio officer who was the only person aboard with whom he shared the French language. From the ship's radio officer Bert was one of the first passengers to learn that Pearl Harbour had been bombed and America had declared war. The Excalibur had commenced the voyage as a neutral vessel showing all lights, but once war was declared the journey continued under strict black-out. The Excalibur docked safely at Hoboken, New Jersey.

In New York Joseph re-established his family's luxury leather goods business at 32 Union Square. Coincidently at the same address was the well-known S. Klein Department Store but the families were unrelated. Joseph supplied his handmade leather goods to such exclusive retail stores as Mark Cross. A Mark Cross handbag became a symbol of elegance, with Grace Kelly carrying one in Alfred Hitchcock's movie 'Rear Window'.

In New York Joseph began rebuilding his collection from scratch. He frequented the New York auction circuit as testified by some catalogues dating from the late 1940s that have survived among his papers. After the war Joseph also purchased pieces for his growing collection while in France during his European vacations.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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