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NJ collector outbids heavy hitters, pays $1.2M for Metropolis poster group in courtroom auction
1927 German movie poster for Fritz Lang’s sci-fi classic ‘Metropolis.’ Purchased by Ralph DeLuca as part of a 9-piece group lot for $1.2 million. Image:

LOS ANGELES, CA.- A courtroom is probably not the first place one thinks of when searching for rare movie posters, but that’s where New Jersey collector Ralph DeLuca made the score of a lifetime – a 1927 German poster advertising Fritz Lang’s sci-fi classic Metropolis.

DeLuca, a collector who owns the film memorabilia website, outbid three other formidable competitors in an auction held Dec. 13, 2012 in the US Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles. DeLuca said he was “thrilled” to hand over $1.2 million to acquire one of only four known examples of the iconic Metropolis three-sheet. Two of those four are held in institutional collections, while the other two [including DeLuca’s] are privately owned.

“For a poster I really want, I’ll pay serious cash. I always put my money where my mouth is,” DeLuca said.

Bidding opened at $740,000, upping the $700,000 private cash offer DeLuca had tendered previously to the Bankruptcy Court. Some of the movie-poster world’s top players were present to chase the cinematic treasure. They included an agent for Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Bruce Marchant of London-based Reel Poster Gallery, who represented UK collector Andrew Cohen; and a rep from the California auction house Profiles in History, who was there to bid on behalf of Steve Fishler, owner of Metropolis Comics, New York City.

“If anything surprised me, it was that Heritage was not my main competitor. I expected to have to fight them tooth and nail, but they were out of the running – as was Steve Fishler’s representative – before the bidding even reached $900,000. At that point, it was down to Andrew Cohen’s rep and myself,” DeLuca said.

Marchant and DeLuca competed in $20,000 increments beyond the $840,000 mark until Marchant called it quits at $1.18 million. DeLuca’s trumping bid of $1.2 million went unchallenged, and the hammer fell to end the auction. DeLuca was declared the winner of a group lot containing the Metropolis poster and eight other items that included a valuable 1933 poster for the film King Kong, a one-sheet teaser for The Invisible Man, the original artwork for Jailhouse Rock, and a Charles Addams drawing of the Addams Family, amongst other collectibles.

The courtroom auction wrapped a significant chapter in the bankruptcy of collector Kenneth Schacter of Valencia, California. According to a Dec. 13, 2012 Reuters report, Schacter purchased the Metropolis poster seven years ago for $690,000, using funds he borrowed from an investor with whom he was to share profits once the poster was resold. When Schacter retained the poster in his own collection and did not resell it, Mannheim filed suit and was awarded a judgment against Schacter.

Schacter did not pay the judgment, but he did file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December of 2011 to reorganize his debts. His course of action was derailed when Mannheim learned in March 2012, through an item appearing in The Hollywood Reporter, that the Metropolis poster was being offered for sale for $850,000 through a movie poster website. Consequently, Mannheim asked the Bankruptcy Court to convert Schacter’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, stating he believed Schacter was concealing assets. The Court sided with Mannheim and re-categorized the bankruptcy as a Chapter 7, thereby forcing Schacter to liquidate his assets. Shortly thereafter, Bankruptcy Trustee John J. Menchaca stepped in to take possession of the Metropolis poster and other items.

When Ralph DeLuca learned of the seizure, he hired a Los Angeles bankruptcy attorney to investigate his options as a potential purchaser. DeLuca’s attorney informed him that it would be possible to present an offer to the trustee.

“Ordinarily in an arrangement of that type, a person making an offer puts up 25 percent and shows proof of funds for the remaining 75 percent. I immediately put up the full $700,000 I was offering, in the form of a cashier’s check. The trustee felt it was a good deal.”

Ultimately, Trustee Menchaca decided to liquidate the posters through a courtroom auction, with DeLuca’s privately tendered bid serving as the opener.

While reselling the Metropolis poster is an option, DeLuca said he is not in a hurry to part with his most valuable artwork.

“Eventually if I get the right price for it, I’ll sell it, and when I do, it will be for a world-record price,” he said.

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