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QUEDLINBURG ART AFFAIR

QUEDLINBURG ART AFFAIR. This celebrated art repatriation case centered upon a number of medieval objects belonging to the Lutheran Church of St. Servatius in Quedlinburg, Germany, about 100 miles southwest of Berlin. The objects included the Samuhel Gospel, a ninth-century illuminated Latin manuscript with a jewel-encrusted cover; the Evangelistar, a printed manuscript with jeweled cover dating to 1513; five crystal reliquary flasks with gilded and jeweled mounts; a small silver reliquary box; a carved ivory comb; and a reliquary casket decorated with jewels, gilt copper repousse plaques, and carved ivory inlays that belonged to Henry I, the first Saxon king who unified the German states in the early tenth century.

In June 1945 Quedlinburg church authorities reported that objects from their treasury were missing from a mineshaft on the outskirts of town, where the church had placed them for safekeeping during World War II. Since the Eighty-seventh Armored Field Infantry battalion had recently helped guard the mine, church officials lodged a complaint with the United States Army. However, the whereabouts of the works could not be determined, and subsequent investigation was deemed futile. The objects from the Quedlinburg treasury became the subject of an intense search after the Samuhel Gospel appeared on the market in Europe in 1987 and was sold in April 1990 to the Cultural Foundation for the States in Berlin, an organization devoted to the repatriation of lost German art. At that time, the Evangelistar was also in the hands of a Swiss dealer. The purchase of the Samuhel Gospel led a German investigator, Willi Korte, to search Pentagon records and then led him to Texas. He discovered the remaining objects at the First National Bank of Whitewright, sixty miles north of Dallas, where they had been placed by Jack Meador and Jane Meador Cook, heirs to the estate of Joe T. Meador, their brother, who died in 1980. Joe Meador was a twenty-nine-year-old lieutenant with the Eighty-seventh when it occupied Quedlinburg in 1945. Fellow soldiers report having seen him enter the mine and leave with bundles; it is believed he sent the items home through military mail. Meador was discharged from the army in 1946. In 1950 he took up permanent residence in Whitewright to assist with running the family's hardware store and to care for his mother, who died in 1978. After Joe's death, his brother Jack and sister Jane initiated the possible sale of the objects.

A civil action filed on June 18, 1990, in United States District Court in Dallas on behalf of the Quedlinburg church, sued for the return of the treasures to Germany. The law firm Andrews and Kurth of Washington and Dallas represented the German church; Strasburger and Price in Dallas represented the Meador family. Since the ownership of the objects was contested, both parties agreed to move them from the bank vault to a neutral location. Eight objects from the treasury and other unrelated items were stored at the Dallas Museum of Art during the pendency of the lawsuit. Since the statute of limitations in Texas is only two years, state law clearly favored the Meadors' claim. For that reason, both sides pursued a negotiated settlement, and on January 7, 1991, the parties announced in London that they had reached an agreement. According to the agreement, the Germans would pay the Meador family $2.75 million for the return of the treasures to Quedlinburg. That sum included previous payments for the Samuhel Gospel sold in 1990. After the announcement, legal negotiations continued until the agreement was finally signed by all parties on February 26, 1992. The eight works from the treasury, which had been in storage at the museum, as well as the Evangelistar of 1513, which was returned from Germany for exhibition, were on public display at the Dallas Museum of Art from March 7 to April 26, 1992. The affair, however, was not over for the Meador family. In January 1996, they and their former attorney, John Torigian of Houston, were indicted on federal charges of conspiring to sell the Samuhel Gospel and the Evangelistar, charges for which each defendant could have faced up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Two years later, a federal judge in Sherman dismissed the indictments on a technicality, a decision upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. After the dismissal of the criminal case, however, the Internal Revenue Service announced it was seeking $8.6 million in federal taxes, $2.1 million in penalties, and more than $40 million in interest from the estate. The Meadors eventually settled the case on April 20, 2000, by agreeing to pay only $135,000. Various lawyers and art experts familiar with the case expressed surprise at the relatively small amount of the settlement. William H. Honan, a New York Times reporter who had helped track the treasures to Texas, later published a book about the case entitled Treasure Hunt: A New York Times Reporter Tracks the Quedlinburg Hoard (New York: Fromm International, 1997).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Anne R. Bromberg, The Quedlinburg Treasury (Dallas Museum of Art, 1991). Jeremy Leggatt, "A Looter's Legacy," D Magazine, December 1990. New York Times, June 14, 16, 19, 1990; September 2, 2000. Dana Rubin, "A Soldier's Secret," Texas Monthly, August 1990.

Emily J. Sano

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Emily J. Sano, "QUEDLINBURG ART AFFAIR," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kjqem), accessed October 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.