One Man’s Private Cache Pays Off For The Rest of Us

From the muddy yard of a private collector to the dresser drawers of a dealer, Mitchell Wolfson ransacks the world for his finds

"I'm not a hoarder," says Mitchell Wolfson, founder of the Collection of Decorative and Propaganda Arts in Miami Beach. "I care about objects, but I have no sense of possession. If I love something, I buy it. But I stop loving it once it's acquired."

For Wolfson, the thrill of the chase is what motivates him to collect. For example, at a gallery in Berlin, he spies a turn-of-the-century chair that, unfortunately, is not for sale. Wolfson is undeterred. For more than an hour he wheedles, cajoles and pleads with the dealer, explaining that he simply must have that chair. If his entreaties were any more energetic, he could be tried for assault. Eventually, the dealer realizes he's not being offered a choice, and he relinquishes his precious chair.

The impressive result of Wolfson's aggressive style and persistence is the Wolfsonian Foundation, a museum he established in 1986, which houses more than 70,000 objects produced between 1885 and 1945. It includes paintings, sculptures, prints and posters, as well as a dizzying assortment of Fascist-era propaganda materials, because to Wolfson the value of his objects is not always in how beautiful they are, but in what they tell us about the cultures that produced them. Meanwhile, Wolfson continues to indulge his passion for collecting; for him, a day without a purchase is a day gone to waste.

Get the latest History stories in your inbox?

Click to visit our Privacy Statement.