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NJ Collector Ralph DeLuca Pays $1.2M For Metropolis Poster Group In Courtroom Auction

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- A courtroom is not where one usually encounters 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, who owns the film memorabilia website RalphDeLuca.com, outbid three formidable competitors in a Dec. 13 auction at the US Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles. He paid $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; 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 in the courtroom 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, London dealer Bruce Marchant, who represented UK collector Andrew Cohen; and a rep from Profiles in History, who bid on behalf of Steve Fishler, owner of Metropolis Comics.

"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, and Fishler's representative, were out of the running before bidding even reached $900,000. At that point, it was myself versus Marchant," DeLuca said.

The battle concluded with DeLuca's $1.2 million bid for a group containing the Metropolis poster and eight other items, including a 1933 King Kong poster, a one-sheet teaser for The Invisible Man, and other posters.

The auction closed a chapter in the bankruptcy of collector Kenneth Schacter of Valencia, California. According to a Dec. 13 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 won a judgment against Schacter.

Schacter did not pay the judgment, but he did file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2011 to reorganize his debts. His course of action was derailed when Mannheim learned last March, through an item in The Hollywood Reporter, that the Metropolis poster was being offered for sale on a website for $850,000. Consequently, Mannheim asked the Bankruptcy Court to convert Schacter's Chapter 11 filing 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 took possession of the Metropolis poster and other items.

When DeLuca learned of the seizure, he consulted a Los Angeles bankruptcy attorney who told him it would be possible to present a private 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 remainder. I immediately put up a cashier's check for the full $700,000 I was offering. The trustee felt it was a good deal."

Ultimately, Trustee Menchaca decided to liquidate the posters through a courtroom auction, with DeLuca's $700,000 bid serving as the opener.

DeLuca said he is not in a hurry to part with his most valuable artwork.

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