Edward Elicofon, 5 feet 4, 77 years old, fresh from a cataract operation, walks across his living room, his arms stubbing out of his short-sleeved shirt, his hands waving around his room.
"Take a look at my pretty things," he says.
It is almost impossible to focus. There are five paintings on the small walls, 10 paintings on the longer ones, and wait! When someone closes the front door there's a painting on the back of that. Nudes, landscapes, portraits, caricatures, montages, Orientals, photographs, paintings and more paintings -- stacked and leaned against walls and couches -- until you can't see anymore what is awful and what is masterpiece.
This is the man who bought two $5-million Durers for $400? Then what is he doing standing in front of a windmill snow scene that looks like it belongs on a box of Dutch chocolates? "What's that ?" he is adked about the landscape hanging next to it, the one surrounded by four other, five other small works.
"Oh," says Edward Elicofon, breathing hard in his small, Greenwich Village high-rise apartment, squeezing around the dining room table, "that'sd my Turner." You look twice. It is a Turner. Suddenly, the name attached, it's a masterpiece. "I picked it up at an auction on University Place," Elicofon says, and puts his small bundle of self into a dining room chair. "The dealer had no idea what it was or what it was worth."
Elicofon smiles. "Get this down," he says, pointing. "They call me 'The Man With the Eye.'"
Edward Elicofon began collecting art, any art, in 1929, when the stock market crashed. He bought his first painting for $7. "It was atrocious," he says. "I wish I had it now. It would remind me of what I've learned."
He then began collecting -- of all things to spend your $30 a week on -- Oriental art. People in Brooklyn knew about his house and his acquisitions, and in 1946, when a serviceman came around the neighborhood with eight paintings he said he had picked up in Germany, people sagely sent him over to the back door of a lawyer named Edward Elicofon.
Elicofon looked at what the serviceman had, and he liked two small paintings of a husband and wife, and asked what the serviceman wanted for them. He wanted $500, and Elicofon gave him a $50 deposit. When the serviceman came around the next day to collect the rest, Edward Eliconfon told him he could give him $350 more. The deal was made and he hung the pair. He liked those two paintings, a diptych. First he put them downstairs in his house, but he liked them so much that he moved them to his stairwell.
"I loved them very dearly," Edward Elicofon says. "I had a sixth sense about them. I said good night to them each night when I went to bed and I said good morning to them when I came down each morning."
In 1966, they said good morning to him. Elicofon's friend, an art dealer named Gerald Stern, was visiting Elicofon's home in Brooklyn and thought he spotted two people he recognized. Stern stopped cold on Edward Elicofon's staircase.
A legend was circulating throughout Europe about the missing paintings of Hans and Felicitas Tuscher, a young married couple: They went thought to have been lifted by American servicemen staying in Schwarzburg Castle near Weimar in 1945. The paintings, masterpieces by Albrecht Durer, were completed in 1499 and had been owned by the family of the grand duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach until their sudden disappearance in July 1945.
Stern wrapped up the paintings and took them to Theodor Rousseau, the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rousseau showed them to the director of the museum, who, according to Edward Elicofon, saw them, had a heart attack, and immediately died. In 1966, they were worth $1 million apiece -- and the East German government and the West German government and the family of the grand duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach all made claims on the Durers immediately.
It is 9:45 and Edward Elicofon is working in his apartment, amid his exhibition, solving a client family's legal problems. A little boy who has to wait through it all dangles his legs off an antique chair and gazes up at a wall of nudes staring down at him. His father sits under a minor work picked up at an auction. His mother sits under a masterpiece in an apartment blocked with: cacti, nude statues, abstracts, four-foot Chinese dragon dogs, Buddhas, was fruit, paper flowers, carved birds, glass birds, more stacks of paintings, clocks, clocks, clocks, tribal statues, art books piled 25 high, 20-year-old issues of the Atlantic Monthly, a 1966 issue of Life magazine witha picture of Edward Elicofon and his Durers inside. The house is full of what Elicofon has learned at hundreds of flea markets, sales, auctions.
Only the Durers are missing.
Forty-two blocks north, in a Citibank vault, a married couple -- together for 381 happy years -- sits, waiting to join the Elicofon party, or to go home. They are Hans and Felicitas Tuscher of Nuremberg, Germany, vacationing in America since 1946.
Elicofon doesn't want them back in his home. He says he wants to sell them and give most of the profits to Jewish charities, in his eyes a fitting statement to Germany about the war. "I don't visit them much." Elicofon says. "Maybe once in two years. I just had to continue my life without them. I loved them verydearly." And then, like the adopted child who turns out to be royalty, they were valued and swept away, far too worthy to sit in Edward Elicofon's home.
Nor that it broke the foster father's heart, exactly. "Any time I went to any museum, they rolled out the red carpet," he says. "When I married my wife," he says, "I realized she was wonderful, but I never knew how wonderful. When I bought these paintings, I realized they were wonderful, but I never knew how wonderful." They were wonderful, he says because they gave Edward Elicofon what he had never had. "I got four things from the Durers," he says. "Get these down. I got four things money can't buy. Pride. Pleasure. Prestige. Publicity." He smiles. "The four great P's. Which should be enough to salvage anybody's feelings."
The case moved through the courts persistently and aggressively after West Germany and the family of the grand duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach withdrew their claims in the late '60s. East Germany was able to push its case forward in American courts. In 1969, Elicofon lost his first step in the ownership contest. A few weeks ago, he lost his last. Federal Judge Jacob Mishler gave a summary judgement in Brooklyn that the East German museum, Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar, "as a matter of law has demonstrated that the Durers were stolen and that it is entitled as owner to possession."
Elicofon claimed immediately that he would chase the case up to the Supreme Court. He demanded a trial ruling instead of the summary judgement he got.
The Durers seem to be on their way home from their Citibank second honeymoon, back to East Germany. And Edward Elicofon has only several hundred other things to say good night to each night and good morning to each morning.
"It gave me instant world fame," he says. "Put that in quotation marks." He points and looks over, waiting for the inscription: "Instant World Fame." He likes things just his way, and he's had enough interruption in his life. He wants things to get on, nicely.
"I'm a sybarite. I love to take pleasure from beauty. I love beauty." He smiles. "You got a girl?" he says. "I've got a girl for you. Here's her number. You call her. She's beautiful. Beautiful ." Edward Elicofon gets ready to close the deal, and nods knowingly. "The man with