The two 17th century ornamental silver and gold-plated ships were plundered from a German-American Jewish art collector. They were made in 1630 by the German craftsman Georg Müller from Nuremberg, and have been valued at over CHF1 million. The museum could not afford to buy them.
The ships are among 140 objects donated to the museum in 1967 by entrepreneur Giovanni Züst, who had started his silverware collection in the interwar period. They originally belonged to Emma Budge, a wealthy German art collector from Hamburg who took American nationality after marrying banker Henry Budge. She owned a collection of 2,000 artworks including furniture, textiles, sculpture, goldsmith’s work, paintings, porcelain and earthenware.
When she died in 1937, the Nazis forced her executors to sell her collection. Research has shown that the funds from this sale were transferred to a Third Reich account and did not go to the heirs. The St Gallen museum discovered the provenance of the ships, and notified Emma Budge's heirs, thanks to an in-depth investigation into the Züst collection that started in 2010 and is funded by the Federal Office for Culture.