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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 13, March 30, 2008, Article 14

HISPANIC SOCIETY SUES ANS OVER CONTROL OF COLLECTION

On February 12, 2008 the Hispanic Society of America filed a
suit against the American Numismatic Society over control of a
collection of some 37,000 Spanish coins formed by Archer Huntington,
who was a major benefactor of both the Hispanic Society and ANS.
It was Huntington's largesse that enabled the construction of
Audubon Terrance at 155th and Broadway in New York, where the
two societies resided for decades until the ANS's recent move
to lower Manhattan.

I checked the ANS web site description of its Latin American
coin cabinet, which it says numbers only 20,000 pieces in
total.  In addition to acquisitions from the Greenwood,
Guttag, Echenique and Herz collections made possible by
Henry Grunthal, Harry Bass and other donors, the site says
that "In the 1950s, the Hispanic Society of America agreed
to place on permanent loan its unsurpassed collection of
coins of Spain and all Spanish dominions."

I was aware that the ANS had the Hispanic Society collection
but am not aware of the loan conditions.  These cases can be
complicated to settle – since half a century has passed, the
original parties to the transaction are gone and the contracts
and paperwork may be missing or incomplete, enabling both
sides to plausibly interpret the situation in their favor.
The HSA's argument will likely be "what part of the word LOAN
don't you understand?"  The ANS's likely response will be,
"What part of PERMANENT don't YOU understand?"

Having been down this road before when the Carnegie Museum
of Pittsburgh decided to deaccession its extensive collection
in the late 1970s, I can guess what this is really about:
raising money.  The Hispanic Society will make all sorts of
public noise about how the coins don't fit with their core
mission, but suggestions that the coins be donated to a more
appropriate venue will fall on deaf ears.  In Pittsburgh the
Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania came forward with
a plan to take over the collection and display significant
parts of it, but in the end, of course, the Carnegie sold the
collection in a series of sales in London, New York and Zurich.
Instead of handing clear title to the ANS and walking away,
the HSA is trying to regain control of the collection so it
can sell it.  Auctioneers worldwide have likely already been
contacted.

I can also guess what the reaction of the collecting community
will be - "Stop the sale!  Protect the collection!"   Editorials
will be written and petitions may be circulated.  But petitions
unaccompanied by a passing of a big hat to raise funds are often
a lesson in futility.  I learned that, too, having gone door to
door collecting hundreds of signatures on a petition to stop the
Carnegie sale.  Oh, to be young and idealistic again.  But still,
I hope and pray for the sake of numismatic scholarship that the
collection will somehow remain with the ANS.

So what are the facts?  First, I consulted the best information
source I know - the "The American Numismatic Society 1858-1958"
(Edited by Howard Adelson, 1958).  The book, scheduled for an
updated edition this year, is a very detailed history of the
organization, its collections, and benefactors.  The Hispanic
Society collection is discussed on p278-279.

 By far the most outstanding collection to come to the Society
 was that of the Hispanic Society of America, brought together
 originally by Archer M. Huntington.  It consisted of 30,355
 pieces when first placed into the custody of the American
 Numismatic Society but has since been materially increased by
 about 7,000 pieces.  The actual ownership remained in the hands
 of the Hispanic Society but the study and publication was to be
 carried out under joint auspices.

 Dr. Herbert E. Ives, President of the American Numismatic
 Society in 1946, had carried on the negotiations with Mr.
 Huntington regarding the deposit of these coins and the provision
 for their publication... Once all these arrangements had been
 reduced to writing by Mr. Huntington they were sent in the form
 of a letter to President Ives, and all the members of the council
 signed a copy of that letter at the meeting of June 21, 1946, as
 a token of acceptance.

The ANS has taken on a considerable amount of expense over
the years caring for, studying and documenting the collection.
Would those expenses have to be reimbursed by the Hispanic
Society?   Do the documents specifically state that the
transfer was a PERMANENT loan?  Does the Hispanic Society
have a case?

Next, I naturally checked with ANS Executive Director Ute
Wartenberg Kagan.  Here's what the ANS is able to say at
this point:

"The Huntington collection is probably the most comprehensive
collection of Iberian and Iberian-related coinage outside
Spain. In some areas, such as the Visigothic gold, it may
be the finest anywhere.  The ANS is committed to trying to
trying to preserve this collection in so far as it can.  It
is a highly important scholarly tool and educational resource,
of obvious relevance to many Americans.

It is clear to us from his correspondence that Archer Huntington,
the most generous benefactor in the history of the ANS, intended
this collection to remain whole and in the hands of the ANS.
He regarded the formation of the collection and its deposit
alongside the foremost numismatic collection in the US as a
service he had performed for his country.

For the past 60 years the ANS has been cataloguing and
researching the collection itself, and has been facilitating
the work of others on the collection. Like other parts of our
collection, Huntington’s coins are an important resource in
our educational program, including the annual Summer Seminar.
While the ANS may not have clear title to the coins, we are
negotiating as strenuously as we can with the HSA to try to
preserve the most important areas of the collection for future
generations of students and scholars."

Regarding the web site's Latin American item count, Ute
writes: "The 20,000 figure on the ANS site doesn't refer
to the HSA collection, which is primarily ancient, medieval,
Islamic, with some Latin American pieces."

Andrew Meadows of the ANS adds: "On the question of the date,
although the portion that Huntington personally transferred
to us came in the 1940s, after his death in 1955 a further
portion of his collection was discovered in the basement at
HSA and transferred to us under the same conditions as the
first batch.  So technically it is only since 1957 that we
have had the whole collection.  I believe that’s what the
website text refers to."

An article about the suit appeared in a Spanish publication.
I used Altavisa.com's Babelfish translator to get a crude
English version.  One excerpt reads:

 The Hispanic Society has indicated that 'we want to recover
 the pieces because the American Numismatic failed to fulfill
 the loan agreement'. And it is that the Hispanic knew that
 the Numismatic was going to change its location a year ago
 without to have requested the pertinent permission

I read this to mean that the Hispanic society is using the
ANS' move from Audubon Terrace as a reason to nullify the
permanent loan agreement.

The case is before the Supreme Court of the State of New York
(case index number 600423-2008, Justice Charles E. Ramos).
The documents are public records, available on the court's
web site.  The ANS' move is relevant to the lawsuit, if only
as a pretext for the suit.  In their complaint, the Hispanic
Society states that when the ANS moved from Audubon Terrace
in 2004 a new one-year agreement was made with the ANS to
enable the transfer of the collection to the new location at
96 Fulton Street.  The agreement was to be renewable yearly.
When the ANS announced its latest move from Fulton Street to
Hudson Square, the Hispanic Society declined to renew its
agreement.

On March 4th, the ANS was given 20 days to respond to the
suit.  As of today a response has not been posted to the
court's web site.

To read a newspaper article about the suit (in Spanish) see:
Full Story

To access the New York Supreme Court web site, see:
New York Supreme Court

For a description of the ANS Latin American collection, see:
ANS Latin American collection

For more information on the American Numismatic Society, see:
American Numismatic Society

For more information on the Hispanic Society of America, see:
Hispanic Society of America

[There is an informative article about the ANS in the April
2008 issue of COINage magazine.  "An Enduring Society" by Dom
Yaunchunas explores the organization's 150-year history and
plans for the future.  The article also notes the planned
publication later this year of a book titled "The 150 Greatest
Treasures of the ANS."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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