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MORE ON THE MUSEUM / COLLECTOR DEBATEWeb site visitor Jeff Dennis writes:
I just happened upon your webpage about the tendency of rare items in museum collections to "walk": MUSEUM / COLLECTOR DEBATE RAGES (http://www.coinbooks.org
I was an antiquarian book dealer for fifteen years and was initially scandalized by librarians casually selling donated collections of rare material at pennies on the dollar to raise funds for popular fiction, until I realized this syndrome is the rule everywhere, at every level of value.
Unlike most of my colleagues, I could never bring myself to cultivate librarians and volunteers at book sales to take advantage of it. But, I came to understand that it is always going to come with the territory, given the job mobility of librarians and curators, and the fact that the items entrusted to their care, like the neglected property of the "state" in the old soviet block, do not really belong to any one person.
I used to advise collectors who wanted to bequeath their life's efforts to an institution to have their attorneys write an iron clad contract specifying care and feeding of their collections, and endowing a fund to do so, but as you point out, even that will not protect items in a vault from thieves when the new guardian is unknowledgeable, incompetent, or simply does not care.
I think now that giving the collection to an institution is often worse than leaving it to an irresponsible son in law. It is better than hearing the ephemera has all been hauled off to the dump, which I have encountered more frequently than I care to think about.
At least when the son in law sells it off to dealers, it goes back into the collector community, who are the people who care most about preserving it. I now advise collectors to leave their collections to their biggest rival, along with an iron clad contract that he lend it to an institution.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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