An article forwarded by Jere Bacharach is a fascinating story of goings-on at the Hispanic Society of America, which recently sought the return of the coin collection which had been on loan to the American Numismatic Society. The ANS's former neighbor at Audubon Terrance in upper Manhattan hired Sotheby's to catalog the collection. -EditorUnder a leaking ceiling on 155th Street in West Harlem, paintings by Goya and Velasquez hang in near obscurity in the Hispanic Society of America. Surrounded by the vacant shells left by museums which have decamped to lower Manhattan, and with controversial airline investor Frank Lorenzo now taking a leading role on the board of trustees, the Hispanic Society has taken to selling off the treasures collected by its founder, Archer Milton Huntington. Last year a 13th century Koran was sold in London.
On August 6, Sotheby's began cataloguing for immanent auction a collection of 38,000 coins which Huntington lent to the American Numismatic Society. The HSA's board of trustees have assumed unfettered discretion to under-promote, under-protect and ultimately sell off Huntington's collection, in a process some analogize to Lorenzo's treatment of airlines during his heyday.
"This is to cry," a Spanish art lover sighed during a recent visit. It didn't have to be this way -- and the coin sale could still be stopped. Potential bidders should be aware of the history, particularly how the sale may run counter to not only the spirit but also the letter of Huntington's intent.
Despite Huntington's transfer of the coins to the American Numismatic Society being described as a "permanent" loan, the HSA has fought and litigated to regain the coins, but only for the purpose of selling them, not for display.
During an August 6 visit to the American Numismatic Society's new location at 75 Varrick Street, Inner City Press observed a team from Sotheby's and a spin-off company specializing in coin sales, Morton & Eden, preparing to catalogue the coins, which number 38,000. A sworn affidavit by Sotheby's David Redden spells out the auction house's demands during the cataloguing process: a separate, carpeted room to which they will have their own key, Internet access and, strangely, the right to bring in their own food. Once catalogued, the coins will be sold the highest bidders.
Lorenzo is best known for the bankruptcy of Eastern Airline; he has been described as, among other things, a "vulture investor." Now, museum sources say, he is applying to same slash and burn philosophy to the Hispanic Society of America, moving to sell off anything that is not nailed down. "It's a social club for a handful of businessmen," one well-placed source complained, describing these "gentlemen's" jockeying to meet Spanish royalty and other European dignitaries and titans of commerce.
A visit to the museum by this reporter on a recent Sunday found only a handful of tourists and two security guards. The Society's library was closed to the public, and 16th century wood carvings sat under a leaking ceiling with peeling paint. Upstairs, rare ceramics sat on the floor next to electric fans of the type sold in discount stores, protected only by a two-foot high strip of plastic or Lexan. Even though no direct comment was offered for this initial story, it emerged that the HSA's trustees have also considered leaving 155th Street, but concluded that space lower in Manhattan was too expensive.
Other trustees beyond Frank Lorenzo include William R. Harman, Miner H. Warner and George B. Moore, who signed the Trojan horse revised loan agreement, and who works at Merrill Lynch.
None of these were present on Wednesday when Sotheby's began final cataloguing of the coins at the American Numismatic Society. The Sotheby's group were behind a locked and secured door, presumably with the lunch they had brought in. Archer Milton Huntington, one imagined, was rolling in his grave. Will his voice and intent be heard, before at Frank Lorenzo's direction, Huntington's hard-won collection disappears into the hands of the highest bidder?
To read the complete article, see: Spanish Coins Face Stealth Sale by Secret Museum, Frank Lorenzo Is Said to Change Hispanic Society of America (http://www.innercitypress.com/nyc1hsa080608.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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