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ALAN LUEDEKING ON MUSEUM CONSERVATORSHIP
Alan Luedeking forwarded thoughts on a topic we've discussed before - the relative merits of private collectors vs. museums in the care and handling of material in their possession. -Editor
I, for one, am not displeased that the Hispanic Society of America has prevailed over the American Numismatic Society in the matter of HSA's coins. If it is true that the HSA intends to auction the collection openly, I will be even more pleased. The reason for this opinion stems from a visit that I made many years ago to the ANS to view the coins of interest to me. I was appalled at the very poor job of conservatorship the ANS was doing on these coins.
I cite as an exampIe a proof 1912 Un Csrdoba of Nicaragua, a rare coin indeed. The coin was housed in a little cardboard box, open to the elements, and free to slide around in it. In it was a little card with words to the effect that the coin was on loan from the Hispanic Society of America. Unable to place my fingers around the coin's edges to extract it, the first instinct was to put the tip of my index finger on the face of the coin and flip the box upside down so the coin would fall out. Needless to say, I did not do this.
However, the evidence of careless mishandling by others over the decades was glaring and shocking: A horrible black patch the size of an index fingertip, smack dab in the center of poor Mr. Csrdoba's face, otherwise surrounded by gleaming proof surfaces. The reverse of the coin was okay. I saw several other uncirculated coins with similar black patches in the center and nearly cried.
I believe that a dedicated collector is almost always a better conservator, researcher and sharer of knowledge than a large institution. It is true that private ownership may limit access to rare coins; however, if they are better cared for and more thoroughly studied, and eventually another collector will have the opportunity to possess them, that is better than having them improperly stored and subject to mishandling by careless individuals who are inadequately supervised.
I only hope that HSA will not sell the collection 'en bloc' to the Spanish government but will grant collectors, who over the centuries have been the true stewards of cultural and historic objects worth preserving, the opportunity to do so.
Dick Johnson adds this random thought:
Unintended consequences: I think the Hispanic Society would not have wanted their Spanish coins back if the ANS was still next door on Audubon Terrace. Ergo, ANS made $6 million by moving (twice) but lost a $30 Million collection because they moved.
It's anyone's guess what might have happened had the ANS not moved, but the move did seem to give the HSA a pretext for "modernizing" the loan agreement.
As for Alan's sentiments on museum handling of collections, I know his view is shared by many, even those who acknowledge that the world would be diminished without the existence of these institutions. Mistakes can be made by private collectors and museum curators alike. -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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