Wednesday, September 8, 2010

History on the Auction Block

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Loretta reports:

The Green family was one of the Significant Families of Worcester, Massachusetts.  I still regard them fondly because of Dr. John Green, who founded the Worcester Public Library (its early incarnation at left).  His collection included some extremely rare and beautiful books—the sort NHGs expect to find only at big university libraries.  Or in England at some duke’s place.  Though not in this priceless category, some of the elderly volumes I consulted for Mr. Impossible bore Dr. Green’s name.

Then there was a Green Hill Park, where once upon a time, the family had lived in a great (for Massachusetts) estate.  To my everlasting grief, the house, like so many others, was long gone by the time I discovered it, through old photographs.  It included, I recently learned, a museum for the family.  And now it turns out that some or all of this collection—art, furniture, furnishings, clothing, books, letters &c—ended up in the care of one lady.  When she died, not long ago, the treasure trove went to descendants who do not strike me as being of the Nerdy History persuasion.  My big clue was their nicknaming the experts evaluating their inheritance “antique geeks.”  So I was troubled, but hardly surprised by their decision to sell off the lot.

Yes, it’s all being auctioned off this week, in the same city where that handsome estate with its private museum once stood.  Here’s the story in the local paper.

I haven’t had time to go through all the catalogs.  For sheer quantity, if not historical value, this reminds me of the auction of Horace Walpole’s estate.   I did make time to check out the clothing—and it’s enough to make a Nerdy History Girl weep.  Ye who are fascinated by historical dress will want to peruse this catalog.  You’ll even find some of those pads they used to pouf out sleeves in the 1820s and 1830s!

If you’ve got some time on your hands, you can examine all the catalogs at the auctioneer’s site.  Or you can hurry on over to the DCU center in Worcester and bid on something.

But before or after that, would you tell me something?  If you were the one who inherited all this stuff, what would you do?


Undine said...

First of all, I'd faint.

After that...I'm not sure. I'd hate to part with any of it (assuming I had a house the size of the Getty Museum to store it all.) On the other hand, I'd feel that the world had a right to share in such a trove. In this couple's place, I'd probably keep a couple of "favored" items for myself, and then sell the lot. (Being one myself, I actually kind of like the phrase "antique geeks.")

Incidentally, does anyone else find it mind-boggling that all this was just shut up in boxes for a century without anyone even bothering to peep inside and see what was there?? Makes you wonder what else is shut up in some long-forgotten storehouses...

Anonymous said...

What a horrendous but wonderful responsibility that would be. In fantasy land, where I spend an excessive amount of time, I would have a fortune to go with it so I could establish my own museum.

And wouldn't that be fun to do!

nightsmusic said...

I would probably keep a few pieces to display in my home. The rest, I think I would have to do an "on loan" to a museum. They would be curated and displayed properly for all to enjoy and yet would stay in the family.

I'm with Undine though! I can't believe some little girl didn't find a box of those clothes and play dress up.

Monica Burns said...

Don't you just hate it when idiots are award history and don't recognize its value? I was lamenting to a reader in Europe recently how the US doesn't appreciate their own history. We tear it down because we want shiny and new. Disgusting. Just disgusting.

Lady Burgley said...

Much better to have those things go to a person or place that appreciates them than to have them rotting away in cardboard boxes. The best thing would have been if the heirs had offered first pick to museums; nowadays, with limited funding, most collections can't afford to bid at auctions like this, and the items disappear into private collections where they can't be seen or studied. However, these folks sound like they're only in it for the money. Greedy, and sad.

librarypat said...

I looked through one of the catalogues and truly wish we could go to the auction. Not that we could afford any of it, but it would be nice to watch.

We furnished our house at auctions starting in 1971. Got good antique furniture for relatively little. Our more recent purchases haven't been such good buys. I appreciate the items we have, some are family items, but my kids really don't care much. I am afraid much of it will be sold off when we are gone. It is a shame, but to be fair, they all have furnished homes and don't need more furniture.

If I had inherited all of this, I would certainly want to hold on to it. Unfortunately, you would need a huge house to hold it all. Considering how disrespectful, for lack of a better word, the descendants are, it is just as well they are having the "antique geeks" sort through it all and take care of it. These people are going to make a fortune. It is a shame to see the collection broken up, but the items will at least go to people who will appreciate them. To me that is important. I've heard too many people talk about their relative's "junk" and how they will just be getting rid of it as soon as possible. Some of the things I have seen thrown out make me cry. If it isn't your thing, fine, but let someone who can appreciate it have it. I have known people who took an axe to large pieces of antique furniture to break it up and get it out of the house.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Oh, I love some of the designer clothes from the 60's. That one coat and the tailored suit - divine!

News From the Holmestead said...

Like most others, I would keep a few things for myself and donate the rest to a museum. And mercenary as it sounds, I would sell a few of the higher-priced things because I am not a wealthy person.

One very excellent use for auction catalogs is the pictures and descriptions they contain. They are a wonderful research resource. I bought a stack of old Sotheby's catalogs featuring Regency snuffboxes, furniture, paintings, and clothing. I bought the catalogs at a Friends of the Library sale, and they cost 10 cents each, but are worth far more in research value. ~Sherrie Holmes

The Down East Dilettante said...

Oh, you've struck a nerve with this one. I've seen several estates go on the block in this country, estates that in England would be saved as National Heritage (see, in fact, Emile deBruijn's essay on just that in today's Treasure Hunt blog).

Family accumulations tell us so much, and so much is lost when can't save everything, but one wishes one could save more.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoy you blog

Deb said...

At first, I was in high dungeon about the cavalier way the heirs of this treasure trove went about disposing of it. But then I thought what would I do if a distant relative left me a collection of something in which I personally have absolutely no interest--for example, vintage cars or sports memorabilia. I'd probably do what the heirs in this case did: Hire "geeks" (e.g., authorities) in the field and then go to auction.

Deb said...

My caffeine-deprived English major's brain is telling me that should be "i.e., authorities" in the above post.

/Should not post so early in the morning.


Anonymous said...

Loretta, THANK YOU for sharing that article! I have little time to read the paper anymore and I totally missed it. Knowing how hubby is (total opposite of me, who keeps everything), the paper is prob long gone to the trash. I would have kept the article.

The picture of the mansion totally floored me. Unfortunately, at the time it was demolished, places with such historical value weren't such an issue as some are today. I would have adored a tour of that home! Like the Salisbury mansion, which I still have yet to tour, for heaven's sake.

Carla Arpin

Anonymous said...

P.S. - Whoops. In answer to your question, I have no clue as to what I'd do if I inherited all of that stuff. I love the teddy bear and collect them, so THAT would stay with me, LOL! But, like someone else said, we're far from financially stable, so I'd have to sell some of the furniture, at least. *pout*


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