From the Antique Trader Editor: The collector’s quandary

There are several methods to liquidate a collection, ranging from an auction to an estate sale to selling to another collector. One method that’s come up recently in two high-profile cases involves the role of museums.

K*B Toys co-founder Donald Kaufman and his wife, Sally, who assembled what will forever be known as the largest collection of automotive toys, considered a museum but decided collectors would take care of the items as their cherished objects.

So, too, did Dennis and Terri LaMothe consider a few museums to house their landmark mesh handbag and vintage couture collection.

When the Orlando couple interviewed a few museums, nonewould guarantee the collection would not be sold in the future if the museum ran out of space.

Both instances are examples of the quandary collectors may find themselves as they try to liquidate their collections. For both the Kaufmans and the LaMothes, the natural obligation they felt to preserve the history and years of research they invested in their collection made a museum a logical choice.

Museums are indeed the backbone of a country’s heritage and play an active role in the current hobby and research. Imagine how shallow and poor America would be without the Smithsonian Institution. What would the scholarship of American folk art be without the work of Winterthur or New York’s American Folk Art Museum? But museums can also be subject to politically charged boards, poor collection-care standards and vulnerable to economic downturns that decimate endowments.

Personally, I have always viewed collectors as a type of historical militia, a force comprised of ordinary people who share knowledge and preserve precious objects. Collectors are constantly engaging in new research and sharing this information in new ways.

As collectors from all levels now take stock to downsize, they face a world of decisions. These decisions are deeply personal — there is not a single solution that fits everyone.

What do you think? What role should America’s museums play as a growing number of collectors dispense with their collections?

Eric Bradley