Your Collection, Part I

I was helping pack up the estate of a friend of mine, just one of the jolly aspects of my job. I won’t tell you which friend, but golly: three salesman’s sample miniature burial vaults! I’d’ve expected her to have a book on what the funeral director says to the parents of a deceased infant, but there were six of these, all of different eras, from different religious standpoints. I was impressed again by the depth and breadth of her collecting.
She had a presentation which I never actually got to hear, called “What Are You Going To Do With Your Collection?” It just so happens that I also have such a presentation, the main difference between hers and mine being that she was occasionally asked to give hers. But I have a blog.
Our presentations have, I assume, some things in common. Both make certain assumptions about the audience.
Assumption 1: You have a collection.
You may not CALL it a collection. You may just say “Oh, those are my teaspoons” or “These are my stamp albums” or “Have you seen my Jane Austens?” But you have something over which you have spent time and on which you have spent money. You may not be the world’s expert on the subject, but you know a bit more about it than the average Jill Smitty on the street.
Assumption 2: You know, in a vague, theoretical sort of way, that you will someday, um, occupy a state of existence opposite to that which we call “living”.
So what happens to your teaspoons once you’re pushing up the daisies? I don’t know how Helen discussed the question (I’m using the code name Helen Sclair so you won’t guess who she is.) But I have certain ideas on the subject based on the fact that I see lots of estates moving across my doorstep. And over the next couple of blogs, I’d like to tell you about some people who did it incorrectly.
I’m not blaming anybody: people make mistakes. Even people who know better have made mistakes. When I was around eighteen (shortly after the Boer War), I was taken to see an amazing coin collection. The man housed it in the largest safe deposit box in the bank, but he could afford to do this. It was his bank.
It was a great collection: I saw more gold coins in one place than I expect to see again. He showed me a five dollar gold piece that would have fit on a dime with room to spare. Some kid had found it out fishing and he’d paid ten bucks for it, thus satisfying the main requirement for a perfect deal: both parties thought they’d really snookered the other. He told me several stories, and I realized many years later that he had brought me to the bank vault to make a certain proposition, but never quite got around to it because he wanted me to think of it first. No, child, not that: you watch too much television. He wanted me to write his autobiography for him.
Among the stories came a frequent refrain. After nearly every story, he would sigh and note, “When I die, my family will put this all up for auction and not get a third of what it’s worth.” You might think that a man with so much financial and legal expertise would know how to prepare for this. Maybe he did. But when he died, his family put his collection up for auction and didn’t get a third of what it was worth.
As I outline three rules I have developed from seeing how people dealt incorrectly with their collections, remember that they are hard to attain. If you can follow one of these three rules, you’re ahead of much of the population. If you can manage two, you’ll be ahead of almost everybody. And if you can do all three, you shouldn’t be wasting your time reading blogs all day.
Mistake One, and its lesson, on Monday. 

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