Your COLLECTION, Part III | Page 73 | Newberry


One afternoon I had a phone call from a Very Important Institution. A client of theirs had died, leaving instructions that her collection of Jayne Mansfield memorabilia was to go to the Newberry Library.

“Do you WANT that kind of stuff at the Newberry?” the Representative of Importance asked me. “Because we can just throw it away if you don’t.”

I explained that the Library probably didn’t want it, but the Book Fair could use it. I’d dealt with some Shaun Cassidy and John Travolta collections, and a rather small Elvis one, but Jayne Mansfield is eBay gold, and I said I would be glad to take it off their hands.

“Well, I’ll bring it over one of these days,” I was told. “I’ll be in the neighborhood in the next couple of weeks.”

About a week later, a woman knocked on the back door and gave me two shopping bags of material. “This is that Jayne Mansfield collection I called about,” she said, looking a bit embarassed. “Are you sure the Newberry wwants to bother with it?”

I said we were thrilled and grateful. She shrugged and left the bags with me. I lost no time in checking to see what kind of memorabilia I was dealing with.

For those who are not up on these things, Jayne Mansfield was one of the Sex Goddesses of the late fifties and early sixties: not in the iconic class of Marilyn Monroe, but nonetheless a person of great popularity who, like Marilyn, added the mystique of dying young to the rest of her oeuvre.

Katherine Mansfield, on the other hand, was a New Zealand author whose collections Bliss, and The Garden Party are said to have changed the writing of short stories as we know it. She also died young, and therefore never even got to see a Jayne Mansfield movie.

The deceased had given a lot of her Katherine Mansfield collection to the Newberry already, but had kept back the stuff which meant most to her. In these shopping bags were copies of each of Mansefield’s books, in dust jacket, inscribed to her lover and eventual husband, John Middleton Murry. Beneath these were professionally matted letters from Mansefield to Murry and vice versa. I didn’t look any further in the bags. Some collections just call to me and say “We ain’t for the Book Fair.” The Modern Manuscripts Department upstairs, which had been promised this material but had not been contacted yet, was very happy to see them arrive.

RULE TWO: Try to get an executor who will pay attention when you explain WHY your collection is important.

The person involved in the estate was willing to do as requested by the deceased. But getting just one word wrong can make all the difference. I watched fascinated once at an estate sale as the auctioneer, who was more used to farm auctions, tried to get people interested in an antique Carom board, a sort of interactive, all-in-one game system in the days when such things were made of wood. He might have done better if he hadn’t kept calling it a Ouija Board. I don’t know of anyone who has taken mystic readings from a Carom board, but the original owner of this one might have been trying to get through. 

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