I have suggested to collectors for years that they plan to dispose in their lifetimes. Collections in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera fields now fall into the traditional form of known, well documented material or, as is the case increasingly, into a more sprawling, complex form that is built at least in part on ephemera, letters and other previously unknown material that have no pricing history. My first two collections fell clearly into the traditional form, my current collection into the latter.
Over the past month I’ve been trying to understand how my current collection should be organized. I’ve been doing this for years but never moved beyond basic categories such as books, pamphlets, broadsides, ephemera, paintings and objects but these categories have proven to be inadequate because they are too broad.
If an auction house or dealer is looking at the material their most basic parameters will probably be quality, value and audience. In looking at how a complex collection of often-inexpensive material will be lotted it seems likely this material will be grouped to reach whatever the target lot value is.
The organization of this collection can be seen in three different lights, divided by type, subject and/or place. The printed catalogues will be based on a single format, the online catalogues flexible enough to permit the contents to be reframed by any of these criteria. Because this collection includes about 5,000 items the online reframe-able version will probably more useful.
For this collection of the history of the Hudson Valley [in the State of New York] I’ll start by listing the categories that seem apparent.
Currier & Ives Prints
Kingston Theatre Broadsides [1850-60]
An extensive run of early Poughkeepsie Journals [1804-1818]
A history of Poughkeepsie fires
Early photographic postcards of fires, train wrecks and boat sinkings
Shipbuilding in Newburgh
Maps & Atlases
Objects including furniture
A collection of the watercolors of Frederick Copley [160 in color, 60 drawings]
The imprints of Joel Munsell, Albany printer [500+]
The imprints of Paraclete Potter, Poughkeepsie [30+]
The Hudson River
Highland, Lloyd, Milton and Marlborough
Albany [the New York State capital]
The Hudson River
I’m thinking I will do most of the cataloguing with the assistance of experts. I cannot imagine that any auction house will accept this tedious undertaking. The paintings are of course valuable as is the furniture and some of the manuscript material. Such items will fit into the auction house cataloging model. But some of the most fascinating material is ephemera and will require a determined effort to illuminate. This seems like something I, or any collector in similar circumstances, might undertake.
Such are some of the challenges that collectors of ephemera and the debris of history may face. I see it as an appealing challenge.
In any event, I have time. I’m planning to publish catalogues of the collection in the coming years and then send the material into the rooms as unreserved sales when I’m 75. This gives me 7 years to pull this altogether.