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Sale of decorations sends us a message

Sale of American Numismatic Society decoration collection nets $1.679 million. Damage to reputation

Sale of American Numismatic Society decoration collection nets $1.679 million. Damage to reputation ? priceless.

The first of two sales of the ANS collection of world orders, medals and decorations occurred on May 24 and 25 in London at the offices of Morton and Eden. This sale featured 1,080 lots and totaled 898,660 pounds sterling ($1,679,595 at that day?s exchange rate of $1.869 per pound) not including the 15-percent buyer?s premium.

Here is some background for those who are not in the ANS circle. In the sale press release, there were two very interesting statements ? the collection was being sold as it has not had a curator in recent years, nor has it been on exhibition.

It had an active curator until the financial debacle led the ANS to offer buyouts to most of the curatorial staff, and nothing has been on exhibition long term at the ANS?s new location, nor have the decorations been on exhibition since the 1983 installation in the old building?s west hall was renovated to house the ground-breaking permanent exhibition called the ?World of Coins.?

Prior to 1983 the world decorations were proudly on display. After the 1958 renovations, they were displayed on one of the three walls from 1958 through 1983, and before that extensively displayed in earlier installations going back to the 1920s.

Saying that the foremost collection of orders, medals and decorations in the United States is expendable as it is not on exhibition is a folly of management, and oversight of the council members.

Historically, any museum can only display a small representative part of its holdings ? from 1983 to the close of the Audubon Terrace building less than 1,000 coins were on display ? yet it concisely told the story of coin evolution.

Using the excuse of non-exhibition, what is stopping the ANS from selling off many of the 100,000 Greek coins not on exhibition, or the 5,500 U.S. coins?
Where does it stop? Actually, using this logic, the most vulnerable part of the collection now becomes the world art medals, followed by tokens.

The society?s Web site proclaims the long-range plan summary for 2000-2005, which states that: The American Numismatic Society is to be the pre-eminent national institution advancing the study and public appreciation of coins, medals and related objects of all cultures as historical and artistic documents, by maintaining the foremost numismatic collection and library; by supporting scholarly research and publications; and by sponsoring educational and interpretive programs for diverse audiences.

Well, where does that leave researchers in the United States when the pre-eminent collection of world orders and decorations has been sold?
The sale certainly makes one think twice about making anything other than cash contributions to a museum.

George S. Cuhaj is a hobbyist from Iola, Wis.

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