There have been a lot of headlines recently regarding cultural patrimony and the demands of some foreign governments for the return of antiquities including coins as such. The arguments regarding who should be allowed to own such items are being heard both in the courts and in Congress, but one aspect impacting both sides of the argument must not be ignored ? most museums worldwide have traditionally received a significant portion of their holdings from private individuals, particularly from collectors.
Should foreign governments prevail, and coin collectors among others are forced to repatriate antiquities to the geographic region from which the antiquities originated, perhaps some of these items will end up in museums, but many of these objects may go the same route as in the famous scene at the end of the movie ?Raiders of the Lost Ark? where the Ark of the Covenant is crated and unceremoniously dumped in a government warehouse, likely never to be seen again.
There are a lot of coin collectors who if they could would find a way to take their collection with them to the afterworld. A few of these collectors may will their possessions to a museum, however the vast majority will hope the family will keep the collection as a legacy. In fact if there are no other collectors in the family at that point the collection will be sold, many times incorrectly since collectors are not great at leaving instructions.
Understand this, you don?t have to have a million dollar collection for it to be worthy of being contributed to a museum. You don?t have to wait until you?re dead to donate either.
Putting my money where my mouth (or in this case my pen) is, this is exactly what I did during late 2007. I contributed my entire collection of Short Snorter bank notes to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The decision wasn?t an easy one. I had to make the decision to part with the collection in my own lifetime. My wife had to agree the contribution would be a good idea. I had to determine if a numismatic-oriented museum was the appropriate place for a well-researched collection of Short Snorters (The signers of many of these notes have been identified or found!) and had to find a museum truly interested in receiving the collection for reasons beyond merely adding the collection to its inventory.
The Air Force museum proved to be a good choice. They were thrilled. According to Archives Assistant Christina Douglass, the museum previously had but a single note, that note having been received with some World War II memorabilia. Here was their opportunity not only to receive additional notes, but notes that someone had taken the time to research regarding who signed them, where they were signed, when, and other historical background information of value to future researchers. The notes, furthermore, are often within the realm of military history.
The notes, according to Douglass, will be stored in an environmentally safe atmosphere and will be made available not only to myself as the contributor, but to researchers and the public on request. At some later date there is always the possibility items from the collection may be put on display. Not only that, but if I wish to add further notes to the collection I can do so.
Why am I publicizing this contribution? Because the museum would be pleased to add additional examples to it, if other collectors are willing to add their contributions rather than leave the fate of such collectibles to their relatives once the collector in the family is gone. Does this take the notes off the market as far as collectors are concerned? Of course! But, you know what, there is no guarantee the notes would survive in the long run considering eventually it will sooner or later come down to non-collectors having to dispose of something of which they know nothing about.
Anyone interested in adding further Short Snorters to this collection should first contact the Department of the Air Force, National Museum of the United States Air Force, 1100 Spaatz Street, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio 45433-7102. I would love to see my contribution be simply the nucleus for an even larger museum collection.
Richard Giedrocyz is a professional numismatist and writer from Sidney, Ohio.
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