Letter to the Editor

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This letter refers to the editorial of the Newsletter dated to November 17, 2011.
Here is the original text, which is concerned:

Dear Coin Enthusiasts all over the world,

do you know, how museums came into being? Well, in the beginning there were private collectors. Whether prince or merchant, they loved to surround themselves with beautiful objects. They have brought together many collections, and after their death they were normally dispersed. Only some of them have reached our era like the collections of the lawyers Basilius Amerbach and Remigius Faesch or the merchant Andreas Ryff, all of them living in Basel in the 15th / 16th century. Men like them invested money, affection and care to deliver those things they thought to be worth collecting to posterity. Basel Historical Museum, whose permanent exhibition was opened on November 13, 2011, is presenting objects from their collections to the public among them many coins and medals.
When I think of these men and the many others, who have collected and donated their collections to museums, I am shocked about the latest report of UNESCO and ICCROM. This report reveals intolerable deficiencies seen at a great part of museum’s depots. And this does not only concern museums of the Third World! Once again national states spot cultural issues as savings potential, because the results of these cost-cutting measures will be seen by the following generations only.
Sometimes I have the feeling that I can’t avoid realizing that the individual takes much more care of his collection in his lifetime than most states once a museum has received the collection.

Ursula Kampmann

Within this text we referred to two news:

International Storage Survey on Museums Reveals Disastrous Situation

Lack of space and lack of trained staff, backlog of indexing objects and damaged buildings: The list of deficits of the museums all over the world is long as a survey recently conducted by UNESCO and the cultural association ICCROM has revealed.

New permanent exhibition at Basel Historical Museum

Basel Historical Museum has opened its new permanent exhibition. Objects from collections dating back to the 16th century are focused in this impressive presentation. Among other objects Basel presents medals and coins from the property of Erasmus of Rotterdam.

And here comes a contribution of our reader W. J. McKivor sent by email on November 18, 2011.

Hi all,

Was quite interested in Ursula Kampmann’s lead article. As it happens, I have friends here in the USA and in Great Britain, who are curators or are retired from some rather major museums in both countries.
As it happens, I have been lucky enough to obtain some rather unique numismatic items from the 18th Century that were not obtainable before 2002, and have very large collection of these rare and important items. I had thought to give them to a museum, probably one in the UK, at some point, but to my amazement, each curator friend managed to talk me out of it.

Besides the lack of personnel in numbers and expertise, and the lack of money for museums to acquire new items such as mine, I was told that any museum would be happy to get what I have to offer. They would put on a nice show of them for possibly 3 or more months, then change the display. When that was done anything I donated, save possibly a piece or two, would be put into storage. Now the fates take charge, these items I wished to be put on display for people to enjoy would be in a drawer or other place – and often they would not be out again until the entire personnel of the museum had changed!!
If this happens, the new workers have little frame of reference to the pieces, and no connection to them. They had not seen them when on display, and unless they become enthused the items would be placed back into storage, or even targeted for a museum sale or auction.

With the internet the way it is, it is more sensible to keep them safe while I can, and put each one up on a web site where they can be seen by millions, if that many wish to, instead of by a few, and for a very limited time. If stored away by a museum, they are of no value to anyone. If sold by a museum, they are not fulfilling the hope that the donor had – that they would be seen by lots of people and enjoyed by them. Instead, they would be parceled out to the public or to dealers. Thus, I determined that I would, perhaps, give some material to a museum, something I deemed important enough that they would keep it on display. The rest I shall sell myself, and try to find buyers who appreciate what it is I have to sell. The entire collection will stay available on the web for as long as I live, and I could, if I wished, have it left there indefinitely with caretakers. Thus, I would have what I wanted, many people to have access to the material. Others, buying what they could at a sale, would have some of it to enjoy and hopefully pass on to others as well as display it publicly. As well, I would have some money from it to pass on to heirs or charity.

Thus, anyone with a collection should consider what actually happens in a museum setting, and that their pride and joy collection could sit for many years in a dusty box in the basement.
Anyone wishing to see what I have is welcome to look at the Boulton and Watt material on my web site. And, there it shall stay.

All the best,
W. J. McKivor

If you want to see the coins our reader is talking about, please click here.