Letters to the editor

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=4]

December 1, 2011 – Shall collectors donate their collections to museums? Within the last issue we heard some arguments against it. Here are three more letters in favor of leaving coins to public coin cabinets.

Mel Wacks, Director of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame has sent us the following commentary:

Dear Ursula,
I greatly enjoy receiving your newsletters. I especially appreciate your outspoken personal opinions.
I want to offer my thoughts about contributions of coins, medals, etc. to museums.
First of all you must find a museum that will accept your material, and that is no easy task. If they will accept your material, I would be extremely surprised if they put anything on permanent exhibit, unless something is truly exceptional. But most museums have so much stuff that even exceptional pieces are off display. I don’t think that should be the purpose of contributions. Rather, I have donated material for the principle purpose of future research. This is much better than pictures on the Internet or books or catalogs.
Museums are not perfect – but what institutions or individuals are?
Mel Wacks
Jewish-American Hall of Fame

Herman Blanton also wanted to share his thoughts with us:

I am writing in response to your invitation to museum curators concerning the suitability of collection donations to museums. I am not a curator but still think it appropriate to write you on the subject.

I am presently nearly 60 years old and have been a coin collector since age eight. I have collected different topics over the years but about 30 years ago I decided to concentrate on one area only so that I could more fully research a subject. I chose to concentrate on Colombia having spent some time there back in 1969. Some years later I reached the conclusion that for me personally even a single country was too large to really accomplish. Colombia has a rich history in gold coin production and my budget would not allow me to ever assemble a good collection of all eras. So I decided to restrict myself to a single facet of Colombia, the hand hammered coins in silver before 1756. This area is rich in research opportunities. Among my research trips I visited the coin cabinet of the KHM where I was well treated and allowed to see many interesting and important coins even though it turned out that the museum did not have any coins in my area of interest. While the KHM coin cabinet has over a million items, some very important and valuable, I was surprised to learn that the collection is weak in 20th century. Dr Roswitha Denk explained that the collection was transferred to the people of Austria by the Habsburgs and that after the First World War few objects were added.

Herman Blanton, the author of this letter to the editor and Dr. Roswitha Denk of the coin cabinet of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

A few years ago I decided to part with my collection of 20th century Colombia, which included many dies varieties and errors for which Colombia is known. I decided to assemble a good collection of the 20th century coins, packaged and cataloged each according to Jorge Emilio Restrepo’s catalog and donated them to the KHM. I also gifted a couple hundred 20th world coins including tokens from my home town. I now trust the KHM to keep these coins for future generations along with the correct attributions. My hope is that no matter how few people inspect these coins at least there will be a good collection available for research. The coins I donated are not particularly valuable, but it was a true gift as I received no tax benefit since the KHM is not a registered charity in my home country.

I understand the skepticism donors have about transferring their expensive collections to museums because sadly we read about de-accessions for fund raising. Museums could help themselves if they offered some options to donors in the case the gifted objects are ever de-accessioned.

Herman Blanton

And here is, what Alan Walker had to say:

Interesting about the donation but please do not forget that this guy is talking about Trade Tokens (presumably). This is a very specialized field and one that not that many people are interested in. Donating that kind of stuff to a non-specialized museum (i.e., a regular, normal art museum) is not very bright. The present curator might like it because it harmonizes with other items of the same period that interest the curator, but if the museum is not a huge one, like the Met, this stuff will sooner or later come off display and be put in storage. And look what happened to the bulk of the Met’s ancient coin collection.

This is, in fact, the great mistake coin enthusiasts make if they think about donating to a museum that is not truly interested in coins. Sooner or later they will get rid of them. To adequately take care of anything other than just a sampling of coins an institution is going to have to have someone on staff who knows about them. This is very unlikely to occur. Look what happened to the coins at Kiel! If you live in a small town in Germany that once had a mint and now has a fine local museum, you can donate your lovely collection of that mint’s coins and be fairly sure that they will be on display because they will be of true local interest. Otherwise, the most intelligent thing to do if you want to donate some coins is to donate them to a museum that has a serious coin cabinet already. Like the ANS, the BM, Munich, Berlin, Paris, Brussels, etc. Or if you have a huge collection and a lot of money you can endow a museum that lacks a coin cabinet: you can give them the collection and the money for display, storage and curating that collection.

Otherwise, forget it.

Dr. Alan Walker
Nomos AG