Recently, Sarah Werner wrote “How to Destroy Special Collections with Social Media in 3 Easy Steps,” addressed to librarians and curators of public rare book and manuscript collections. Here is an equally serious work for private, special collections.
1. Do Not Have a Written Inventory of Your Special Collections.
Keep a current inventory of your collections in your head. After all, you are not going anywhere without your head, right? Who cares if the only information your successors can find lacks critical information and is badly out of date? Does it really matter if your records consist of trampled receipts, jumbled insurance appraisals, and coffee-stained tax inventories? Your heirs will be happy to accept any dealer’s initial offer if it means they no longer have to deal with the mess.
2. Never Organize Your Special Collections.
Collect a large amount of everything: art, coins, gemstones, jewelry, furniture, lawn furniture, china, silver, etc., and the associated mass of documents, catalogs, notes, letters, bills of sale, and paperwork that comes with each. Never organize any of it. Buy barns, storage units, and houses to keep your things in no particular order. Take special care that you never, ever tell anyone what is good, what is better, and what is best, and certainly never give away or sell anything.
3. Make Sure No One Can Manage Your Private Collection Once You Are Gone.
What is your collection without you? Make sure you leave no one in charge, give no guidance on buying or selling the pieces, purchase no insurance to cover the costs of maintaining unique assets, and most importantly, avoid special tax or administrative planning that would help someone handle the collection after your death. Auction houses will altruistically cherry-pick your special collection and your family will surely bless your name when they pay the steep taxes, insurance, seller’s commissions, transportation, and other costs that come from not keeping the collection together.
This advice is pretty silly, but I am continually surprised when collectors (even collectors with sophisticated, single-family offices and art collections worth hundreds of millions of dollars) do these exact three things over and over again. Hopefully this has given you a good laugh, but if it also strikes close to home, please let me know.