Collections start randomly, and some day end. Most don’t start out to be epic, rather they often turn out to be simply episodes. The collector’s experience shapes what happens next.
Money, time and intellectual acuity play roles. Partner preferences matter as does luck. The early sources you rely on are crucial. Bill Reese influenced two of my collections; The New World to 1625, and the other, The American West to 1890. He provided perspective on how to intelligently collect, providing reading lists and sources when/if the material was not within his personal experience. For me, collecting might have turned out to only be the accumulation of collectible material but he made the distinction, the material should have a rock solid focus. The collection should encompass a story.
In addition to his perspective, I began to experiment, looking for personal relevance. The New World to 1625 was interesting to me because I was living on the Florida east coast in the early 1990’s. In time I built that collection [1991-1999], moved to San Francisco in 1995 and then built the collection related to the development of the American west. I sold them at auction, the first in 2009 at Bloomsbury in New York, and second at Bonhams in New York in 2010 when I was 64.
I suppose at that age some collectors would throw in the towel but from when I was a kid, I always hoped I could collect a collection of Ulster County, New York where I grew up. I did so randomly without much success. But the internet, in the late 1990’s exposed all kinds of material relating to Ulster and found the county’s commercial history was accessible and saw the day to day details of life and business could be purchased online. For me, this meant I was going to build one more collection and continue to build it today.
But I’m 75 now and completing and placing the Ulster County collection is complicated. For starters, I’m still collecting, increasingly focusing on paintings. I find them easy to live with.
But I have to plan the disposition of this collection because, while it matters to me, it’s not something my family will value in the way I do. And, because it’s a complex collection it has to be organized in a way it will still make sense when its author is gone. Simply stated, my wife Jenny made allowances to my interest in Ulster County, but I’m simply obligated to ensure this collection will not be a burden for either her or our children.
To do that suggests the complete collection will need to be catalogued. Years ago I used to think that was the auction house’s responsibility but there are so many ways that sections of this collection reinforce each other it’s important I explain how the pieces fit together. So I’m planning to have assistance to create catalogues by categories, such as manuscripts, books, maps and ephemera, paintings, disasters, kitsch, furniture and artifacts. So when that day comes I don’t leave a burden.