I have been watching with interest the discussion about dispersal of
the Randolph Herr collection. There is one big lesson here, that a
collector needs to make provision for the disposal of a collection,
not just leave it to the heirs to decide.
As instruments from the 20th century pass from hand to hand there is
continued attrition from lack of skill, interest, or just indifference,
so if you want your "stuff" to continue to exist and also be open to
view, you need to insure that your valued collection does not shrink or
disappear altogether by making some real plans.
Many people consider forming a non-profit museum to display their
items. This is not a slam dunk solution as if you are serious you will
find it is difficult to start, and even more problematic to guarantee
it will survive.
If you followed the dissolution of the Musical Wonder House Museum in
Wiscasset, Maine, you saw that if proper legal procedures are not
followed in the beginning there will be a later disaster. For most
small collections this is not a good solution.
DeBence Antique Music World exists not because Jake or Elizabeth
DeBence had planned well, but because area citizens saw the value of
keeping the collection intact. If not for their intervention it would
have been dispersed with different parts going in various directions.
This was luck, not good planning.
We at DeBence have benefited from some people who planned, and donated
their instruments to us for safe keeping. We have reproducing pianos,
reed organs and radios donated because their owners wanted them
preserved and available to public view. In at least one case we
received a collection from an estate where there was no pre-planning,
but the administrator overrode the family's suggestion to sell it all
and split the money by donating player pianos, a Hammond-Aeolian organ,
a Cremona and Nelson Wiggen nickelodeon, and smaller instruments,
believing that this was what the collector would have wanted.
All needed work, but we were overjoyed to get them, restore them,
and play them for our visitors. I believe their previous owner is
watching, and pleased with the outcome.
One more thing: most small museums get about 7% of their budget covered
by paid admissions. Climate control, fire and intrusion protection,
electricity and insurance do not come free. If you believe preservation
of this cultural heritage is worth doing, find a museum doing what you
think is a good job and become a member. Lacking a big endowment we
are all struggling, and operating grants are hard to get. Many modest
supporters are the best way to insure the continued operation of
museums supporting our interests, so sign up to help out soon.
DeBence Antique Music World