Todd Augsburger's comment about the difficulty of acquiring a desirable
historical document in today's market made me think again about cycles
of collecting and dispersing. It happened with the Smallwood
collection. Will it happen with the Sanfilippo or the Gilson or the
Krughoff collections? Will it happen with your collection?
The surest way to prevent dispersal of a collection seems to be to put
it in the hands of an institution. The Murtogh Guinness collection
was saved from dispersal this way. So was the Richard J. Howe paper
collection. But even that has risks and problems. One organization
was after the Guinness collection not for the music boxes themselves
but for the multi-million dollar endowment that accompanies the
collection. Dick Howe did not want to give his papers to the Library
of Congress because he knew they would become lost there in the sheer
volume of LC's holdings. So his papers went to IPAM (International
Piano Archives at Maryland).
It is in the nature of things that collectors acquire things they are
interested in, that their children do not share the interest and
convert the collectibles back into cash, that the collections are
dispersed, and that the cycle begins anew. It reminds me of a
kaleidoscope: each time you turn the toy, you get a new display, always
changing, never the same again. Some new objects appear, some old ones
disappear, maybe to pop up again, maybe not. But the old configuration
can never be recaptured -- and it's all largely beyond human control.
What is more important than the fact of these collectibles being
dispersed, I think, is the knowledge of where they are at the moment.
If you know where the things you are interested in are, they are not
lost, even though they are not in your possession. They may be
inaccessible for a time, if the possessor has a dog-in-the-manger
attitude (luckily most collectors and most institutions don't); but
they are not lost.
On balance, are we losing or gaining ground in the mechanical music
field, as objects are discovered, lost, and change hands?
Matthew Caulfield (Irondequoit, N.Y.)