Dealer VS Curator – Can’t we all just get along…

A phone conversation with an old appraisal client this morning has me reflecting on bookselling a bit…

What is the issue between those who “sell” stuff and those who “study” stuff?  Is there an unwritten rule, a “code red” if you will, that tells those in the academic world to harbor resentment for those who profit from the sale of historic treasures?  Is there a similar unwritten commandment that instructs antique dealers to hold contempt for Institutions who wish to hoard up all of the remaining letters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? The Love/Hate relationship between “Dealer” and “Curator” is a curious one…

I myself must admit that my youth in the business was dominated by a spirit of treasure hunting for profit.  Hell, we all must have felt that.  If we didn’t locate, curate and purvey quality items for a profit we wouldn’t be in the antiques business for very long. Don’t tell anyone, but the older I get, the more I tend to lean towards the opposite. I still wish to make a profit in order to stay in the business I love, but getting items in the hands of an Institution of higher learning, a Special Collections Department or the like, is a wonderful thing. Locating something of importance and traversing the path of either sale and/or donation to a qualifying Institution is one of the most rewarding, albeit unexpected, parts of my current job. Every piece that I put in the hands of a Library is a piece that I take pride in. I often think to myself, “I have played a small part in saving it from the abyss.”

I have participated in the future education of a yet unborn generation!  It just feels good…

This appraisal client was recently entertained by a Curator at the Library of Congress.  We will call him “Jim” for the purposes of this blog…  Jim made a donation to the LOC this past year and was treated with great respect and admiration throughout the entire process. When he came to visit his old paper friends, an employee at the LOC prepared a little show and tell of items that they thought he might be interested in. Now, the items that they pulled out had nothing to do with the items he donated, but the staff thought he might have fun just seeing an assortment of items that now reside next to those that cluttered his office for decades.  Jim’s donations were amongst Lincoln and Lindbergh! Jim was entertained with stories of the items in the possession of the Library. He left that little visit with a greater understanding of his place in the world. He left having learned a bit about Lincoln, Lindbergh, Alexander Graham Bell and even Mary Chestnut. Donations AND purchases from donors AND dealers now informing, educating and entertaining this average citizen from the Sunshine State. It was just a random Monday afternoon, another day at the Library of Congress, but that moment tells me all I need to know.

The symbiotic relationship between “dealer” and “curator” must be valued.

Monday afternoons like that one are what we all need a little more of…

Mike Cotter

“The Transforming World of Collectible”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Website