Downsizing Your Collection?
NEED HELP YOUR WITH YOUR COLLECTION? CALL ME.
Whether you call it letting go, downsizing, uncluttering, or purging, it can be painful. Especially painful if one has to make decisions about a loved one’s cherished belongings. Where does it all go? Who wants it? What is it worth? These are good questions, without easy answers. I hope some of this writing will help. In this blog, I hope I can shed some light on the subject of collections in general, and Native American collections specifically.
Throughout history, families have passed items down through the generations as a form of both economic and emotional support. Giving or receiving household items or furniture helped a young couple get started in life, and giving photos, letters, and scrapbooks helped to strengthen the bond between generations. All of these gestures were (and can still be) positive. But only positive if one is realistic about what is, and is not, worth saving.
The reality is that younger people who live in a digital world don’t need the actual photo. They might want the image if it comes with a story, but will likely reject the box of photos brought down from the attic that is filled with images of ancestors they can’t name. Yikes. So, then what? Great Grandma’s photo goes into the recycle bin? Well…. yes. Sorry, but yes. Also, ever since the end of World War II and the rise in prosperity, most couples were able to buy their own furniture and household goods. They may take a piece or two from parents for nostalgic reasons and keep some when parents pass, but nothing more. So, bring it forward. That generation, the Baby Boomers, are now approaching the age where they want to downsize from their homes filled with their “stuff” as well as the much older “stuff” from their parents. With the hundreds of estate sale companies presenting homes filled with those items, it is clear to me that family members next in line to receive do not want the “stuff”! I work with estate sale companies, as they often call me to help identify authentic Native American goods, and I am sincerely amazed to see what is for sale, because it looks like everything is for sale!
Some think this is a broader societal problem, as they would argue rejecting the family heirlooms means losing the family story or legacy. That is why I feel it is important to reflect heavily on which pieces have significance to the family story and offer an opportunity to understand the family’s past. That might mean one piece, or it might mean one hundred pieces - it depends on the situation. And, as hard as it is for some to accept, just because it belonged to Grandma, it doesn’t make it sacred, or valuable. Families have to decide how to move forward.
In this section, I am only going to discuss my expertise and the service I provide. I cannot speak to the terms of other companies.
If you have Native American jewelry, arts or collectibles, it is best to have the collection documented and sold by a reputable expert, such as myself. I am a Native arts professional in every sense of the word. I am devoted to preservation of the art traditions and to maintaining the integrity of its value. While I do take a commission for my professional service, I do not see your treasures as just a commodity to sell for profit – to me they are alive with spirit, and I treat them as such. When I take a collection to sell, I do the work of documenting, photographing, researching, measuring and marketing, both in the gallery and online. I am celebrating 35 years in business, and I have a large following of collectors. I promise to find a good home for your, or your loved ones, treasures.
AT A GLANCE
If you aren’t ready to sell, or just want some information about Native Arts, I am here to help you. This would not be an official appraisal, but I can give you a consultation as to the market value and authenticity of your items. Appointment necessary – fee schedule available.
OTHER OPTIONS FOR YOUR COLLECTION
DONATE TO A MUSEUM
I hear quite often that a collection may be donated to a museum. While in some cases that is appropriate, in most cases museums don’t want or can’t take the items. Think about it – they are bursting with treasures, just like your attic or basement. Museums typically have a “Collections Management Plan”, which outlines the goals for the collection, how to care for the pieces, and what to add or subtract from the collection. When a museum takes objects, called accessioning, they are making a promise to care for the item. That is a financial commitment on their part, which only comes after thought, discussion, and careful measurement of storage space and resources. Unless the item has educational research value or is extremely unique, it would be unwise for the institution to accession it without an accompanying donation to be used for its care. Typically, people want to donate collections and get a tax write-off, not make a financial donation for the care. One more thing many people assume is that their object will be on display for all to enjoy - not true! As a matter of fact, the Native American collection at the Field Museum will be changed in 2020 for the first time since the 1950’s! And, there are thousands of items in storage that will never be on display.
A reputable estate sale company can provide a valuable service. If you need to move items quickly, and in bulk, this is one way to go. You must realize however, that prices at an estate sale will be significantly lower than what you might like. The definition of an estate sale is “discounted sale prices” and the operative word is “discounted”. People who frequent the sales expect wholesale prices and great deals. The commissions charged by the companies vary, as do the terms and agreements. Also, there are plenty of horror stories about the experience, so again, do your homework and research the company you choose. I can recommend some good companies.
EBAY, CRAIGSLIST ETC.
Online auctions and selling groups are a fun and potentially a profitable way to move your items. You will have to take the time to research, photograph, measure and describe your items in great detail. Without that system, forget it. People buying online expect that effort, especially if it is a quality or collectible item. Also, remember that online companies, like Ebay, take a fee, and the money collection system (typically Pay Pal) also takes a cut. I have found that the overall fees end up being between 10% - 15%, depending on the item. Also, you may have to ship the item! Scrounging for boxes, packing materials and making trips to the post office, Fed Ex or UPS does not fit everyone’s schedule. It is a big-time commitment. One more thing – watch for scammers on Ebay and be careful of Craigslist strangers coming to your home.
After careful consideration of all of your options, please let me know how I can help! References available.