Eastercon: curating our collections

An urgent and personal interest in the dematerialization of material culture drew me to this one. The panelists and other audience members however were not especially interested in dematerialization. They included: 
– an officer of the Worldcon Heritage Organization, which stores the Hugos
– someone who had “probably the largest collection of Badger books – when Lionel Fanthorpe was trying to complete his collection he came to me” – as well as a garage full of “memorabilia vehicles”
– someone who said he had over 10,000 books and 40 guitars
– someone who was into Douglas Adams and Iain Banks and had just left a 180 quid bid on a Hitchhiker’s Guide towel at the fan auction- someone who organized a similar panel for a Worldcon and was doing research on people and their collections

“Who gets to decide what to do with your stuff when you’re no longer around or not competent to deal? You must decide, or the law will decide and the law is an ass. If you nominate someone, include the money to deal with it. If you are interested in your collection surviving you, you need to see a solicitor.”

The towel bidder’s wife arrived. He had won the auction.
“Can we see the towel?” It was displayed.
Husband: “It’s a red towel. I already had a blue one.”
Wife: “This will keep me going for six months. Every time I buy something and he asks why, I’ll say ‘towel.’ He bought an Adams TLA once and that got me an iPad.”
Husband: “I trust she’ll outlive me and do the right thing.”Wife: “I already pwned his DA book collection to St. John’s, the college not the ambulance service.”
Husband: “But they don’t get it yet.”

 “I have no descendants. One thing you learn in law is have a reserve because the first team may not be around by the time you snuff it. Leave an inventory of your things. Some of my books are worthless and some are worth thousands of pounds.”

“Don’t expect to get back what you paid. For comics, a a shop might give you 30% of list price.” 

“In probate you have to get all of the estate valued and sold – if there’s a surviving spouse it slips sideways without any tax, otherwise if it’s over a threshold the government gets to take tax. They have been trying to put up the probate fees but it was declared illegal – it was going to go from 180 to 4,000 for a London person, and to 20,000 if your estate is worth more than a million, which would be any Londoner with a house.”

 “In Britain you have to have two people who are not blood relatives or beneficiaries to witness. It has to go through due process to be a valid will. There is a provision for a will under duress on a battlefield but as we’re not at war that won’t cut it. If you get married or divorced your old will is null.” 

“Books are not worth monetarily what we would like to think. Giving to a library or museum doesn’t mean they keep it. You have to provide funding in your will and that will probably be more than the collection is worth. Sometimes the thing to do is give it away when you’re still alive – you may have more control and most people will let you keep it in your flat or house but future ownership can be preset.”

“There’s a Mervyn Peake collection on ebay that has been there over a year at more than 100,000 pounds. It includes Christmas cards he drew. Last month it was reduced to 60,000 and still didn’t sell. 17 people are watching it.  Anyone who is interested to that extent already has the stuff. I don’t think my Hitchhiker towels are worth much to anyone but me.” 

“You can tell a collections vs. an accumulator of stuff by how you take care of it. Do you have a spreadsheet, provenance, could you lay your hand on it, if I said do you have your Bulgarian edition, could you find it?”

Discussion of using bar code scanners and LibraryThing. Discussion of poor, or poorly documented exporting facilities on LibraryThing resulting in someone losing all the records of a family member’s collection. Plug for Collectorz which stores records on hard disk.

 From the audience: “My collection concerns flying model aeroplanes from the war to now. I have a reputation, which is useful. I wanted to preserve it as a working collection. I did not want money. My wife wanted space but that’s another matter. I publicized it to hobbyists in magazines. People wanted the plums. They didn’t want the bulk. Finally I got an acceptance that said we’d be delighted to have it and freight is no problem. It was in Australia. I had to find a shipping firm that deals with furniture and effects of people who emigrate. They charged by volume not weight. I had 62 banana boxes of books and magazines. It cost 700 quid. Not bad at all.” [1] [2]

“Most people who attempted to do what you did have not succeeded. It is possible to donate books but not to donate a collection of books.”

 “We are looking for people who would like to take care of the Worldcon Heritage Collection that was maintained by Bruce Pelz. There are 26 Hugo Awards, badges, program books since first WC. When he died his wife tried to maintain it for seven years, but it wasn’t her interest. Fandom formed a foundation.”

“One of the ultimate names was Forry (Forrest) Ackerman. He’d hand out cards inviting you to the Ackermansion. The collection went to the four winds, to people’s houses, I have some.”

“Let’s go round to yours.”

“One of my friends has a piece of wood from an early Trek convention. It was something actually used in the show, a component that was slid into the console, but it doesn’t look like anything and he has no certificate of its authenticity.”

“So it’s like a piece of the true cross.”

” ‘I have a piece of the Wicker Man that David Lally gave me …’ “

“It’s not bad for things to be scattered. Ray Bradbury collected art and it was auctioned so lots of people have a piece of it.”

 “I have a theater. Two and a half years ago I bought the Breckford Playhouse to save it from closing. I’ve got people running it, but what happens when I go? I want to set up a trust. I’m trying to decide on the terms of the trust.”

“You need a grownup lawyer for that. You need a grownup lawyer for almost any of these moves.”

“My sister died and had quite a sizeable collection so we took it to ReNovation and put it out. We put nice sticky labels saying in memoriam Diana Barbour in each book. Book dealers were hovering around grabbing books and saying don’t put labels in. We gave them a few and they shuffled off. Some of the books were worth five or six hundred dollars and some were worth nothing.”

 “I’ve got an RPG collection and I’ve thought of giving it to a society. Who gives a monetary appraisal of an RPG collection? I like it and would hate to see it gone.”

“It is valueless.”  [Nonetheless, I think a games design department or society might want it for comparative studies.]

“If you do get a valuation, get it on headed notepaper.”

“I’m dispersing my collection because I’ve lost my vision and it’s no longer any good to me. I have vintage motorcycles that I’m giving to [club] and I will lend them out as long as the club continues. I do find it very difficult to say I can’t keep these things. I want to go and pat them.”

“When making your will, don’t forget to record your computer passwords. Perhaps your porn buddy will come clear that stuff out. Write instructions saying who to notify. Someone disappeared from our wargaming society and we didn’t know if he died. Let someone know where in the house to find the paperwork. The UK does not have a central repository for wills. And you should not rely on any private law firm not going bust in the meantime.” “Usually you only have a month or so when someone goes into care.”

“Closing down [name]’s eBay account was a nightmare. Some stroppy little madam said you have to fax us a death certificate. Not scan, not photograph, fax. Who has a fax? Paypal at least apologized for what they requested.”

Me: “Thank you for the story of the fan whose books were given away at a con. I was at Readercon last year and the girlfriend of a longtime fan did the same with his books and ephemera. It was sad to see it go and I am wondering if there is any move to digitize the zines and so forth, if any archive that is doing that.”

“I think several universities in the US are digitizing fanzines, but a lot of the personal zines, people don’t want available. People were a little less tactful when there was only a small number of fans. Also, there are European privacy laws and people who are now doctors, lawyers, MPs don’t want people to know they used to dress as Trekkies.” [At Dublin I learned about efanzines.com, but don’t think it was mentioned here.] 

“Frank Arnold had the visitor book for the White Horse. After he died it got put in the bin, I presume.”

“Harry Warner Jr. had an extensive correspondence. The family wouldn’t let anyone look at it without asking an extortionate amount of money. Finally a university in England took it but it was sitting in a basement until then, so remember that things have to be okay where they are for the duration of the probate.”

Librarian/archivist: “There is a universal format for managing collections where you give everything a unique ID – a job lot number, location, genre. I suspect a lot of the material people are collecting would fall under a social history classification.” [This may have to do with the Dublin Core, which I am just now reading about in the little Metadata book from MIT Press.]

“Speaking of metadata, Bruce Willis has a big iTunes collection and took Apple to court over what he could do with it.”

“The solution for Amazon is to have someone take your password … it’s not legal, but give it to them and then they can slowly change all the characteristics of the account to take it over.”

“I don’t want to bring it up but there is an alternative to all this – not dying.”

 [1] I think this was the fan who died shortly after the convention, after a fall carrying a bookcase, truly a collector’s death. Very sad. He was great.

[2] Another data point: “I paid 6-7000 for contents of small house to the US. Took a year.” I collect these for when I’ll have to do an international move with the stuff I haven’t managed to dematerialize.

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
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