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 Post subject: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private homes
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 4:38 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:18 pm
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The sad passing of Jerry Joe Jaconson got me to thinking about this general subject. I came up with some ideas whose implementation would benefit all who care about history, and not only the history of railroading of all sorts.

Because JJJ and his wife were rather wealthy, they had the means to establish a foundation to preserve the AoS collection and roundhouse, so none of us have to worry about what will happen to his steam locomotives and other historical items he owned. But very few people have the financial resources to assure the preservation of anything really worth preserving in their historic collections. So -- what should and could be done to see to it that people's historic items are not just automatically thrown away by the family soon after the person passes away?

It is a fact that the number of historic items in private homes dwarfs the number of those in museums. And some people -- no one knows how many because none of their collections have ever been cataloged and put on public websites -- do have valuable historic items just sitting in their homes.

I would like to see a new federal agency of Historic Preservation established, which would own a number of warehouses all around the country that would act as temporary repositories for people's historic items after they die. This agency would take the job of removing the decedent's historic items from the person's home soon after the person has died, so the family can quickly sell or rent the decedent's home so it would not be a financial burden on them any longer than necessary.

The family, of course, would be allowed to keep those things that have personal meaning to them, but the burden of disposing of any historical items would be taken off of their shoulders.

This new federal agency would be staffed by well-trained and well-qualified people, and would, of course, be audited and overseen by some impartial agency to make sure that none of the employees would be able to get away with stealing any of the historic items.

[To those who automatically assume that all government entities are inherently worthless: You are wrong. The worth of any organization depends entirely on the people running it and the rules it has to obey. "Government" -- like all large organizations -- is simply too big to be monolithic.]

I know for a fact that valuable historic photographs of trains and railroads have been thrown away in the trash by relatives who only wanted to clean out the decedent's home. I want to do what I can to stop that from happening. No, we cannot save everything, but there has to be a way to at least slow down the automatic throwing away of all of the decedents possessions, so that someone qualified can find out if any of the decedent's possessions have any historic value at all, and, if so, to have a good place to store them temporarily so others can decide what is really worth keeping because if its historic value.

We who love history all want to see to it that important historic items -- including photographs -- do not automatically get thrown away by families after people pass away.

Oh, by the way, there is, as a matter of fact, plenty of money for such a new federal agency. Money is never a problem when something has big political support. Getting that political support for my idea would take time, but I believe it can be done. All it takes is hard work and a commitment to keeping on keeping on.

Just my thoughts. I really wish I were in a position to make this dream of mine happen, but perhaps there are people out there who could.

Comments, anyone?


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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 5:09 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:34 pm
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Woa, that sounds, expensive and complicated.

Of course, if the object owners would just make arrangements with their local non-profit in advance, none of this would be necessary.

Too often, these owners do not take such action because they are suspicious of the world to begin with, so how will a big government agency resolve this? Most of the described problems result from a mix of greed, suspicion, dimentia, and mental illness.

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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 5:16 pm 

Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2012 4:49 pm
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Location: San Jose, CA
MargaretSPfan wrote:
what should and could be done to see to it that people's historic items are not just automatically thrown away by the family soon after the person passes away?


This is a good question, one that I've been dealing with for several years now.

MargaretSPfan wrote:
I would like to see a new federal agency of Historic Preservation established, which would own a number of warehouses all around the country that would act as temporary repositories for people's historic items after they die. This agency would take the job of removing the decedent's historic items from the person's home soon after the person has died, so the family can quickly sell or rent the decedent's home so it would not be a financial burden on them any longer than necessary.


I really think that this is overkill, as we don't need another overarching federal bureaucracy. Without getting political, let's let the feds concentrate on taking care of what they already have (e.g. Steamtown).

What people need to do is assume some responsibility for their collections. We have to presume that the collector has the understanding that the collection could have research value to historians, researchers and the general public.

The solution is DON'T WAIT, unless you have an heir that shares your enthusiasm and won't trash your stuff. Reach out to organizations you respect and send them a list of items you'd be willing to donate. By giving it away now you can direct it to an institution that will preserve and/or display it, plus you can write it off on your taxes (disclaimer: consult a tax adviser) Hint: spread it out over time; don't "overdonate" everything at once. With scanning capacity, you can make a digital copy of anything valuable before you give away the original.

The downside is that it takes work, since organizations generally prefer to see a list of items you wish to donate. Driving to CSRM in Sacramento with a box of unsorted "treasures" from your garage won't cut it. Also, know what an organization concentrates on before you reach out, for example, the SPH&TS won't want your Penn Central collection.

This takes effort, but if the idea of your collection going into the dumpster depresses you, it's worth it in the long run.


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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 5:26 pm 
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And if you know in advance that your family wants or needs to recover the value of the collection and plans on auctioning it, one option is to save as much as possible of the information and images on flash drives, and put them in a stamped shipping pouch pre-addressed to your selected non-profit organization and stored with your important papers so your next of kin can just mail them in the event of your passing.

PC

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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 7:45 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:18 pm
Posts: 62
Thanks, gentlemen, for the great replies.

Yes, much of this big problem could be solved if people would give a lot of their historical collections to good places before they died. Or at least, write down what, in general, each box contains, and where it should go after you pass away.

Being proactive is always much better than reacting to things after they happen.

I wrote my post because many people will not part with any of their possessions, including items of some historic value, before they pass away. (Partly guilty as charged -- but only partly. I gave a lot to two large organizations some years ago, but there is more.)

softwerkslex / Steven Harrod wrote --
> Woa, that sounds, expensive and complicated.

> Of course, if the object owners would just make
> arrangements with their local non-profit in advance,
> none of this would be necessary.

> Too often, these owners do not take such action
> because they are suspicious of the world to begin
> with, so how will a big government agency resolve
> this? Most of the described problems result from a
> mix of greed, suspicion, dimentia, and mental illness.

softwerkslex / Steven --
I think the problem of not making proper plans for where one wants one's possessions to go after one passes away is mostly because people are very attached to their possessions, and because they simply just do not get around to doing the hard work of deciding exactly what should go where, and what organization would be willing and able to take their donation. If you have any data that shows I am wrong about this, please let me know. I always want "Just the facts, ma'am / sir." [Quoting a statement often made by Sgt. Joe Friday. the star of the old US TV show, "Dragnet".]

psa188 wrote --
SNIP ---
> What people need to do is assume some responsibility
> for their collections. We have to presume that the
> collector has the understanding that the collection
> could have research value to historians, researchers
> and the general public.

> The solution is DON'T WAIT, unless you have an heir
> that shares your enthusiasm and won't trash your stuff.
> Reach out to organizations you respect and send them a
> list of items you'd be willing to donate. By giving it away
> now you can direct it to an institution that will preserve
> and/or display it, plus you can write it off on your taxes
> (disclaimer: consult a tax adviser) Hint: spread it out over
> time; don't "overdonate" everything at once. With scanning
> capacity, you can make a digital copy of anything valuable
> before you give away the original.

> The downside is that it takes work, since organizations
> generally prefer to see a list of items you wish to donate.
> Driving to CSRM in Sacramento with a box of unsorted
> "treasures" from your garage won't cut it. Also, know
> what an organization concentrates on before you reach
> out, for example, the SPH&TS won't want your Penn Central
> collection.

> This takes effort, but if the idea of your collection going
> into the dumpster depresses you, it's worth it in the long run.

psa188 --
Thank you very much for your great suggestions. I was just trying to find easy places people could send or take their deceased relatives' historical items to, ones which could also pick them up if really needed, but, as one man who works for a fairly large museum said, "Space -- the final frontier!" He was referring to the lack of same, even at his facility.

ALWAYS ask BEFORE you donate ANYTHING to ANY organization!

PCook wroten --
> And if you know in advance that your family wants or
> needs to recover the value of the collection and plans
> on auctioning it, one option is to save as much as possible
> of the information and images on flash drives, and put
> them in a stamped shipping pouch pre-addressed to
> your selected non-profit organization and stored with
> your important papers so your next of kin can just mail
> them in the event of your passing.

PCook --
That is excellent advice! By all means, do please digitize as much of your historic items as possible, and please remember to migrate the data to whatever form of digital storage can currently be read by most people. However -- I would advise people not to put postage on anything because the postal rates may well have gone up by the time they die, and it may well be that the relatives might want to send the envelope(s) by some other carrier than the US Post Office. And putting a mailing address on anything is also not a good idea because the organization may change its mailing address, and may move or merge with another organization or cease to exist, and it may even change its name, as did the California Railway Museum (in Rio Vista Junction, CA), which many years ago changed its name to the Western Railway Museum, to void being confused with the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, which is only 50 miles away from Rio Vista Junction. But your suggestion that people digitize as many of their historic items as they can is an excellent idea. And, by all means please back up all that data by making several copies of the digitized data, and store them in various locations, so that no one disaster will be able to destroy all the copies. And consider putting one copy of your digitized collection in a safety deposit box at a bank, but please tell whoever will deal with your possessions after you pass away where that safety deposit box is and make sure they know how to get access to it.


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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 9:32 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:18 am
Posts: 469
Location: Wall, NJ
Probably an idea that has merit, although I am not sure the federal government would be the best choice. I am working with the developing national Army museum and they have lost over 100 items from the Ft Monmouth museum that had passed through the US Army Center of Military History, Army Museum Enterprise, Historic Materiel Directorate after the closure of Ft Monmouth under BRAC. That’s proof enough that the federal government is probably not the place to go.

And while there are many private collections that end up in the dumpster, there are plenty of museums out there that have similar issues. At least one here in NJ serves as a good reminder of this point and a second one may be on the horizon. There have been some other recent examples seen via RyPN.

A web based tool that families, or down sizing museums, could tap into, staffed with trustworthy volunteers, might be the way to go. Not to store the stuff, but to help sort and disperse the collection in a fashion agreeable to the parties involved and taking into account the importance of the collection or elements of it.


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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 11:12 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:18 pm
Posts: 62
JRMay --
Thanks for the interesting reply, and the info about what happened to some of the Army's historical collection. I had thought the federal government because it is so big and has a lot of resources. But the reality is sometimes much different than I had thought.

Yes, a website with info about various museums and historical organizations that might be willing to accept new items would be a good idea. and some things of historical can be digitized -- photographs and ephemera -- and thus saved. As you and "psa188" both pointd out, it is increasingly hard to find good homes for any historical items.

I just wanted to bring this up so I could get info from well-informed sources about how best to deal with this problem.

Again, thanks to all who have replied to my post.


Last edited by MargaretSPfan on Fri Sep 15, 2017 3:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 11:19 pm 

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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
This is the stupidest thing I've seen on RYPN in a while, and that's saying something.

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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 11:41 pm 
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I know people with impressive collections that only family and close friends know anything about.
For example, I know of one the most impressive collections of German WW2 uniforms anywhere is owned by a guy you'd never guess had anything of value in his home. And he wants it that way.
I'd think many people would rather nobody know what they own of value, for various reasons.

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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 12:57 am 

Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:58 am
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The best thing those of us associated with museums can do is make sure that we take care of what we already have. Only we are responsible for our own reputations. And developing a reputation for loosing artifacts or letting the rolling stock that we have go to waste is a pretty good way to assure that potential donors will hang on to their collections until their heirs put the stuff on ebay. It is all about developing donor relations. We may not know who out there owns key collections, but they know which museums would be appropriate and interested, and if those institutions are not seen as worthy, they will not be contacted.

I hate to say it, but government is not the solution. Government is run by politicians, and they see only as far as the next election. Government programs are developed to buy votes. People interested in preserving the past don't make up a significant voting block. Why do you think museum budgets are the ones that get trimmed to protect other programs?


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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 7:56 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:18 am
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Location: Wall, NJ
Having been through this exact scenario when a friend of mine with a large collection died suddenly, there is nothign stupid about the idea. Really no reason for that comment at all.

That said, a few comments on the fed side.....

> I had thought the federal government because it is so big and has a lot of resources.

You are looking at it from a big picture stand point, one large organization with trillions of dollars. That is not the case. The Federal budget is broken up into thousands of individual pots of money, each feeling that they have too little. Is DoD well funded? Some would say so, but then the Air Force is battling the Army for money as is the Navy, etc. The same thing with Interior, VA, HUD, you name it. So, its not one huge organization, its thousands.

If you have trouble sleeping some night, feel free to read through the 2018 budget sometime. Highlights of actual figures start around page 35 or so:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whiteh ... budget.pdf

This is just the highlights, all numbers in billions.

This, with thousands of pages of details, is what is presented to the Congress by the president. Simply speaking, Congress then comes up with their version and ultimately is approved by Congress and signed into law by the President. The catch is that its not always done by 1 October so you ended up with continuing resolutions (CRs) which keeps the Government open for some short periods of time. The problem with a CR is that you can not start a new program nor can you spend the money you had planned in, you can only spend some percentage of the budget you had last year. These are the things that even a place like Steamtown has to comply with. Its very frustrating.

Bottom line is that the federal government is not the solution here. Making resources known to collection owners and their families is the way to go.

Again, been there, done that. Its not fun. I had some contacts, and even some help from RyPN, to find homes for much of the collection within an estate. Key was that the person who had died kept an inventory listing what he paid and who he thought may be helpful in dispostion. That was a HUGE help.

J.R.


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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 8:26 am 

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OK, assuming that private collectors don't make wills or leave instructions for their heirs, which seems unlikely to me, isn't it more incumbent on us as a loose knit group of people with common interests to work out our own solution using our own devices? The Heritage Rail Alliance (I'm gradually getting used to this designation) has a parts list that doesn't do much - perhaps using at also as a clearing house for collections seeking new homes could make it more productive, as an example.

I'm far more concerned about ignorant heirs who look at good personal collections of not particularly noteworthy items and see dollar signs.

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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 9:51 am 

Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:08 am
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JR May wrote:
Having been through this exact scenario when a friend of mine with a large collection died suddenly, there is nothign stupid about the idea. Really no reason for that comment at all.


I agree.

This is a difficult problem that mirrors, in many ways, what is happening in general terms with people aging and having a lot of stuff, as much of the issue is tied to some basic human behaviors. I have seen this and heard about it regarding many collections. What I have seen is:

1. Collector is organized and basically an amateur historian, so it is easier to properly dispose of the collection properly, as in Mr. May's example. This also avoids the "we just won the lottery" issues with heirs that Dave mentioned.
2. Collector is as in (1) but at some point their mental, emotional, or physical ability makes it impossible for them to continue to keep their collection organized and it falls into disarray. This most frequently happens with the pricing data and disposition information.
3. Collector is organized but their system of organization is undecipherable to anyone but themselves. The keys to the kingdom are lost when the collector passes or becomes incapacitated.
4. Collector is not organized and is more towards the hoarder end of the collecting spectrum. This is typically a big mess but the method of collection is not dispositive as to the quality of the items in the collection. Some hoarders have some very nice needles in their haystacks.

Looking at it rationally, one would think that everyone who has put a lot of effort, time, and money into their collection would want to see it properly disposed of, either for financial reasons or because of an altruistic belief in the importance of the items in their collection. This does not happen a lot of times because, as in general estate situations, people put off preparing their collections for proper disposition because they do not want to deal with death and then, once they finally truly see it as inevitable, they are too overwhelmed to finally get organized.

As to what can be done, the best option is to be proactive with all the fellow rail preservationists you know who have items worthy of preservation or which may be useful to other preservationists. Tell them what a wonderful job they have done putting together their collections and how important it is to preserve the items for future generations. Suggest an organization or two that would be worthy and which could make good use of their items. I know of one recent case where constant gentle nudging of an older preservationist by a slightly younger colleague resulted in a very nice museum donation of the collection upon the older gentleman's death.

Another option would be for preservation groups to invite an estate specialist to present at a monthly meeting every once in a while to speak specifically about collections, their proper disposition, and the financial aspects of the various disposition options.


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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 11:37 am 
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Scranton Yard wrote:
Another option would be for preservation groups to invite an estate specialist to present at a monthly meeting every once in a while to speak specifically about collections, their proper disposition, and the financial aspects of the various disposition options.


That is a very interesting idea, and unfortunately, it is something that I have never seen any group involved in railroad history or railroad preservation sponsor.

PC

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 Post subject: Re: How best to preserve histoic items that are in private h
PostPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 11:48 am 

Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2012 4:49 pm
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Location: San Jose, CA
Dave wrote:
I'm far more concerned about ignorant heirs who look at good personal collections of not particularly noteworthy items and see dollar signs.


I don't think that's as much of a problem as ignorant heirs that just see a pile of junk and toss it into a dumpster.

If people won't proactively donate their collections, at the very least, they should make a will.

One other problem I've heard about is an organization getting a large donation dumped on them when someone dies and they have to devote time and effort to dispose of it. Again, it's better to be proactive.


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