Black history collection could be broken up, sold to highest bidder
May 9, 2012 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Nathaniel "Magnificent" Montague spent more than 50 years collecting rare artifacts of black history and culture. Facing bankruptcy, he lost it all, and now the priceless collection could be broken up and sold at auction. While working with his wife of 56 years, Rose Casalan, to archive and prepare the collection for sale, he took out a loan to help pay for the archiving, found himself overextended financially and declared bankruptcy. His collection was seized, and it is now in the hands of a trusteeship charged with selling it to satisfy his debts.

"You're not going to see another collection like this," said Merrill (video, with many shots of rare pieces in the collection), who is an appraiser on PBS's "Antiques Roadshow"
"Sometimes you find mass-produced pieces," like posters, brochures or pamphlets, Merrill said. "This is not that. It's all rare and one-of-a-kind.
posted by 445supermag (12 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Does the Schomberg Center know?
posted by ocherdraco at 8:34 PM on May 9, 2012

posted by LobsterMitten at 8:37 PM on May 9, 2012

But he'd been trying to sell this stuff for years. The collection is pretty cool but the majority of items aren't unique, meaning that they are mass-produced or copies of originals. He's a really nice man, and I hope he can get out of this mess.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:54 PM on May 9, 2012

What am I missing here? Montague borrowed a lot of money and couldn't pay it back. He declared bankruptcy. The judge ordered that his valuable possessions be sold to pay the debt. I'm sympathetic, but it happens every day. The judgement was for $325000 — he must have borrowed that money and spent it, as judges don't make this stuff up. Did he really spend 325K just on archiving? That part of the story is a bit vague — "took out a loan to help pay for the archiving, found himself overextended financially and declared bankruptcy" doesn't really explain how he spent the money, and wound up with no way to repay his debt. Is the problem that the priceless collection will be broken up? Well, that's sad too, except Ideefixe's link shows he would have been quite happy to break it up himself, and felt able to assign prices. I get the feeling that I'm supposed to think something outrageous is happening here, but I don't understand what it is.
posted by ubiquity at 9:18 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's some more info about what he's collected.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:32 PM on May 9, 2012

Yeah, something is wrong with the financials here. I don't think even a greedy archivist team could screw him so badly. Any reputable curator would have recommended a "de-acquisition" of a major piece or two, to keep the rest of the collection together. Look at this quote from the CNN article sublinked under that second link:

One assessment of just five of the pieces puts the total value of those treasures alone somewhere between $592,000 and $940,000.

De-acquire one of those items, let's say it's evenly split about 1/5 of the sum and earns the low end of that range. Give that 118k to me and I will archive the shit out of that collection for years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:40 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think anyone's asking you to be outraged, ubiquity. It's just an interesting story with a sad ending.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:41 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not that advertising as such is a purpose of FPPs, but perhaps someone here knows of a museum or wealthy collector who might want to buy it. A lot of people read MetaFilter.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:39 PM on May 9, 2012

I don't think anyone's asking you to be outraged

It's so difficult to know these days.
posted by codswallop at 3:15 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

It would be a marvelous coup for someone with deep pockets to buy this and present it to Morehouse or Fisk or another of the HBCU. Russell Simmons? Diddy? Robert Johnson? Buddy Fletcher? Oprah?
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:26 AM on May 10, 2012

I hate to see collections made available via dire straights. It saddens the collector inside of me.
Last night I saw an episode of Storage Wars where they found safes full of a large American coin collection. They were overjoyed with their valueable find, but I felt sadness for the person who spent years assembling it meticulously and then lost it due to being unable to afford their storage locker.
posted by Theta States at 9:29 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a really great live version of 'In the Midnight Hour' where Montague introduces Wilson Pickett--it's on the 'Man and a Half' boxset, but I can't find it on Youtube right now.
posted by box at 11:26 AM on May 10, 2012

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