Wednesday, October 25

Museum sells 123 year old donation
Despite agreement that collection would never be sold

Back in 1883, William S. Vaux donated 7,000 minerals and stone pieces - including silver, gold, diamonds and everyday quartz. However, an agreement with the family directs that the Vaux items never be sold or broken up.

Unfortunately, Mr. Vaux donated the items to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Trustees of the cash-strapped Academy voted Tuesday to sell another group of more than 15,000 minerals and gems that hadn't been cleaned or displayed for decades.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Orphans Court Judge Joseph D. O'Keefe cleared the move this month with the consent of the state Attorney General's Office. The sale price was not disclosed, but the items form the bulk of a collection with an estimated value of several million dollars. The academy must return to court for permission to sell its remaining 7,000-odd pieces.
Recognizing that this is something you shouldn't tell the donors, acting academy president Ian Davison told the staff not to talk to reporters. The story goes on to say:
In Orphans' Court, O'Keefe approved the academy's determination that there were no restrictions on the non-Vaux items.

And while an 1883 agreement with the family directs that the Vaux items never be sold or broken up, judges sometimes allow bequests to be altered, as evidenced by the Barnes case, said Virginia Sikes, a lawyer in the Philadelphia office of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads.

There is a public interest in encouraging people to make museum donations, but there can also be a public interest in allowing changes in wills when circumstances dictate it, she said:

"Maybe courts are more willing when many, many years have lapsed."
I get that there are hard choices to make in tough finacial situations... and the Academy has a point that these donations were not being viewed and were sitting dusty in a warehouse basement. But a promise is a promimse. And I'm going to think twice before donating the Academy of Natural Sciences my collection of shells from the seashore.

Thanks to AFP blog for the heads up.

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