by Robert Verish
Museums Are Selling-off Their Collections!
An article by the editor of Mineral News in response to an article in that publication that was originally published in May, 2005
In my June and August 2005 Bob's Findings articles I transcribed a series of articles about the hobby of mineral collecting which originally appeared in the monthly newsletter, Mineral News. In the interim the editor of Mineral News (Mitchell Portnoy) has published an editorial which goes into more detail regarding the recent practice - by certain museums - of "selling-off" historical mineral [?meteorite?] collections. Given the impact that this would have on the meteorite collecting community should this practice become widespread, it is only fitting that my article this month be a continuation of this subject.
My article this month is a transcription of that "editorial":
Mineral News August 2005
The unfortunate selling-off of historic mineral collections by institutions entrusted with their care is not limited to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Reader Karl-Heinz Russ has graciously provided the following translation that tells the story of a German museum sadly disposing of material, and like the Academy, seemingly under a cloak of secrecy.- Editor of Mineral News
In recent statements and letters to editors appearing in mineral as well as science magazines, the sale of important specimen was announced and decried, depending who had been asked [Mineral News Vol.21, #, June 2005 and prior issues].
Now a similar case to that of the Philadelphia Academy
of Natural Sciences has occurred in
It is known the museum cared for up to 20,000 mineral specimens in 2000 and sold by their own account about 2,560 of them but it is estimated this number is more likely in the range 9,700 - 12,000 pieces. In a report in the daily newspaper Bild [in a sense like the National Inquirer] it was stated, the sale of the mineral specimens of the Senckenberg Museum yielded € 98,000 [about $117,600] which would translate, over a three year period, to a small percentage of the the yearly operating budget of the Senckenberg Museum.
It is up for debate whether the museum could sell specimens in the
first place but at least in one case they appear to have violated the will of a donor [Mr. Pfeiffer-Belli]
since hundreds of pieces came to market within the last few months. On eBay, gold
specimens from locations in
Experts agree that it is exceedingly difficult to follow the trail of a sale of mineral specimens but as Prof. Kirnbauer states in his article the sale of more expensive pieces can be reconstructed. If a single piece costs over about
$1,200, then it may
be tracked. From the Senckenberg collection a tellurobismuthite specimen/Cumberland; sylvanite/Romania; antimonite crystal/
The documented sale of these few specimen alone would amount
to about 10% (€9,800) of the total value the museum has claimed for all of the sales. At the 2004 Tucson Show, a
Although as a matter record the
names of those dealers are known, they cannot be revealed because of privacy laws and restrictions therein. For example,
the German dealer gave as the provenance for the specimens he sold, "the break-up of a collection
At this point in time it is not clear when all this had happened within the museum but Steininger acknowledged in a press release [Focus, 43/2004] "a person with mineralogical-crystallographic training was overseeing the selection of specimen slated for sale". This statement is obviously wrong since the person mentioned above is a geologist by training. It can be assumed he was working on commission which means the more he sold the more he got paid. This constitutes a violation of the conduct published by the International Council of Museums prohibiting so-called insider trading.
During a three-year period
presumably 10,000 specimens from the old holdings of the
In the meantime a district attorneys office is investigating because one of the persons revealing the mess at the Senckenberg received a threatening letter.
This article from AUFSCHLUSS by Professor T. Kirnbauer was summarized and translated by KH Russ,
The above article was originally published in the monthly periodical Mineral News in August, 2005.
British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes by Martin Bailey from his April 03, 2002 article published in Forbes.com.
ROBERT S. PEABODY Museum of Archaeology published in 2002 ROBERT S. PEABODY MUSEUM News.
Debt ridden Milwaukee museum selling off collection by Alice Maggio from her July 26, 2003 post published in That Rabbit Girl.
Debt ridden Milwaukee museum selling off collection by Robert Z. Pearlman from his April 07, 2005 article published in Space.com.
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