Defining an artifact Opinions on Selling


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Aug 29, 2000
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Am a little hesitant to broach this subject for fear one might think I am pointing an accusing finger or trying to generate negative feelings.. So with this as a preface, let me just say I am INTERESTED to know how folks out there feel about selling things that belonged to SURVIVORS or to a ship PRIOR to sinking vs. selling VICTIM'S things or items POST sinking. This question began to form in my mind when I heard that bits of cork, deck chair caning, and threads from Titanic's rug are being sold by a historical society on ebay. The motive is to finance a museum to house a collection. How do you all feel about this? When RMST sold coal (borrowed from other ships to fill Titanic's bunkers in 1912 due to an ongoing coalstrike)there was a great hue and cry about this. As of this hour no salvaged items of personal nature or parts of the ship have been sold. Hope that remains the case. Have already stated my salvage opinion elsewhere-which WAS pro with restrictions and conditions attached as to the artifact's future placement in a museum. Is it Ok to sell an artifact if it escaped from a disaster? Is it worth more or less than something that was actually an integral piece of a disaster?Should pieces of memorabilia be divided into parts- thus affecting the integrity of the piece as a whole? I have seen bits of wallpaper from Lincoln's dying room sold off by the square inch. Or should these things remain intact as they were recovered. IMHO, these things should remain in one piece. I am a little concerned to see this going on -and a little surprised that a vehemently ANTI -salvage, pro artifact protection organization is promoting chipping off bits to sell of historic items. Please don't accuse me of crying foul because I am a member of that OTHER group- I'd feel the same way regardless. We had a section of Titanic's lifeboat rope donated by a custom's inspector on the pier when Carpathia dropped the T's boats- lots of folks were scavenging the boats for bits and souvenirs. While I had the rope at a textile school for conservation, bits did fall off but were gathered and kept-and were not sold. (The material was oiled hemp by the way). The University archived a fiber for its collection. Just wanted to get other thoughts and reactions. Am now running for cover!
 
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Tracey McIntire

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Hi again Shelley!
Don't worry--I promise not to attack you. I belong to BOTH Titanic groups!
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In the latest Commutator, the THS explained that the items currently up for sale were not taken off the larger artifacts but fell off during cleaning/preservation. This being the case, they decided to sell the remnants to raise money for a new museum. IMHO, this is justifiable as it will directly benefit the other artifacts in their collection and it does not go for personal gain. And if you have ever seen the area where their current museum is you would agree that they really need a more suitable place for display. Where I have a real problem is folks selling items for their own profit. I am in total agreement with you on the salvage issue as I believe that some retrieval is acceptable with strict limitations but I am totally against selling ANYTHING retrieved from the wreck. All items should stay together as a collection and preferably go to a museum.
Sincerely,
Tracey McIntire
 
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Thanks Tracey- I heard about the museum and YES they CERTAINLY do need someplace. For a while some things were in Fall River at the Marine Museum. The rug remnant was quite large originally and was cut into small squares and given to various trustees and friends over the years-I have seen these mounted under glass. I doubt very much pieces fell off this carpet (heavy Axminster-wool). I can believe the bits of caning - The cork was firmly sewn up in blocks inside the canvas. It has been displayed in the open in at least 3 venues I have seen over the past years since 1976- The Philadelphia Maritime Museum until that venue was terminated, Southport CT., Fall River for a time- and currently I am not sure -but I remember thinking it should be in a case and untouchable. I am thinking of the aesthetics- is it proper- no matter what the motive- to sell , at HUGE price- these remnants, even for a proported good cause? Is this questionable good taste- reverent taste-bad form- ends justifying the means? Just asking for feedback here. Not looking to make enemies.
 
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Also forgot to mention if I am misinformed about any of this- please feel free to enlighten me. I believe in getting the facts before rushing to judgement.
 
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Am wondering if anyone at the society has contacted Mystic Seaport, the new Ballard facility at Mystic Aquarium, or the Peabody (nautical museum) in Salem, MA or another like-type institution to arrange a permanent loan agreement. The Philly Maritime venue was excellent, easily accessed by many, offered good conservation, fire protection, etc. and really displayed the society's collection to advantage. Seems to me there would be MANY places which would be proud to house such a distinguished collection. I would be GLAD to work on such an aim in the Mystic area if asked by those in charge.
 
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Tracey McIntire

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Hi Shelley!
I'm wondering if THS has explored any of those possibilities--does anyone know? You would think those museums would jump at the chance to house any Titanic items. If all the possibilities have been explored, then I think that THS is justified in selling the items. But that is ONLY to fund a museum. I guess I would have to judge each case individually rather than make a sweeping statement for or against such sales.
BTW--I am quite familiar with the Peabody Museum in Salem, MA. My great, great, etc. uncle, Samuel McIntire, has some of his carvings displayed there. The museum is terrific and would be a great place for Titanic items.
Sincerely,
Tracey McIntire
 
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Wow- you must be PROUD of great-grandpa. I saw those carvings. I live about 10 minutes from Mystic Seaport- about 9 years ago the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum sent their Titanic Exhibit over from Ireland and it was a MAJOR hit here.Thomas Andrew's drafting tools, ship interior dioramas,-great stuff. I know who to approach about arranging an exhibit here. Seems to me it would be a whole lot cheaper to arrange this than sell bits of artifacts and construct a new edifice, deal with insurance, overhead, staffing, heat and electric, etc. Their location is also very out-of-the-way for most people. Mystic, Salem, Philly, Inner Harbor Baltimore, Newport-are all geared for tourists and travellers in matters of transportation, accommodations and near-the-ocean or at least waterfront atmospheres. There's a ton of stuff on liners (Britannic, etc) at Salem's Peabody. The former site with the Philly Marine Museum was EXCELLENT. It's a good way to bring it to the most people possible.
 
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Tracey McIntire

Guest
Hi Shelley--
He's actually an uncle but I am proud anyway!
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If you go to Salem you can visit the Samuel McIntire house that has many of his carved mantelpieces and stairways. He was one of the most well-known Federalist architects and even submitted a design for the Capitol Building in DC.
But back to Titanic--I can't believe I missed that great exhibit! I wish I had known about it. Thomas Andrew's drafting tools alone would be worth seeing! Maybe someday the exhibit will come to the Mariner's Museum down here--I can only hope.

Sincerely,
Tracey
 

Ralph Cook

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Nov 1, 2000
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Hi Shelley
Nice post! I own a Titanic deck chair it as brought different comments from people. When we started out it was primarily for a profit on the chair looking at it as an antique. As time went on we met so many nice people and came to understand the disaster more fully. We wanted to keep it in the Titanic Ship of Dream exhibition Orlando FL. And just sell replicas but I am more convinced to just sell it and be done with it. What do you think of the answer to "Is it Ok to sell an artifact if it escaped from a disaster?"
Thank You
Ralph
www.titanicdeckchair.com
 
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Ralph- I guess I like to see pieces of history kept where the average person can see them and am a museum enthusiast of the first degree. When I think of how much is owned by private collectors (including artworks) and never sees the light of the public eye-I wonder if it isn't just selfish to hoard for one's own ego. Good for you that you shared the deck chair. An artifact can have SUCH meaning for certain people- it can touch off areas of interest and study, bring a lost person back to life for family, encourage young people to take an interest in history, and provide an answer to a missing link in a historical event. To put a price on history is hard to decide. I was so saddened to hear that the entire contents of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's house in Paris was auctioned off. Fayed, sold it off after Princess Di and his son Dodi were killed. It was a time capsule of one of history's famous couples-and now the bits are scattered everywhere including ebay. The impact is NOT the same when things are dispersed all over the globe, lost to private parties and squirreled away in dark corners. But it is a fact of life I have learned to live with- it is human nature.
 
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