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Fads collecting come and go generation after generation and if you are fortunate to live long enough you will experience the trends and see that “what goes around comes around". Although the quote is meant for Karma in life it applies to what we purchase for our homes. My senses are drowning with nostalgia these days as I see the mid century modern prices rise to unexpected heights all the while 18th century English and Continental furniture is deemed “not in style ". Contemporary and modern art prices are soaring as beautiful “old” canvases are “out of style ".

I thought it would be interesting to go back and talk to some of my clients both past present and ongoing about their feelings of what is happening today or if they even noticed. Regrettably, a few of them have passed away but the majority of my long term clients are now sixty to ninety years old. I have thankfully recently acquired a new couple in their thirties who understand quality. They need information, instruction and training to make the right decisions if they are to collect. Most of all they need to understand history. I shudder to think that I may pass on before I see their final collection but if I can share some knowledge with them my hopes are that they absorb it like a sponge.

Today, I am sharing with you the experience an heir of an antiques and design client had because she (the heir) was uninformed and had no appreciation for her mother's collection. Her actions, which became known in the community, set off a wise course of action of two of my most treasured clients which included the sister of the deceased. As the young heir lived out of state she was impatient and made arrangements with the attorney handling her mother's estate to get things sold as quickly as possible. This led to the custom built French style house being priced way below market value full of beautiful chandeliers, sconces, French paneling, antique mantels, antique flooring and even an 18th century tile roof. The attorney hired a “favorite” realtor to list the house and another “favorite “was hired as an estate sale expert. Together these two women made a quick sale happen, the new owner of the house was very fortunate, those who attended the sale ecstatic and the heir went to the bank with much less than she could have had. Tragically, the local museum was left empty handed!

Living out of state at the time, I received a phone call from a well known art dealer in London who asked if I knew a lady, I shall call Mrs. "S", who had phoned him inquiring about a painting being offered at this sale. When I told the dealer of our client's death he instructed me to phone the heir and let her know he wished to buy back the painting at what the deceased paid for it.

I phoned the young heir, gave her the information, to which she responded she would let the estate sale people handle these transactions. The dealer was never called and Mrs. " S " now has a painting which she purchased way below market value. All the contents were sold from that home and I wince at the prospects that the art and antiques were sold to buyers who had no clue for ridiculous prices.

Since then, I was hired by the sister of the deceased party, who has been one of my best clients, to research and catalog her inventory of art and antiques beyond the details provided to her from invoices by my firm and other dealers. Two copies of the books have been made. Her estate attorney has one copy of the books and she has the other. One of her children will use the books upon her death as a guide. My client has left instructions with the estate attorney that not one item in that catalog can be sold without proper research for the best price. Yet another client does not intend for her only heir to be ripped off and the heir has met with me on two occasions for a history lesson about what is in that house. She has arranged for her grandson and attorney to rely on me to help guide them with the sale of any item. We have already made provisions for a museum to have some of the possessions.

I share this with you because unfortunately, now we have a generation of inexperienced heirs who have no idea about the stewardship of inheriting valuable art and antiques. They are intrigued with their own ideas of what they want to fill their homes as others have done before them. However, to lose the historical significance of the art and decorative arts of the collections left to them is a travesty. Those of you who share the passion and appreciate that we are but stewards of our fine collections for a short period of time be certain you have made the right provisions for your estates.
Respectfully submitted,

Mary Helen McCoy

About the Author

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy is a woman with a mission – that is, to deliver to her clients the ultimate in period furniture and decorative arts. Her firm is considered one of the nation’s premier sou...