There will be a slight pause. I’m off to stay with my mother for a few days. She has expressed a wish to make very long lists of to whom she wishes to leave her possessions. I will, of course, have nothing better to do when she dies than pack each little trinket with with a tender note and despatch it to someone she met once on holiday twenty years ago.
The problem really is the number of possessions. It’s amazing when you think about it. We all leave home pretty much with a suitcase and what we stand up in and maybe a bit of money. A few years later and we have a home, a mortgage, a family and tons and tons of stuff. In all the years I worked on collectors’ magazines of one sort and another, a very regular feature of life was families asking after the death of a loved one for advice about their collection which everyone was sure was worth millions at least. Collectors had gone hungry to save up for something coveted, it had cost a lot then, so it must be worth lots now, we were told. I have experienced this personally. A number of times at Miniatura visitors have wanted advice about collections they have inherited. The Practical ask: How can we get the money back? The Optimistic ask: Can you sell it all for us? The Altruistic ask: Which museum is going to be delighted with this bequest which will make the name of the departed live for ever?
The answers are: You can’t, no and none.
The truth about a collection is that the main purpose of it is to give the collector a hobby, something to spend money on and maybe a little learning garnered along the way. With a miniaturist the collection, by definition, is going to be blessedly small. The best advice is to choose the best house, fill it with all the best things and pass it on down the family. The rest should be given to the charity of your choice, Pat Cutforth on the Cancer stand at Miniatura performs a service to humanity in general and raises money for a good cause at the same time.
Unfortunately for me my father’s collection is not small, at all. He began collecting pictures and artefacts at an early age until he eventually morphed into an antiques dealer, whence he had been going all along. Is my mother living in a house full of vast amounts of potential money? Sadly, no. All collections are subject to fashion. Whoever thought it would be easier to sell a bag full of plastic toys that has never been played with than a well-worn much-polished Georgian table. If the toys are original Star Wars but the table needs quite a bit of repair and is faded unevenly and has a wonkyish leg, you are exponentially better off financially with the Star Wars toys. You could flog them on EBay and post them tomorrow. The table would have to go to auction and on a good day maybe make half of what was given for it in the first place.
My father had his collection valued some years ago and was a bit stunned to find he was not sitting on precious heirlooms so much as lot of unfashionable stuff. For many years, every time I visited. my mother would take me to one side and go round the house saying who each thing was for and making me recite the ever-changing list. I wasn’t allowed to write it down. In the end I begged my father to do so and he did, On his death, my cousins, searching for the will, hoping they were in it, turned up a couple of versions of the lists, each with many crossings out as things were sold, or given away, or fell to bits.
And now, joy of joys, my demented mother who repeats everything twice twice and can ask, what is it? the same, what is it? question, did somebody say what it is? again what is it? again, yes but Jane, what is it? and again. Did anyone say what it is, did you? In the same sentence (what is it? I am so tired of asking. What is it?) Wants me to go there for a few days so we can spend the time making lists of who to give away all the stuff to.
I shall write lists in VERY BIG CAPITAL LETTERS though I don’t imagine it will do any good.
Tune in in a few days time (yes, but what is it?) to find out if I kept my sanity (what is it?) or if the number of gibbering idiots in the family has now leapt to two.
I also am on a mission to get papers filled in to do with brain donation for research purposes. Hers not mine, in theory. Much more of this later. (What is it?) A brain, in your head, you know. (Really? What is that?)
You cannot control the future from the grave. Even if you want to a lot. The stuff you leave, someone else will have to deal with, whether it is a load of old junk (what is it?) a load of old debts (what are they) or precious – ish chairs (six, dining, all falling to bits) (what is it?) (Shrunken wood, dried out glue.) But with forward planning you can help other people after your death with the only thing you truly own, your body. (What is it?) (The bit from the ground to the top of your head.)
JaneLaverick.com – listing slightly, probably to starboard.