Breaking up is easy to do...

Respect for original order and respect for one's ancestors are clearly not a priority for the "Auction Kings." As a special collections librarian and advocate for archives, this weekend's episode of the auction-based reality show on the Discovery Channel troubled me on so many levels, I think I'll just let you count the ways...




In this episode, a local appraiser in the Nashville area visited Gallery 63 in Atlanta to assess a collection of Civil War papers. It seems that the author of these letters, Capt. Alva C. Trueblood (How's that for a compelling Civil War name?), was in the process of chronicling his experiences in the Civil War as the events of the war unfolded before his very eyes. Included in his collection of papers is a manuscript, a pair of journals, and a letter mentioning John Wilkes Boothe years before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre. It is an amazing chronicle of the Civil War from the perspective of a Union officer in the thick of battle, yet this officer's descendants see more value in opening a chili restaurant with the proceeds of their auction than preserving their ancestor's Civil War heritage.

This is a one-of-a-kind collection that should be in a museum or archive, but the auctioneers at Gallery 63 see more value in busting up the collection into four separate lots to generate a bidding war and maximize the almighty dollar for their client.

Capt. Alva C. Trueblood. A man of honor
who is now rolling over in his grave.
Auctioneers are in the business to generate as much profit as possible for their clients and for themselves. It seems ironic, then, that while the collection was appraised at $10,000, the Auction Kings' strategy of breaking up this collection only generated $5,450, and the future restauranteurs seem strangely happy about it.

Breaking up a Civil War collection like this is really appalling. If you have inherited a collection like this in your own family, do us archivists and historians a favor. If you must auction it off to the highest bidder, please keep the collection together for posterity. But a better idea would be to have the collection appraised, and take the value of the appraisal off your taxes as a donation to a repository that will appreciate the collection's historic value in its entirety.

I believe that you cannot put a price on honor. Honor must be earned, not purchased. Alva Trueblood served his country with honor, and he wanted his sacrifice on the field of honor to be remembered through these letters. It's a shame that Capt. Trueblood's descendants did not recognize or value honor when it was right beneath their nose. Apparently, they were too busy smelling the chili.

6 comments:

Melissa said...

As an archivist, this makes me want to just cry. I do watch Auction Kings and Pawn Stars and shows like these that show people selling their ancestors precious artifacts and documents. While I understand people need money at times but why do you have to get it this way. I so wish more records and artifacts would be donated to archives instead of being sold to who knows who to do who knows what with.

Gordon Belt said...

Melissa, the "Great Recession" has spawned quite a number of these type of television shows, and I will confess that from time to time I get sucked into watching an episode or two. This one, however, has changed my perspective on the whole genre. I'm not sure I'll ever have the stomach to watch another episode like this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gordon. I'm the fellow who auctioned off the Trueblood collection. H was my g.g. grandfather. Yes, it is a great collection. Guess what I found out doing this project? I'm the leading civil war document expert in Colorado. The other local 'experts' don't know squat. I laid this collection under the noses of many 'experts' who told me, 'it's fake', 'there copies', 'no way to know they're real.' etc. I sent pics of everything to every museum, historical society, etc. I could find on the net., all over the country. Dozens. Most by far don't respond. Don't bother with the phone... Those that do like to tell me I don't really have what they're looking at. I've more Trueblood docs still at home. If they were 'donated' to some edifice they would remain obscure and not available on line to anyone. I spent the better part of a year transcribing the collection for other interested parties to read and enjoy. Now here in Denver, if your artifact isn't a dead indian or an old bone, no one is interested. I emailed that dude in vegas, Dana, who assists the pawn stars. He received a complete inventory list and dozens of pics and he poo-pood the collection suggesting it was worth about 5 to 8k, if that. How the collection landed in my lap is a family miracle, and another story unto itself. At 53, with a daughter of 11, I know she will be no history buff and won't know what to do with the collection after I'm gone. Regardless of what I may suggest to her. Gordon, I certainly wasn't going to give it away. The national civil war museum in Penn. wouldn't respond after sending them a link to the site, and asking if the collection is something they might be interested in. The very few who did respond again said they likely would not be too interested unless I wanted to mail it of to them as a donation, blah, blah, blah. Capt. Truebloods honor lives beyond a sheet of paper. It exists not only in what remains, but in we, his family as well. Think of it this way: A hooker sells what she's got, and she still gots it. His honor was sealed up in boxes for over 100 years, but for me it would remain there. Regardless of where the collection is now scattered, there is no loss of honor or pride. The lesson here is more 'experts' need to realize that more is out there and just because they didn't find it, save it, discover it for themselves doesn't mean it should be ignored as this collection was. Many had a chance for it and I was blown off.

Gordon Belt said...

Mr. Nelson,

Thank you for your comment and e-mail to me in response to this commentary. Normally, I do not publish "anonymous" comments on The Posterity Project, but since you identified yourself to me both in the comment and by e-mail, I chose to publish your words so that your first-hand account of this story is available.

Captain Trueblood's honor does, indeed, live beyond a sheet of paper, but it is that collection of papers -- in its entirety -- that serves as the tangible proof of his bravery and heroism. I cannot speak for the many "experts" you consulted, and I am truly sorry that they did not have the financial means or the foresight to purchase the collection from you -- since it is obvious from your own words that a donation was not even a consideration. However, I can assure you that none of the archivists that I know personally would have dismissed this collection in the way you describe.

I do hope, as you state in your e-mail to me, that these important papers are in good hands, but I still maintain that they would have been much better off in the hands of an archivist or museum professional, who in a proper way would have documented and preserved the collection, and shared Captain Trueblood's legacy with the public.

ralibali said...

I just watched the same episode and was curious to find out if that chilli restaurant got started and what happened to the collection in general. I was very happy to find out the collection is available in its entirety online - http://www.truebloodcivilwarcollection.com/ Even though my reaction to the episode was the same as Gordon's, I thought I will share the site for everyone who was wondering what happened to the collection. Enjoy!

Gordon Belt said...

That's great to see, ralibali. Thanks for sharing that link. I'm glad someone had the foresight to publish the digital version of this collection in its entirety.

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