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.
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