QUESTION: I own a necklace of pure scrimshaw about 40 years old that was passed to my mother, and she gave it to me when she died. Can you tell me its value?
ANSWER: Here’s a good example of an object that has been passed down from mother to daughter over several generations. But the person makes no mention of obtaining any more pieces of scrimshaw. Unfortunately, this often happens when people inherit an object or a collection from their relatives.
It seems that this person has taken over the job of acting caretaker for this piece of scrimshaw. While there’s nothing wrong in that, she’s missing out on the joy of collecting–the search for other pieces and buying the ones that she likes. But she shouldn’t feel bad. This is more often the case than not.
A caretaker, as the name suggests, cares for an object or a collection. This care usually consists of maintaining the condition of the object, and, of course, finding out how much the object is worth.
A curator, on the other hand, is someone who catalogs and maintains historic or artistic collections. This usually entails the maintenance of the objects and their general protection from damage. The curator also finds out as much as possible about the objects in the collection and, using a number of reliable resources, determines their value. In addition, the curator adds to the collection, refining it by selling off inferior pieces and arranging for the purchase of better ones. In essence, the curator becomes a collector.
So which are you–curator or caretaker? If you’ve been acting as a caretaker, why not change roles and actively get involved in learning all you can about and growing your inherited collection. You don’t know how much fun you’re missing.