Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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DaveA 26th July 2020 09:28 PM

Advice needed for my collection
Hello all,

Greetings from California.

I apologize if this request seems a little morbid. I need advice on how to prepare for the day when it becomes time for my family to liquidate my collection. I am hoping that you can tell me what advice or options I should suggest to them about what to do with the collection after Iím gone.

Iím keeping good accounts of what I have, photographs, how much I paid for each item, and periodically I try to estimate a range for fair market value. There are some wonderful, rare and potentially very valuable pieces but also middling pieces as one might expect.

Best Regards,

Dave A.

Jens Nordlunde 26th July 2020 09:50 PM

David, I dont find you question morbid at all, as I find it is a question most collectors should ask themselves if they care about their collection - and why should they not care is they collect.
The question, however, must be answered by someone with knowledge to the US law - so although your question is very valid, I cant help you. BUt I do hope that others with more knowledge will help you.

David R 26th July 2020 11:38 PM

If you are lucky/unlucky enough to have some idea of a timeline (as my brother had) give some of the pieces to collector friends to remember you by. Sell the rest, and spend the money on making thoses last days better. My brother attended his own wake, was able to say farewell to his old friends, and I hope to do the same.
All too often, collectors die, and the family has no damn idea what to do with the stuff, and sell them for a pittance, or even throw them away!

kahnjar1 26th July 2020 11:42 PM

Hi Dave,
A very timely subject, as we are all faced with this situation eventually!
I guess that firstly one needs to establish who the collection will pass to, and if that person holds the same interest as you do in terms of carrying on what you have started.
So... ensure that you have clear instructions included in your Will. If your beneficiary DOES NOT hold the same interest as you and may only view what you have as a source of $$$, then maybe you need to consider selling your items while you are still alive. Otherwise maybe instruct (in your Will) that your collection is sold thru a nominated reputable Auction House/Auctioneer, who specializes in Ethno (assumed) weapons.
I am sure that you do not want some unscrupulous person turning up and offering your wife/partner some amount way less than your collection is worth.

DaveA 27th July 2020 12:49 AM

Disposition of collection
Thank you everyone for the ideas.

We are in the midst of a raging pandemic and I am in a high risk group. Otherwise, my health is good and hope for many more years to enjoy my collection. So no rush! I like the idea of nominating one or more auction houses. I will probably gift some items from time to time before then. When my daughters were married I gave a keris to each groom as pusaka for the new family. (And also to perhaps spark interest!)

Dave A

Pinoy Blade Hunter 27th July 2020 12:57 AM

i think it would be a good idea to introduce your family to a trusted collector friend or friends so that the families may consult eachother about the collection when the time comes.

i plan on doing that also.

Duccio 27th July 2020 10:14 AM

I would like to modestly suggest another possibility: if you want the objects of your collection (at least some) not to be scattered and you like the idea that a wider audience can enjoy them, you can donate them to some museum that then show them off. A magnificent example is the imposing collection that Frederick Stibbert donated to the city of Florence in 1906: you can see on the web what it contains.

A. G. Maisey 27th July 2020 11:04 AM

I gave my Javanese son-in-law a keris when he married, but I do not have enough daughters to get rid of everything, so when this question about a succession plan comes up I invariably think of a life-long friend of mine who was also Australia's doyen of Eastern Edged weapon collectors.

For many years he would always say that he was going to take his collection with him, but when he finally experienced a medical event that put him into God's Waiting Room, he bequeathed his entire collection with the exception of one piece to his step-daughter, along with his records which included date of purchase and price paid. He also made recommendations for disposal which came down to public auction through the most experienced Australian auctioneer of antique edged weapons. His idea being that he wanted his collection to pass to other collectors.

I mentioned that he bequeathed everything to his step-daughter except for a single piece. He identified a single item as a gift to a friend. He did this before he died and entrusted his step-daughter to comply with his request. Regrettably he was unable to include his request in his will.

After his death the step-daughter and her husband refused to comply with the request of the departed gentleman, claiming that they had no knowledge of his request. This was an untruth, as they had mentioned the request to the person who was supposed to receive this gift prior to the death of my friend.

I think that this little tale drives home two very important things.

Firstly, whatever one might decide to do with any asset in his possession at time of death must be clearly stated in a properly constructed and enforceable will. Trust in a friend or relative can be badly placed where money or things of value are concerned.

Secondly, the thieving step-daughter and her husband will undoubtedly burn in Hell for Eternity, which is not a nice thing to remember about anybody, no matter how evil and twisted they might be.

Will M 27th July 2020 04:37 PM

Anyone wanting to give an item to a friend upon death would best do this before their death, why wait? This way you are secure in knowing that person received the item. Items can grow legs and walk away and the executor could claim "never saw it". You have little to no recourse at this point.

A. G. Maisey 27th July 2020 10:36 PM

That is exactly what my friend tried to do.

He suffered a stroke, he went into a nursing home and never came out.

As soon as it was clear to him that he was on the Promotion List, he instructed his step daughter to give the item concerned to his friend.

Prior to his death the step daughter was unwilling to look for the item identified as a gift amongst the other items of his collection.

After his death she and her husband denied any knowledge of the request.

The value of the item to be gifted was about $2000. The total value that the stepdaughter took from the estate after the nursing home expenses was in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand dollars.

Quite simply, she wanted it all.

When you're gone and your family & friends have nobody to account to, do not believe that they will comply with your wishes.

An enforceable will is the only protection.

I've given the bare bones of the story here, there is more to it that does not need to be included here.

The reason I know so much detail is that I knew my departed friend for more than 50 years, and I have known the victim of the theft for even longer. I knew my friend's second wife extremely well, and I know her family.

Ian 27th July 2020 11:11 PM


I'm in a similar situation. Basically I don't want to leave my wife with the substantial chore of disposing of my collection. None of my step-children want to take it on, and my wife has zero interest in edged weapons. As a result, I'm selling my collection off. It's been a slow process.

There are always market conditions to consider and simply sending stuff off to an auction house does not guarantee it will be sold. Often times the items are bundled into lots (unless all your items are worth more than $500), and sometimes these are knocked down for ridiculously low amounts. You can't always put a reserve price on items, especially if they have an estimated value of less than $800Ė1000. Of course, this all depends on the auction house, but remember they are in the business of selling items and collecting their 20% commission.

Online sites, such as eBay, offer a little more control of the sale price, but business online has been slow in my experience. Saturating the market with a large "dump" probably means you won't get as high a price as you expect.

Private sales, such as on this forum, again move items slowly.

If you have a large collection, I highly recommend that you start selling them now and get as much done as possible without leaving it all to your heirs or a close friend.

Taking good quality pictures for online or private sales is a worthwhile effort now, even if it means that your heirs need to dispose of items after you're gone. Photographing swords is a somewhat tedious process, at least for me, and experience with a program to crop the pictures and adjust contrast, etc. is useful. I would suggest using a digital camera rather than your phone. There are useful photography hints on this Forum's home page.

In bequeathing items to family and friends, I have specific instructions in my will as to what goes to whom, with careful labeling of those items with tags indicating my wishes. My executor could always ignore my wishes, but I doubt she will. :)

Alan's words of caution are well taken and I have tried to avoid any confusion about what goes to specific people. Good communication with my family and friends, and a follow up email documenting my conversations with them is the best I can do. At least that keeps everyone informed and there is a "paper trail" in the event of conflict.

Hope these suggestions are helpful.



adrian 27th July 2020 11:37 PM

In my opinion - for the average to very nice collection - the best thing is to have a good catalogue that identifies each item & includes a current estimate of it value, this to guide an auctioneer as much as anything. Decide if any are heirlooms - if they came to you down through the family for example - & bequeath those few items to relatives & to eventually be handed on down the line etc. Acknowledge close collecting friends with a gift or heavily discounted item also give to them all those boxes & shelves of bits & pieces & spares & books & unfinished projects that we all have & that are not worth auctioning - that way they will end up in good hands & not landfill.
As for the bulk of the collection if one is really fortunate there might be a relative who is really interested in it. Mostly however that will not be the case & best thing is to nominate an auction house to liquidate it & distribute the proceeds as per the rest of the estate.
I would forget museums. Large ones that have the facilities, salaried staff & procedures to care for the objects under their custodianship are very large & have very rigid & restrictive criteria to limit what can be given to them - as otherwise they get inundated. Small museums are usually overwhelmed with material & suffer hugely from lack of storage space & preservation is often non existent. Typically they are understaffed, rely heavily upon volunteers & are very subject to the whims of the latest volunteer committee & their particular area of interest. I have seldom witnessed more large scale damage to small arms anywhere such as I have with small museums. Stories abound, & I have seen examples myself, whereby a museum's arms are either very poorly preserved or simply slowly rusting away - as well as pilfering that varies from having parts taken and arms getting swapped out or outright stolen.

kahnjar1 28th July 2020 03:13 AM


Originally Posted by kahnjar1
Hi Dave,
A very timely subject, as we are all faced with this situation eventually!
I guess that firstly one needs to establish who the collection will pass to, and if that person holds the same interest as you do in terms of carrying on what you have started.
So... ensure that you have clear instructions included in your Will. If your beneficiary DOES NOT hold the same interest as you and may only view what you have as a source of $$$, then maybe you need to consider selling your items while you are still alive. Otherwise maybe instruct (in your Will) that your collection is sold thru a nominated reputable Auction House/Auctioneer, who specializes in Ethno (assumed) weapons.
I am sure that you do not want some unscrupulous person turning up and offering your wife/partner some amount way less than your collection is worth.

Further to my earlier comments, there is another situation which COULD occur here, and that relates to an item (likely a firearm) for which one needs a special Licence/Permit to hold. The situation we have in New Zealand, and probably valid in other countries also, relates to the spouse/ beneficiary NOT possessing a Licence. On the death of the Licence holder, the particular weapon/s then technically becomes unregistered and can be seized by the Police. So.....either one's spouse needs to have a Licence also, OR arrangements need to be made for a suitable licenced person to take possession of the item/s and arrange the sale.
Nothing is easy is it!

motan 28th July 2020 11:44 AM

I have already decided on this some time ago, but my solution fits me and the nature of my collection. Therefore, it can not be considered as advice for you.
I will leave my collection to an organization that deals with local heritage.
My collection has a very local character and practically 0 monetary value.

I know the risks - that it would end up in some dusty drawer or given to friends of the curator as present. Mismanagement is a very realistic possibility in my country, especially if I will give it to a Palestinian heritage institute, where it really belongs. But I will take my chances.
If it would have had significant value, I would have appointed a collector friend whom I trust to sell the collection for a percentage and give it to my family. They deserve that because they indirectly paid for it too.

thomas hauschild 29th July 2020 04:58 AM

One each for friends to remember me. All the rest for the solingen blademuseum nearby.


Lee 29th July 2020 01:15 PM

It is intended as neither cynical nor humorous, but my candid, honest reply when asked about the ultimate disposition of my collection is "This is not my problem - I have enough problems. I will be dead, so this is my Executor's problem."

Having an accurate and accessible record of what everything is, what you have learned about it, what was paid for it and an occasionally updated estimate of current value will be very helpful to whoever does manage the dispersal. I merely have several incomplete failed starts at this and I have warned possible heirs that there may be a few things of significant value. I would not be averse to some of the better things ending up in a museum, right now the only directive in my will is that actual sales will be conducted in the United States. No offense intended to any nationality - and no restriction on who buys it and where they carry it home to - just the part of me that had to deal with the hassles and expenses of international shipping over several decades wanting to even things out.

There is one thing that a collector needs to prepare their heirs for and that is that the auctioneers and specialist dealers have a living to earn and the percent of the value that is theirs is not small. Those of you that have frequented these forums for a long time or have researched back in the archives will remember Lew. As an early death loomed over him, he began to explore this issue urgently and was horrified at the wholesale offers that he received. I promised him to disperse his collection and in the end probably recovered low retail value for his family (see I learned a lot about many of the pieces in the process and also about trading in them, and overall I enjoyed my time as a "limited instruction set specialist antiques dealer," but I also learned that dealers very often do earn what seems like an exorbitant markup (50% not being uncommon if they take on the risk up front) at first glance.

So leave an inventory and a list of a few reputable dealers and advise your heirs to solicit offers from about three parties and to let all know that there are other bidders.

Interested Party 29th July 2020 05:12 PM

When my granddad passed we bought our favorite pieces from my grandmother at a fair price to help with her home care. When I look at these pieces I have great memories of them.

What was left after the purchases didn't fare so well. Some pilfering et cetera, and a bit of squabbling among my aunts and uncles after my grandmothers passing culminating with a shady auction. A period of bad memories and the event kind of dissolved family bonds. Not a great way to honor such family orientated peoples' memory.

If keeping the collection together is not the paramount concern, but rather equitable distribution among interested parties I liked my grandfather's solution of letting everyone buy what they really wanted to remember him by before his death. After their death my grandparent's the original system functioned as a sports draft with each individual choosing an item in a set order. Simple, equitable, orderly. Not being a participant in the draft I was given the task of remembering what individual items were and values to help everyone get a fair price at a later date if they wanted. Monkey wrenches can be thrown into the systems by last minute changes though when dealing with people like Mr. Maisey's friend's step-daughter. Never under estimate them :(

All this brings to mind my own eventual demise as I work in a dangerous environment and could easily be a victim of my own stupidity. I have not updated my arrangements in a while and the old solution's are no longer applicable. This seems a task for next month, if I make it that far, with a bit of careful thought of who would enjoy the items the most in between. Most people don't seem to enjoy the craftmanship and cultural history of these kinds of items so they are a bit hard to dispose of.

ariel 29th July 2020 05:24 PM

My son is the only one expressing some interest in my collection. In my will I leave the entire collection to him, together with my notes, prices of acquisition and suggested values.
I intend to sell as much as possible before my "final journey" and am putting some stuff on e-bay from time to time. These days I am not selling anything because of pandemics: people are not buying much, they have better ways to spend their money:-(((

As to buying something new.... occasionally I cannot resist when I see something interesting:-)

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