UPDATED: July 3, 2012
Time running out for African-American collection – CNN.com http://bit.ly/OjnhaS
“We haven’t come close to getting this thing sold,” Jason Wiley an attorney for ABKCO, said. “We’ve got to cut this thing off.” ABKCO Music & Records plans to ask the court to conduct an auction of the items in the Montague Collection.
Dotan Melech, the federal bankruptcy trustee charged with administering the Montague estate, is still hopeful he can find a buyer or get more time from the court. He has sent letters to a few hundred individuals and nonprofits that have shown interest in the collection asking them to submit their best bid by July 13.
By Norm Bond
Most Black people do not know the name Nathaniel Montague, and probably more, may recall “The Magnificent Montague”, a disc jockey, from the 1950’s. And therein lies a major part of the problem.
Montague curated a 8,000-plus-item collection of African-American historical artifacts during the course of more than fifty years of purchases from garage and estate sales; antique and book shops; and private collectors and auction houses, in both the US and Europe.
“I have not been able to maintain the collection for the last couple of years,” Montague said. While working with his wife of 56 years, Rose Casalan, to archive and prepare the collection for sale, he took out a loan to help pay for the archiving, found himself overextended financially and declared bankruptcy in August.
His collection was seized, and it is now in the hands of a trusteeship charged with selling it to satisfy his debts, including a judgment for $325,000 plus interest and court fees.
The asking amount? “We’re looking for an amount in excess of $2 million” said Martha Kader, project manager for the Montague collection.
Some say the true value of the collection is priceless.
The Montague collection includes original and rare artifacts and pieces of memorabilia – including posters and photos, rare books, artworks, recordings, films, dolls, toys, even authentic slave contracts – dating back to the days of slavery. It has been called one of the largest private collections of African-American memorabilia in the world. It’s valued in the millions; some call it priceless. One assessment of just five of the pieces puts the total value of those treasures alone somewhere between $592,000 and $940,000. “I shudder to even fantasize what it could go for,” said appraiser Philip Merrill, who performed the assessment.
Clinton Byrd, a financial services consultant retained by Montague estimated the value could be “Anywhere between $50 million to $100 million in terms of what could be generated in sales.” He continued “I say that because of its potential with Amazon and Kindle and the downloading of books. What would a person pay for it? I think a venture capitalist looking at this, if they could get it for $10 million to $15 million, they’d feel they had a bargain.”
Now 84 years old, Montague described himself to CNN as “an undertaker”. Watch the video interview:
Montague converted to Judaism in 1960, and picked up the collecting passion and thirst for knowledge of his own heritage from Jewish book dealers who knew him from the radio.
“I got interested in the Jewish culture, the pride to know who they are, showing me what their problem was in America, how they were catching hell,” Montague says.
Collecting, he says, was a skill he had to develop: “I didn’t know how to collect. I spent a lot of time talking with dealers, meeting die-hard Jewish collectors. If there was a saucer, they collected it. If it was a pen, if it was Nazi or German, or rare books. When I learned how they did it I started looking for stuff, anything that had anything to say about the Negro I tried to buy — slavery, the whole thing.
But as of today, even after CNN exposure, there are no solid offers on the table. “This would be a wonderful thing to be at a university or a museum, or even (with) a private collector who would buy the whole collection and let it go on tour” said Kader.
Montague adds “We had a lot of people interested but one guy said, ‘We just have to wait until you’re dead and we’ll get it.’ That’s a hell of a thing to say.”
In his memoir Montague writes, “I wanted to show … these gang members, these hip-hoppers, once they understood their history, there’d be no holding them back.”
“I wanted to give them something more powerful than guns and turntables. I wanted to give them their B.H.D.s, their black history degrees. I wanted to show them how to soar like the black eagle. But we know not all dreams come true. I know I will not get there.”