(Article published in the Dec
issue of TODAY, Business Section)
is itself a collector’s item, Consuming
Collectibles, edited by Jaime C. Laya. A collection of essays on
collecting and collections by collectors themselves.
Following closely his award-winning Letras
y Figuras: Business in Culture, Culture in Business, this latest work
of Mr. Laya is in answer to a long-felt need for a book on Philippine
collectibles that projects both knowledge and love for concrete items of
art and artifact speaking volumes of the country and its people.
A “must-have for all” according to the more cultured and
knowledgeable than I am, like Benito Legarda, Jr., Fernando Zobel de
Ayala, and Doris Magsaysay-Ho.
material is organized as neatly as a financial balance sheet. On one side
are the assets, consisting of three essays on the activity, or as the
reader soon enough finds, the obsession for collecting and various
articles on the objects of a collector’s fancy.
These items are categorized into (a) objects associated with
beliefs and rituals; (b) what we read and study; (c) objects we gaze at;
(d) things we put on; (e) what we live [and die] with; and (f) memorabilia
and commemorative items.
the other side is the human toll of collecting: eight peeks into the
psychology, or, if you will, psychosis, of some collectors in
“Collectors: a special breed” and a final tribute to the collector’s
better, or often bitter half, in Juan T. Gatbonton’s “Collectors’
Spouses Grin and Bear It”.
of, or maybe because of, the formidable assembly of knowledgeable, if not
expert, writers dealing with their areas of interest, the book has
something for everyone with even just a bit more than latent hunting gene
in his blood. It has copious
advice to beginners and, for specialists, incredible minutia (trivia for
the for philistine). It has a
number of first person accounts, wittingly at times and passionately
always, speaking of their authors’ own chase, capture, and, heaven
forbid, loss (a most heart-wrenching experience for collectors) of prized
though not necessarily valuable items as well as a detached and scholastic
dissertation, such as, the distinction between private and institutional
collecting. And one cannot but notice a generous dose of history, both of
the long ago (for instance, maps, money, stamps, santos,
and the recent past, like the Bangko Sentral Art Collection as well as a
former first lady’s “Imeldific” collection.
the book does not have, however, is the point of view of those whose task
it is to clean up the mess after the collector has gone ahead of his
collection. For an executor, administrator, or even heir of a serious
collector, what to do with the collection left behind is formidable
problem. That I know and
would like to add to the Laya opus
as a footnote, recalling my short stint as a trust administrator at the
Provident National Bank in Philadelphia, right after receiving my masters
of law from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971.
trust administrator, in local terms, is an account officer who deals face
to face and day to day, with trustors and their beneficiaries, explaining
to heirs why they could not get more money that what their fathers or rich
uncles had provided in the trust document. Our partner is the investment
officer, who has the more glamorous job of investing the client’s funds
and whose bad judgment calls
we trust administrators had to explain to the irate client.
the most junior in the organization, I had the job of settling the estate
of clients and distributing their assets, net of taxes and debts, to their
heirs. This involved, more often than not, going to homes that
smelled of abandon during the client’s last illness, taking inventory of
his scattered belongings, settling his obligations sprouting all of a
sudden from nowhere, and, sometimes even searching for his next of kin. Even in the United States where there are outfits which make
it their business to bid for estates in lots, it was always a nightmare
when the decedent left a collection. The ever present problems were of
valuation and disposition.
the Philippines, we have a more chaotic situation.
We have no organized market, except for the more traditional items
of stamps and coins, and perhaps, furniture, that can readily give the
executor an idea of the value of what was dumped on his lap.
With no impartial arbiter of worth, heirs and estate managers are
at loss on how to report the collection in the decedent’s estate tax
return. The temptation is
great, to the detriment of the tax authorities, to simply lodge the
collection under “miscellaneous items” and attribute a zero value.
perhaps, the most difficult question, especially in dysfunctional
families, is what to do with the collection.
Should it be simply divided up by lot, thereby wasting away the
surplus value of whole over the sum of the individual parts?
Or should it be kept whole, and treated as if it were a parcel of
land? Should it be donated or sold? To whom?
attractive solution, to my mind, is to constitute, a national agency, say
the National Museum, as a public trustee of all collections that testators
and donors may wish to bequeath or give by will or deed.
This agency should be given the capability of attributing a value
to the collection donated and to grant tax credit certificates for
collections that it accepts. Collections
accepted can then be either maintained individually, even bearing the
names of their previous owners to satisfy their dynastic inclinations, or
incorporated in existing ones, with appropriate recognition, of course, of
provenance and source. As
trustee, the agency should be given authority to sell or dispose of the
items in the collection, both to avoid unwanted redundancy as well as
raise revenues for its own upkeep.
At the very least, the existence of such an agency would mitigate the headaches of executors, administrators and heirs, and could even assuage the dread fear of collectors that their prized possessions would end up in the trash can.