Thursday, September 29, 2011

A little problem in Martin Cruz Smith's "Rose"

Now that the long series on avoidable evils and mineral collections is finally complete, I plan a few blog entries on miscellaneous subjects.
      One of the unsung highlights of Tucson in February is the Friends of Pima County annual book sale. There are 100s of thousands of books; some in any category you can think of, although few are technical. I've acquired some unsuspected gems at very low cost, and there are always plenty of novels at $1 each (hardcover) for your airport and summer reading.
     One such summer book was the novel Rose, by Martin Cruz Smith (1996). Smith is mainly known for his Arkady Renko mysteries, but has also written a book on Los Alamos in the early atomic era (Stallion Gate), and some other books I have not read. Most of the ones I have read feature a competent protagonist and an air of hangdog inevitability; no wisecracking supermen here.
     For us geologists, the protagonist of Rose is Jonathan Blair, a mining engineer newly returned to Victorian England from Africa; and the locality is a coal-mining town (and the mine itself). The mystery is resolved underground, and therein lies the rub...
     I have been in old mines (such as the Bell iron mine in Newfoundland) where the ore is moved underground by horse-drawn minecarts. As is logical, the mine tunnels on any level slope down to the mine elevator, so that the "pit-ponies" only have to haul empty carts uphill, and haul loaded carts downhill. For some reason, the tunnels in the Hannay coal mine slope the opposite way: down to the coal workings and up to the elevator. If anyone knows whether this is typical for a coal mine, or just the invention of the author for plot reasons, I'd like to know.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The evils that beset mineral collections: 16. Poverty, death and the disposition of goods and records

Let's talk about death first.

You may leave behind you:
  • Grieving parents,
  • Grieving children,
  • Grieving creditors,
  • Warring relatives,
  • Two or more people who think they inherit the same item, or
  • A spouse who has no idea what you had, or what it is worth.
But what do you want to leave behind you?
     Do you want your collection to be an intact entity? A source of revenue for your heirs? Do you want the items in it to retain their provenance information, and a record of their presence in your collection? All these lead to estate planning considerations.
     If you want someone or some institution to inherit and keep your collection intact, it is best to negotiate this while you are still alive. In the case of  institutions, it is extremely helpful to provide an endowment to support the collection (this is true even if you are gifting a few items, with no requirement to keep them together, and no strings attached). In the case of individuals, give some thought to what might happen as their circumstances change; it will not be possible to guarantee your desired result in perpetuity.
     If your want your heirs to get the most value out of your collection, consider evaluating some mineral dealers or an auction house while you are alive. (As you get older, you might want at least one of the dealers to be substantially younger than you.) Check with your tax lawyer; it might be more appropriate to sell the collection yourself and provide monetary gifts than to leave disposition for your heirs to handle.
     If you want a specific heir to get a specific item, make sure your intentions are clear and in writing. You might also make sure that this heir wants this item, especially if it has specific upkeep requirements (see the rest of this series).
     If you are willing to split up the collection, it again may make better sense for you to dispose of it than for you to leave it for heirs to deal with.

In all cases, however, you will need to provide three important types of information in your estate plans.
1) Where are all the mineral specimens? Are any in a safe deposit box? Are any on loan, or on exhibit elsewhere? Be as specific as possible and update this information whenever there is a change.
     1a) And while we are at it, do you have any specimens in your possession that don't belong to you? (E.g., borrowed, on memo or on consignment and not yet paid for, etc.) Those should be specified, as well as any with shared ownership, etc.
2) Where are the collection records stored? Is there an obvious link between each specimen and its related information? If you have information stored as computer files, are they password protected? If so, the current password needs to be provided.
3) Who knows this information -- where the specimens and records are, and how to access them?

Poverty is a difficult issue. You may have to sell your collection, or less likely, get a loan using it as collateral. Make sure you know what comparable specimens are selling for, but do not expect to get any amount close to the fair market value for your items, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time (and some money) marketing them. (25% of FMV -- for your most sellable specimens -- may be closer to the truth.)
     Remember, if you are hurting for money, other people are probably in the same situation. So liquidity -- the ease with which you can convert your specimens into money -- is likely to be a problem as well.