Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Selling Archives: A New Wrinkle?

One of my students (thanks Rachel) tipped me off to this essay in the New York Times, written by Eric Wilson, published today (December 7, 2006), and entitled “And Give Me a Fath Archive.”

The article concerns the sale of the archives of Jacques Fath, a French fashion designer of the mid-twentieth century. You can purchase the archives of Fath for a cool $3.5 million, a purchase which will net you nearly 3500 illustrations for clothing design, executed between 1948 and 1956 (Fath died in 1954).

As the Times essay reports, the Fath archives are being sold by the owner of a Beverley Hills store, who had acquired them by a purchase nine years before. As Wilson reports, “There is a caveat. The new owner must keep the collection together, ideally as a donation to a museum or the basis for a research center.”

It is nice, of course, that there is the responsibility of placing the archives in a repository of some sort where it can be used. Still, one has to wonder whether this is the result of a people who have been watching various antiques shows on television or following ebay auctions too closely. Everything is boiled down to having a price, value is associated with a monetary value.

It should not be surprising that a corporate or commercial archives would be up for sale; that is, of course, the great American system of capitalism. However, one must wonder if are spending too much energy in the commercial value of our documentary heritage and not enough on the other values.

Yet, we (archivists and friends of archives) must still go and ask just what our message ought to be.