Collectors collect, and then eventually die, and then most often it is up to the family to decide the fate of the collection. In the cases were the subject of the collection is dear to the hearts of spouses and offspring things are dispersed within the family. In other situations, no one is interested, and so it becomes the responsibility of the family to disperse that which had taken their loved one all those years to acquire. Sometimes collections get donated to a public institution for a tax write-off, sometimes it all goes to auction, and sometimes the preference is to sell it outright.
It was such a case when at the springtime Bowmanville show in 1999 we were approached by the wife of a well-known Quebec collector and given the sad news that he had suffered a sudden illness and died. She came right to the point in suggesting that based on several happy past dealings she felt compelled to offer it to us first. We chose to believe her.
She was only interested in selling it all outright, with no picking or choosing. She pointed out that her husband had kept meticulous records on the purchase of all the pieces and realizing the nature of being in business she would be content to recover 50% of the money spent. It sounded reasonable but we had no idea how large a collection it was, or just what we were talking about. We knew and respected the taste of the collector, so in spite of the fact that we had just spent a lot of money a few months earlier to buy the Ewald Rentz collection, we told her we were interested and to please send us the pictures and information she had. She warned us that she was busy with other things and that it would be awhile.
About six months later as we beginning to wonder if something had happened, we received a package which contained photographs and information on the 164 items that made up the collection. There was a package of rolodex cards which carefully listed where and when each piece was bought, and any notes he had about the carver. It was all quite interesting, and at times downright wonderful stuff. Many pieces by known contemporary artists such as Leo Fournier, J.C. Labreque, Magella Normand, Robert Paradis, etc. but also a lot of older, hard to come by pieces such as a composition vegetale by the highly -regarded Yvonne Bolduc of Baie St. Paul, Quebec. An absolutely stunning surrey and driver made in 1970 by Albert Conrad Ranger (1894- 1973).
The last 19 pieces created by Rosario Gautier (1914-1994), a primitive master from Lac St. Jean, Quebec. There were 5 wonderful lamps by the previously unknown to us Adelard Patenaude. Also included were several early carved candle sticks and wall shelves which we knew would fly off the shelves. The most interesting, but also potentially problematic was a collection of 12 Quebec crucifix of various age. I sense that today these might find a lot of interest, but in 1999 it was hard to sell a crucifix out of Quebec. We knew of only a couple of collectors. The notes recorded that he had spent a total of about $38,000, so we are not talking pocket change. Still, when we went through the list assigning modest retail prices, the value was there, so we decided to take the plunge.
When you take into consideration the hours and the dedication it takes to build a large collection, to be able to buy it all at once at a good price is an attractive proposition; provided you relate to the sensibility of the collector, and there is an active market to sell it in. That was the case for this collection in 1999. Quebec was and remains home to many knowledgeable and dedicated collectors of it’s past, and it’s art. Most everything sold quickly, and the rest in due course. Even the crucifix sold, although to be accurate the lot sold to the one collector we knew would be interested. Had he not gone for it, it may have been a different story.