Peter, Paul, And The Museum Business

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Reaction within and without the university community was immediate and largely critical. Perhaps the most vigorous opposition came from the Smithsonian’s Sturtevant, who in a November 6,1978, letter to Lamberg-Karlovsky put forth his objections with lucidity: “I continue to be shocked that the richest university in the country … should succumb to a crass market mentality. It is difficult to understand how there can be any justification for treating a fine museum’s catalogued holdings as though they were part of its financial capital, turning them into cash in order to pay for improvement… of the institution whose basic rationale is precisely the accumulation and preservation of these very objects.”

Over the next few months, the glare of adverse publicity was constant and fierce. Whether in response to this or not, on February 9,1979, LambergKarlovsky announced that “we will not sell anything out of the Bushnell Collection whatsoever for the foreseeable future,” and that the Inman Collection would be sold as a unit and only to a museum or comparable institution accessible to the public. For critics of decessioning, the decision was at least a partial victory, and was applauded —not only because it helped protect the integrity of the Bushnell and Inman collections, but, given the prestige and influence of the Peabody, because it might inspire others in the museum business to reflect on the possibility that, in spite of financial problems, it is better to receive and to keep than it is to give away.