An Object Lesson for Collectors

10 Feb

When you spend a lifetime collecting coins or artifacts (or both) that bring a smile to your face every time you look at them, why do you drop the ball when deciding what happens to them when you’re no longer around? Why do you spend so much time poring over auction catalogs, visiting shows, and reading references but don’t keep updated lists of what you have and who should have them when you’re gone? I guess it’s in our nature to covet things and fulfill our desire of having them without performing the mundane task of cataloging them and deciding what to do with them once we’re gone. And public storage companies are glad of it!

A recent report from Tom Vanderbilt at notes that “according to the Self Storage Association, a trade group charged with monitoring such things, the country now possesses some 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage. All this space is contained in nearly 40,000 facilities owned and operated by more than 2,000 entrepreneurs, including a handful of publicly traded giants like Public Storage, Storage USA, and Shurgard.” Storage Facility logoGranted that there are many reasons for the 75% increase in storage facility use since 1995, but one is that when we clean out the house of a deceased relative, the last thing we want to do is inventory his or her possessions and figure out who gets what.  So we load up the UHaul, sign a rental agreement, and put them in a locked facility until such time (if ever) we want to deal with them.

Coins may not fall into this category as much as artifacts because they are much smaller and more portable, but they definitely find their way to oblivion when no one (but you, the deceased!) knows what they’re worth or who should dispose of them.

Giant Clam ShellArtifacts can be small or quite large. I have a beautiful whole giant clam shell that my father bought many years ago and displayed at my parents’ beach house. I had to arm wrestle my siblings for it, but what if no one wanted it? What would have become of that gorgeous, albeit very heavy, specimen created by Mother Nature?

Recently I was asked to investigate the whereabouts of some shipwreck artifacts that were housed at a local landmark hotel, called the Langford, which was sold around 2000 and razed to make way for….nothing. Well, the developers did manage to build a high-rise condo on part of the site. Then they skipped town without ever fulfilling the other part of their promise to the city, to build a luxury hotel on the rest of the property. I think they got both their money and some priceless artifacts out of the project.

Langford Hotel Marquee

Here’s the story:

Since it was built in 1956, the Langford Hotel was frequented by loyal locals and students at Rollins College, which was only a couple of blocks away, who lounged by its enormous pool, one of the largest (if not the largest) in the area. Sometime after the discovery of the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet in 1964, the owner and builder of the hotel, Mr. Bob Langford, became smitten with the idea of shipwrecks and shipwreck material. According to an article written several years later by Edward L. Prizer in a local paper, Mr. Langford began collecting “cannonballs, doubloons, nuggets and Spanish weapons” to be housed in one of his dining rooms and elsewhere around the hotel. The dining room name was even changed to the Anchor Room to commemorate a shell-encrusted anchor from the fleet’s flagship which sat outside the room.1715 Fleet Anchor and Cannon

Mr. Langford went on to buy and display many other artifacts that pertained to the Spanish colonial period in Florida’s early history. New dining rooms alongside the Anchor Room were created and named the Treasure Room and the Galleon Room. At some point, the crest of arms for the hotel displayed the iconic “castles and lions” emblematic of the early days of Spain’s occupation and plunder of the New World.

Times changed and the hotel lost its luster, as did its flamboyant owner, and he and his children decided to sell. What they didn’t anticipate, however, is what should become of some of those large, old artifacts. Maybe Mr. Langford didn’t care anymore or maybe he wasn’t competent enough to tell his children what should become of those priceless shipwreck pieces. The only disposition I could find was that the developers said they would “find a prominent place for the old cannons and anchors that frequent visitors will recall from the decor.” I guess if they stuck around and built the hotel instead of abandoning the project, that dream might have come true. The reality is that no one seems to know where anything is, and maybe they’re in some landfill instead of resting majestically in a museum. How much better it would have been had someone cared enough to make provisions for the future of this collection.




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