Donor blocks sale of heirlooms Items excluded from historic auction

June 09, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A 72-year-old Annapolis woman who donated 68 family heirlooms to Historic Annapolis hoping they would be preserved went to Circuit Court yesterday to prevent the preservation group from selling the items at auction this weekend.

Historic Annapolis agreed yesterday to exclude the items donated by Betty C. Taussig from the list of items due to be sold beginning at 11 a.m. Friday at the DeCaro Estate Auction, set for the Talbot County Community Center on Route 50 in Easton. The auction will continue at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The agreement was reached yesterday after Mrs. Taussig's Annapolis attorney, Michael R. Roblyer, asked Judge Eugene M. Lerner to issue an injunction blocking the sale of the items.

Mrs. Taussig can trace her Southern Maryland roots back 350 years to a Colonial governor. She said yesterday that if she had known Historic Annapolis Inc. was going to sell off the silverware, furnishings, weapons and other items she inherited with the death of an aunt in 1980, she never would have donated them.

"I know that my aunt's sitting on a pink cloud up there somewhere, saying to me, 'Don't you just sit back and let them do that,' " Mrs. Taussig said yesterday.

But while it agreed to postpone their sale, Historic Annapolis maintains it is free to sell the items, and may sell them at a future auction. A hearing will be held in the next several weeks to resolve the issue, Mr. Roblyer said.

Ann M. Fligsten, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, said the mirrors, goblets, muskets, chairs, trunks, platters, pots, clothing and other items were given outright, and their former owner has no claim over them.

"Mrs. Taussig gave those items and took tax deductions for those gifts. What we have is a gift that is absolute," she said. "It was ours, and there were no strings. And for us to be told there are strings, it's obviously upsetting to her, and it's upsetting to us."

Every museum in the country sells off some of what is donated to it, she said.

In deciding to sell the items, Historic Annapolis followed guidelines recommended by the American Association of Museums -- including notifying Mrs. Taussig and the 59 other former property owners of the decision by letters a month ago.

Notification was not required, but was "the right thing to do," Ms. Fligsten said.

She said Historic Annapolis has more goods donated than it has space available for storage. Storage of the hundreds of artifacts is now spread out in several attics and storage spaces in Annapolis and Crownsville, she said.

It is not the first such sale, she said. Nor will it be the last.

"After 40 years, we've accumulated all kinds of things, and not all of them fit in with our plans," Ms. Fligsten said.

She said proceeds will be used only to make new acquisitions or restore existing artifacts.

Mrs. Taussig, a mother of two and grandmother of five, said it is difficult to estimate the value of what she has given to Historic Annapolis since she began making the donations in 1980.

A U.S. Navy-issue Colt revolver, estimated to be 100 years old, is worth about $700, she said. An 18th century desk, on display at the Paca House, is worth $17,000.

Ms. Fligsten said the desk is a "beautiful piece" that will remain on display at the Paca House.

But Mrs. Taussig, a descendant of William Stone, third proprietary governor of Maryland, said there is nothing to assure her that one day everything won't be sold -- including the desk -- and lost for posterity.

She feels the possibility of the sale represents a breach of the agreement made when she donated the items.

"I said over and over again, I'm giving these things because I want them preserved, and displayed if they were fit for display. I didn't want them gathering dust in somebody's attic," she said. "But that's what will happen if they're sold."

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