The Toledo Museum of Art is adding to its permanent collection more than 120 pieces of late 18th and early 19th-century jewelry amassed by a Florida couple over more than three decades after selling at auction more than 90 sets from the same collection.
An online auction of 96 pieces from the Nancy and Gilbert Levine Collection — a private collection of antique jewelry from 1785-1885 that was gifted to the Toledo museum upon Nancy Levine’s death in 2014 — was part of a larger sale of jewelry through the Skinner auction house, Boston.
All but one of the pieces sold, netting a total of $130,555, said Kaitlin Shinnick, a specialist in the Skinner fine jewelry department. She declined to comment on sales commissions, but said the standard rate at Skinner is between 10 and 20 percent.
The two highest-selling pieces were a pair of gold, silver, aquamarine, and diamond earrings for $13,530, and an Etruscan revival gold demi-parure for $7,995.
Proceeds from the pendants, brooches and necklaces, crafted from gold, gems and stones primarily in England and France, go into the museum’s acquisitions fund, said museum spokesman Candice Harrison.
The sale of part of the gift in late September preceded a controversial auction of almost 70 antiquities from Egypt, Cyprus, Italy, and Greece by the museum in late October. That sale, a deaccessioning of items already in the museum’s permanent collection, raised the ire of some who said the museum should hold onto pieces of history for public view and education. Museum officials said deaccessioning is a legitimate practice supported by major national and international museum organizations that allows museums to acquire new pieces for a higher-quality collection.
The museum made more than $900,000 for its acquisitions fund on that sale.
Museum officials pointed out that the two processes differ in that the Levine collection was a bequest and not yet a part of the museum’s permanent collection. Ms. Harrison said museum officials met with the late Nancy Levine before her death, and an agreement was struck.
“We got the gift when she passed. Everyone was under the understanding that some of it would be sold,” Ms. Harrison said. “Nancy Levine agreed, and also included in her last will and testament, that we had the right to sell what we did not feel was the best fit for the collection.”
Jutta Page, curator of glass and decorative arts, worked with outside experts to go through the collection and choose what should stay in Toledo. Ms. Page was unavailable for comment.
Ms. Harrison said the museum’s art review committee recommended to the board of trustees that the remaining 128 sets be accessioned into the museum’s permanent collection. The board unanimously approved that recommendation at its December meeting, she said.
Toledo Museum director Brian Kennedy was out of the country but sent a statement about the sale and subsequent accessioning: “The museum is not seeking to have an encyclopedic collection of works of art. We are not trying to have the biggest collection. We are seeking to have the best collection of objects we can attain.”
The Levine pieces will become part of the more than 330 jewelry pieces the museum already has, and part of a boutique collection that also includes Netsuke ornaments, art books and Japanese prints. The jewelry will be displayed after the accessioning process.
Fern Larking Kao, an antique jewelry dealer who lives in Bowling Green, said she spotted the jewelry sale in the December issue of Maine Antique Digest, a monthly magazine for dealers and collectors.
“I was horrified the museum would dump all this beautiful jewelry … that could have been displayed in Toledo and now are gone forever,” she said.
The collection in its entirety was displayed at the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach, Fla., for about 20 years before it arrived in Toledo for an exhibition in 2008 as part of a “promised gift” to TMA. The exhibition, Radiant Ensemble: Jewelry from the Nancy & Gilbert Levine Collection, showcased about 200 pieces from the collection.
Eric Mauk, registrar at the Daytona Beach museum, said the Levines collection came to them through a connection between the couple and a former curator there, and they were excited to have it. Toledo museum officials did not comment on the collection’s value, but the Daytona Beach museum some years ago valued the entire collection at about $1.25 million, Mr. Mauk said.
He declined to comment on the Toledo museum’s decision to sell some of the collection.
The Levines lived mainly in New York, Paris, and Florida, according to Blade archives, and so it’s a bit of a mystery as to how the collection came to be gifted to Toledo.
“Someone persuaded Nancy that the collection should be housed in a museum that has more visitors through it. Beyond that, I have no clue,” Mr. Mauk said.
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