Trash to Treasure

A few days ago, this story popped up in the AP about a trove of nineteenth-century architectural drawings of Central Park features and other public spaces in New York City. It seems that a New Jersey real estate broker named Sam Buckley, who inherited the documents from his father, recently placed many of them with Christie's for an upcoming sale. Buckley said his father told him he found them in a city dumpster sometime before 1960. Now seen as priceless city archives, "The city asked a court to order the drawings turned over or award at least $1 million in damages" reported the AP. My reaction to that is, "What?!" I would love to hear what our readers think.

Bethesda Fountain and Terrace in NYC's Central Park. Drawings of these features by
architect Jacob Wrey Mould are the subject of legal wrangling. Credit: Alonso Javier Torres. 

Incidentally, in this month's digital edition, I reviewed David Howard's new book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic which touches upon the same issues. How can anyone determine how an historic document was acquired 50 or 150 years ago? How much time can pass before cities, states, or governments are no longer able to make ownership claims? Particularly if they never attempted to get to back (e.g. in North Carolina), or never even knew it existed (e.g. in New York), or discarded it back in the days when 'institutional archives' were attics and basements with poor security and little professionalism.