It's something we avoid thinking about: What will happen to our beloved collection after we pass on? Unpleasant and sad as it is, it's important to plan for the care or disposition of your models, since, as one customer said to us recently, "We are but a guest in the life of a model horse." The models can exist long after we're gone, and our plans now can insure that they continue to exist and be cherished as you cherish them now.
This is on our minds a lot here at Triple Mountain. More than once we've been contacted by the executor of a collector's estate. These people are dealing with the death of a close loved one, and added to that emotional burden is the overwhelming feeling of knowing nothing about their collectibles or what to do with them. Sometimes, the house needs to be emptied right away for a relative to move into or to be sold to cover burial costs. It's a sad fact, but many times, family members who are overwhelmed with grief simply throw away the entire collection, donate it to a charity in boxes like unwanted toys, or sell the models at a yard sale for a dollar or two each.
I have seen all of these things happen - When I was about twelve, my father brought home a Breyer smoke Western Prancing Horse from the local transfer station. As he handed it to me, he said, "It was the only one I could save. A guy dumped boxes of them into the trash compactor, and no one is allowed to go in to retrieve anything. This one, though, has chain reins, so I was able to grab it with a long hook and pull it out." The once-handsome horse came out of his ordeal minus his saddle and with both ears broken, but his fate was better than his herdmates'.
I also once came across an eBay listing for a group of random models at a GoodWill in California. Among the horse-shaped objects was a Breyer Gold Florentine Five Gaiter! The lot sold for around $400, making the GoodWill very happy, I'm sure, but one has to wonder what sad story was behind that precious piece of Breyer history getting tossed into a toy lot at a charity, and how much it could have brought the family if they had sold it themselves to a collector.
These horses are the reason for this article: We love our models. We seek out new additions and cherish them when we add them to our collections. We spend hours looking at them, re-arranging them, maybe showing them. They have names and they hold memories. They are special to us, and we'd never want them to end up tossed away like junk.
And then, of course, there's the financial side of collecting... Many of us have collections worth quite a bit of money, and in the event our families needed money to pay for our burial costs, we'd rather see the models sold to other collectors for as much as possible than to be yard-saled for a dollar or two.
Below, I'm going to outline some of the steps I've taken to insure my own collection is dispersed to other collectors who will enjoy having them, and will provide some income for my family at the same time. I hope you will make it a priority to take similar steps with your own collection.
Inventory & Tag
It's very important to make sure each model can be identified by someone who knows nothing about model horses. If you asked the person you will put in charge of your estate to point out your most valuable model, could they do it? What about a specific model (Empres, Fortuna, etc)? If they could end up in charge of your collection someday, they need some basic important information about the collection, as well as any special variations that will affect the models' values. The best way to give them this information is by keeping a detailed inventory list of your collection and tag each model so that they can be matched to your inventory list easily. Do this every time you add a horse.
I prefer to use Excel for my inventory list. I'm comfortable with the program and so are the people who would be handling my collection when I pass. It allows me to sort my models in different ways, search easily for a specific model, and I can add or change columns of data anytime. What data do I record? Here's a list of my column headers (colors explained below):
Name (name I assigned to the horse), Brand, Mold, Release Name, Model #, Dates of Production Start & Finish, Date Acquired, Notes, Condition, # Produced (when available), Value.
The headings listed above in blue are used to help identify the horse in my collection. The sections in green are more personal, reminding me of where and when I got the model or why its special to me. These are great to look back on over the years and remember, and may also bring up happy memories for whomever reads it in the future. The items in red have to do with the model's value so that your successor can easily list the model for sale accurately (and also not get fooled by some unscrupulous buyer who claims it isn't worth anything).
Instead of a computer, you can also use a 3-ring binder, although that can be harder to look back at to find something specific. With a 3-ring binder method, you'd probably want to add tabbed sections for different parts of your collection to make them easier to find (one for each model size, or maybe even each mold). You can add a sheet for each model or list several models to a page, whatever works best for you. Two advantages to keeping a paper list are that it's easy to add new models whenever they join your collection, and you could add sheet protector pouches to hold COAs, etc. The downside is that if there were ever a catastrophe, your inventory list could be lost with your models, so if you make it on paper, you should try to take it somewhere to make a photocopy of it annually and store that someplace other than in your home.
I then tag each model with a string tag around one front foot. I buy them in bulk from Amazon (click photo below to view the Amazon page). As of the day I'm writing this, a box of 1000 is $13.91.
[Click image to view Amazon product page]
I write the name I gave the horse on one side and that's the side I display. That will be the primary way my husband will match the horse to the inventory sheet. On the back, I write info to verify the match: Mold & Release, Color, and anything special like a variation. I do this also because it will make it easier for him to reference this information when he goes to sell the horse, and it can be left on the horse if he wants, when he sells it.
By saving it, I mean save that inventory list in a way that's accessible to whomever you've chosen to be in charge of your collection. Can they access your computerized list without a password? (Or your written list without sorting through filing drawers or boxes of random paperwork?) If you save it on the computer, you should also create a backup on a thumb drive and hang it somewhere near your collection, if possible. Inside a shelving unit out of sight is a great place (as long as the right people know it's there), or labeled and hanging near your computer. Every time you update your list, save it to the thumb drive, too. For added security, you may want to keep the original list on a cloud drive, rather than on your boat anchor computer. If that piece of hardware dies, you could lose all your info! For most people, a Dropbox free plan is plenty of room if you're only keeping an inventory list. If you want to keep photos as well (great proof for an insurance claim in the event of a fire or other disaster), Apple offers 50GB of storage for $.99/month, and their iCloud is compatible with Windows computers. We use iCloud for all of Triple Mountain's model photos (tens of thousands!) and haven't filled up that space yet. There are plenty of other cloud programs out there, as well.
If you use a binder, keep it visible near your collection, not buried in a box where only you could find it. Make a copy of it regularly to keep off-site as well, such as in a safe deposit box, for additional security against damage or loss. I recommend sending a copy annually to your home insurer, too.
Share... and Share Again
The info above is great, but only if your family knows where to find it and how to use it! We've heard, "She probably had a list, but we don't know what happened to it. Now we don't know where to start." Your family will be dealing with a lot when you pass, and remembering where you told them (years ago) that your inventory list is kept will probably be impossible. At the time, they didn't want to think about the idea of you dying, so they may not have committed it to memory to start with. Now, there's paperwork everywhere, lawyers, family members who would like things to remember you by, friends knocking on the door.... Most of us know the chaos that follows a death. To insure they can find this important information when they're ready to deal with your collection, you need to not only tell them about it once in passing - You need to have a serious, in-depth conversation about it. Then, every year or so, ask them, "Do you remember where I keep my collection inventory? What else do you need to know to be able to sell them?" You can answer their questions now; later you won't be able to. Make sure they're comfortable with your system. Can they point to your inventory list or pull it up on the computer when you ask? Do they know how to read your foot tags and match them to the list?
Another question: Can they identify your most valuable models by sight? With people coming and going after a death, it's ideal if they can glance over and assure themselves nothing has gone "missing," at least as far as the most valuable models are concerned.
Practice with them. Ask them these questions and then step back and pretend you're not there. How do they do? This doesn't have to be an hour-long session where you drill into them the importance of every model - Gear it to their interest level. For most people, this leans into the old saying, "Keep it simple, stupid." Give them only the info they need to make sure your models get into the hands of other collectors and allows them to make decent money from their sale. Let them know that's your goal.
How's That Will Looking?
Have you got a will? Does it include your wishes for your collection? For some of us, our collection is the most valuable thing we own, outside of possibly our home. Treat it as such by stipulating in your will who is in charge of its disposition and how you'd like that handled. It's a good idea to designate a secondary person as well, in the event the primary executor is unable to fulfill their duties (in other words, if that person predeceases you, cannot be located, etc.).
If there are particular models you'd like to bequeath to particular people, that needs to be in your will! Writing it on the foot tag will be helpful too, but it has to be in the will to be binding. You can also include a note in the will stating where your inventory list can be found - One more bit of insurance against "memory frazzle" following a death.
[If you don't trust your family members to not steal from your collection if you give them value info, you can leave instructions on where to find the inventory list with your lawyer, or in a safe deposit box and keep the key in your will. This is obviously less than ideal, but there are some families that require this added level of security.] Make sure several people know that you have a will at least, and what lawyer has it, so things will go according to your plan.
When we got the call to purchase an estate's collection a couple years ago, it was urgent: They needed to clean out the house within two weeks. They said they'd throw the models in boxes and meet us to make the exchange. Ack! We told them we'd be right up - Please leave them where they are and we'll pack them safely when we arrive. The estate's executor was amused as we carefully wrapped each model in a soft cloth and then placed them safely in totes lined with flannel bed sheets. Does your chosen executor know how to treat your models to keep them in collectible condition? Are they aware how fragile the finishes are, and how much that affects their value? Do they know that heat, humidity, and airtight storage containers can irreparably damage them? Even well-meaning family can cause terrible damage simply because they don't understand how to carefully handle, move, and store models. This info is something you can sneak into conversations here and there if you haven't already.
[An estate herd newly arrived at Triple Mountain, getting baths, some sunshine, sympathy, and encouraging words before they get re-homed.]
Okay, so you've done a great job: You have established in your will who you want in charge of handling your collection. You have an inventory list that is easy to match to foot tags, gives all the info they need to identify and sell the model, and you're sure they know how to find and use it. They know how to handle the models and are willing to uphold your wishes to sell them to collectors rather than toss them out. They may still need some help. Here's where references come in:
For my collection, Roy knows two other collectors that are willing and able to help him identify and sell the horses. These are people I have known and trusted for decades, so I know they'll be honest and compassionate.
If you know people like that in the hobby, preferably people who live close enough to be able to come in person to assist, that's ideal. Otherwise, long-distance friends that they can reach by phone and send photos to are the next best choice.
Another option would be a business that works with models which would provide assistance for a fee. This is often least ideal, as not only will they require payment, but they may hope to purchase the collection for a fraction of its value to resell. However, in some circumstances, this can actually be the best solution. If the person handling your collection is aged, too busy to deal with individual sales, or simply doesn't want the hassle of selling models individually to get the best prices, it can be a relief to have a professional buy the entire collection at once and handle all the challenges of packing, selling and shipping. This was the case with the situation mentioned above where they had two weeks to clean out the house and the executor was a friend who had no knowledge of models or desire to deal with them. For that family, calling a business like Triple Mountain was a relief. They knew the woman's models would be treated respectfully and that we'd insure they get into the hands of other collectors who would cherish them as she once had.
Whichever situation fits you best, make sure the people you wish to use as references are willing to do this. This is another important conversation to have: "If I pass away, would you be willing to help my husband/daughter, etc. sort and sell my collection?" Keep their contact names and numbers of these references right with your inventory list so your family member can easily find and contact them. Try to remember to update them if your references change or move.
This may be an uncomfortable subject, but I hope I've helped you see the importance in estate planning for your collection. Many of your models may have had adventures before they joined your collection, and they should all get to continue to "live on" after your death. Preparing can help insure that, as well as help provide money for your burial costs in the event you pass away unexpectedly. It can also insure your wishes are remembered in regard to making sure special people are given models you want them to have, if that's in your plan.
For our part, Roy recently he said he'd keep them all if I pass away. I made it clear to him that I appreciated that sentiment, but my wishes are that they be made available to other collectors who will cherish them. I'd love for him to keep one (or a few) of his favorites, and then let the rest go. It was a conversation that left us both feeling good - He understood my wishes and I knew he wouldn't keep them out of guilt or sadness, but rather keep just ones that would bring him happy memories. We both hope this doesn't have to be acted on for many decades, but it's a relief to me to know that he's comfortable with it and that my models can continue to be loved, wherever they go.
I'm making available for free an Excel template for Model Inventory, based on the one I created for my own collection. You need to have Excel installed on your computer to open and use the file. (It was created in Excel 360, and may lose some features if opened in an older version, but should still be usable. However, I offer no warranties of usability.)
You can choose to open with Excel or save the file. When you open it, you'll receive a warning about downloading files from the internet. In order to edit the file and add your models into it, you'll need to click "Enable Editing."
Notice that there are two tabs at the bottom of the screen - It will open to the Tips & Instructions tab that explains how you can easily sort and search your collection using the filters I've set up. To start entering you items, move to the Inventory tab. I have entered some models as examples - You can highlight those rows and right-click to delete them.
Feel free to add or delete columns to include whatever information you want in your inventory list!