July 21, 2024

Vining Risks Loss Due to Inability to Afford Upkeep

This is one article in a series explaining changes at Gordon College, called Define: Gordon

By Taylor Bradford

Editor in Chief

Historical evidence demonstrates that due to overall financial challenges of the college, there were difficulties maintaining valuable assets.

In 2014, the college was close to auctioning off 10% of the Edward Payson Vining collection; a collection of literary materials that included approximately 7,034 rare and valuable bibles and Shakespeare folios.

The decision to auction the materials was made by the administration with the hope that the money raised, roughly $2.5 million, would cover the cost to take care of the rest of the collection.

The college claimed that they did not have proper facilities nor employees to maintain these artifacts, calling the expenditure on the entire collection “financially impractical”.

Michael Ahearn, Gordon’s Vice President for Finance and Administration, was informed by a rare book appraiser that the restoration and building of proper facilities to house the collection would cost between $500,000 and $2 million.

According to the draft of the Complaint for Equitable Deviation that was written by Gordon College’s Attorneys at Goodwin and Proctor in February. 2015, the donors “did not provide any funds specifically dedicated to its maintenance and storage. Therefore funds to pay for these expenses must come from other parts of Gordon’s budget, which are currently allocated to items Gordon believes are more closely related to its charitable and education mission.”

The anticipated money that would have been acquired from the auction was meant to support the documents that were left at the college. In Exhibit D of the draft of the Complaint for Equitable Deviation, a letter written by Ahearn stated that “the proceeds of the sale will be used to create a fund to restore and maintain the balance of the collection and for purposes related to the archives and the library. The sale of these items will create more space in the archives and make the collection more accessible to students, faculty members and scholars.”

The Collection was on display from Dec. 9th to Dec. 15th.
Photo by: Madeline Linnell ’17

The college was scheduled to auction the items at Doyle New York Auction House on April 14. Plans were halted, however, when the college’s decisions were brought into questioning.

The donors of the collection, Charles and Annabel Vining Otis, had requested that the collection remain intact and stay within the college, according to minutes of a meeting between college Trustees and the Otis’ on October 7, 1921.  

The minutes read, “President Wood read a paper containing condition of a gift of the Edward Payson Vining Memorial Library. After discussed it was voted to accept the library on the understanding that the library shall be retained intact as a memorial to Edward Payson Vining and that no material change shall be made in its contents which would affect its material or sentimental value.”

Since the postponement of the auction, there has been no further development to reengage the idea of an auction.

In an article written in the Boston Globe, Professor of History David Goss commented on his desire for the future of the collection. He said, “As long as I’m here, I don’t want to see any of it leave.”

And with that, many faculty and staff members of the college have been finding ways of how to highlight the importance of these literary works through exhibits and future displays.

In December, the Gordon community came together for the first exhibit, “Vining’s Shakespeare: Highlights from the Edward Payson Vining Collection”. The exhibition presented a selection of the Shakespearian folios and keynote speaker and college alumnus, Karin Coonrod. Coonrod talked to the Gordon community about her experience directing “Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in the city of Venice as a tribute to both the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and 500th anniversary of the Jewish ghetto’s formation in Venice,” according to a Tartan article written shortly after the exhibit occurred.

The spokesperson of the college, Rick Sweeney commented on potential future plans of the collection. He said in an email correspondence with the Tartan,  “Other long term solutions under consideration include talking with companies about digitizing the collection to make it more available to scholars. We also hope to explore collaborations with other institutions who have complementary collections—looking to see if we can develop a major digital resource together to increase accessibility and preserve the materials.”

Administration’s Response to “Define: Gordon”


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