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Editorial: Ours and theirs / Pittsburgh, New York will share Frick materials

Saturday, October 13, 2001

The recent Orphans' Court decision to split the Frick Archive between New York and Pittsburgh will dishearten many Pittsburghers who feel a sense of ownership in the materials because of the Frick family's connections with this region. Better for this area to share these resources, however, than to lose them completely.

The archive, which consists of photos, letters, films and Victorian memorabilia collected by Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick and his family will, under the court-approved agreement, be divided between the University of Pittsburgh and the Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

The agreement was reached only after a lengthy court battle. Two grandnieces of Helen Clay Frick opposed dividing the archive, insisted that it all stay here and sued to stop the transfer.

Certainly there were compelling reasons why the entire collection should have remained here. The history of this city is inextricably tied to the rise of the steel industry and, of course, the late Mr. Frick was one of the foremost captains of that industry. Moreover, the business, civic and home lives of the Fricks were deeply intertwined.

But, barring a successful appeal, the goal now must be to ensure that Pittsburgh's interests are protected in the divvying up of the Frick materials.

Although all of the material, under the terms of the agreement, initially will be shipped to New York City, officials from the University of Pittsburgh and others from this area will spend several days sifting through the material, organizing it and identifying as much of it as they can. The University of Pittsburgh has committed to have somebody in New York "for as long as it takes," as one Pitt source put it, going through the collection on a folder-by-folder, item-by-item basis.

Efforts are under way to figure out how to handle situations when both New York and Pittsburgh may want the same item, and in the end, a duplicate will be based in one location and the original in the other in such situations. It is likely that a third party will be brought in to resolve particularly intractable disputes.

Another positive point is that the Pitt library system will collaborate with the Frick collection in New York and digitize the archive so that historians and others all around the world will be able to use it.

Pittsburghers are understandably disappointed by this decision. But they should recognize that -- in the absence of a reversal of the ruling on appeal -- half a loaf is better than none.



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