Irreplaceable 'memories' going under the hammer this weekend

Desperate to stop the auction which will fragment the print collection of a lifetime, Michael Isaachsen is on the phone to see if I can point him to a lazy $100k which might halt the weekend's historic auction.

Presses, composing equipment and even early telephone exchanges are among lots due to be auctioned on Saturday and Sunday, as the landlord of the Melbourne Museum of Printing seeks to recover rent outstanding on his West Footscray building.

Isaachsen says his family has sold their house, and when the mortgage was paid off, gave him the balance towards the estimated $500,000 that is due. It needs $50,000, probably $100,000 to clear what's still outstanding, he tells me.

We check through a mental list of those with the means and possibly the inclination to help out. He needs introductions and a positive word that might trigger a donation... and he needs it within 24 hours.

I mention a few possible benefactors he hasn't approached, and we talk about how to pitch the desperate MMOP to them as a worthwhile cause. Without mentioning them, I even appraoch a couple of my own contacts - one of whom had already been in touch - but time will tell whether or not either of us has drawn a blank.

During the conversation, he tells me how, while playing truant in Adelaide, he would pedal past school and on to the "much more interesting" telephone and telegraph office, and was later also to develop a fascination for "how printing works".

"It was just before my tenth birthday, and when my birthday came, I was given a small printing press," he says.

That little press - and items of telephone and telegraph equipment Isaachsen has accumulated along the way - are irreplaceable memories up for auction at the weekend.

And model trains: Isaachsen recalls a notable collection in Adelaide where the scale railway was controlled from multiple points. The young Isaachsen devised and built a telephone system by which the "signalmen" could communicate.

His own model railway is also among lots due to go under the hammer on Saturday and Sunday. At 10 am on Saturday, auctioneer Jason Gollant, gavel at the ready, will start taking bids on the 750-plus lots remaining after an online sale closed today (Tuesday).

Isaachsen, incidentally, estimates that only about $40,000 might have been raised from the lots which he surmises have already been sold.

Will the sale yield the sort of revenue needed to get the landlord off his back; do local collectors have the level of funds expected, or will it come from overseas... and how ready will they be to play a role in breaking up the collection?

A "difficult" Isaachsen may be his own worst enemy, but I don't know anyone who wishes him or his museum ill. As one of the contacts I approach privately put it: "I'm hoping some enthusiasts buy equipment and it has a second life."

I'll second that.

Peter Coleman

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