“This is an historic day,” Camden Archives and Museum Director Katherine Richardson declared in the Museum’s Whitely Room a little after 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The occasion? A property sale closing. Specifically, the signing of several closing documents officially transferring Ross Beard Jr.’s collection of military artifacts, spy gear and other memorabilia -- including dozens of antique rifles -- to the city of Camden.
The city is buying the entire collection, including items that had been kept at Beard’s home and at the S.C. Military Museum in Columbia, for $700,000. The purchase is being made through the issuance of hospitality tax funds in seven $100,000 annual payments. Pending further inventory of items recently or still to be transferred items, the collection’s appraised value stands at $2 million.
In addition to Beard, those signing the closing papers included Camden Mayor Tony Scully, City Manager Mel Pearson, Attorney Ed Royall and certified public accountant Austin Sheheen. Along with Richardson, those witnessing the event included City Attorney Lawrence Flynn; City Clerk Brenda Davis, who notarized each document; Friends of the Archives and Museum Vice-Chair Johnny Miller; Camden Archives and Museum Commission Chairman Frank Goodale; Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd; and Camden Fire Chief John Bowers.
Beard, who just celebrated his 85th birthday, thanked chiefs Floyd and Bowers for their help in ensuring the collection’s security at the archives.
“This all happened because of the cooperation of the city police and fire departments, the Archives, Friends of the Archives and city officials,” Beard said.
In a letter addressed to the participants as well as Camden City Council, Beard said moving to the city 63 years ago “turned out to be one of the smartest things I have done in my life.” He said Tuesday marked his “dream to find a perfect home for my collection a reality.” Beard said he loves Camden and that having the collection permanently housed at the Archives is a small way of saying “thank you” for the many awards he has received while serving in various capacities in Camden.
“It is my hope that these pieces will attract many, many tourists to Camden and will help our merchants,” he said both in the letter and at Tuesday’s signing. “I know of no other city that would have turned their fire and police departments over to me to relocate this collection and, I add, that never have I seen men and women work so hard and do so much to not only move the collection to Camden, but to protect it during that move.”
During the closing, Beard said four other groups in other states had offered to purchase the collection, but that he decided to keep it in Camden where he has lived for so long and has been “so nice to” him.
When it came for Beard to sign the last document he needed to -- the collection’s actual bill of sale to the city -- he noted that this wasn’t the first time he’d had to sign his name multiple times at the Archives.
“I had to sign my name what seemed like 5,000 times during the inventory,” he said, adding that it took about three and a half hours to do so.
Beard also said that some additional pieces have made it into the collection.
“And I plan to talk to other elderly collectors around the state to try to get them to participate in the collection,” he said.
All the papers signed, Mel Pearson handed an envelope to Mayor Scully to present to Beard.
“It’s not often that we get to do this,” Pearson said.
Beard opened up the envelope to reveal a $100,000 check, the first of the seven payments for the collection.
Portions of the Ross Beard Jr. Collection have been on display since May 2013 in the Museum Wing. An additional set of double-sided cases have been installed in the center of the wing, with additional firearms on display on one side and other exhibits on the other.
The Camden Archives and Museum is located at 1314 Broad St. at Monument Square.