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GE's Electronic Wine Vault


Whether you're a follower of French couture, American modernism, or Japanese pop culture, you'll find something to your liking at New York's museums this spring.

More than three decades after Coco Chanel's death, knockoffs of her boucl? suits still fill department store racks. To see the originals, visit the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 5 to Aug. 7 (metmuseum.org). The exhibit also features designs of Karl Lagerfeld, who began revitalizing the label in 1983.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn, so it's fitting that the Brooklyn Museum has organized a retro-spective of his works (brooklynmuseum.org/basquiat). The exhibition will run through June 5 before moving to Los Angeles, then Houston. Basquiat got his start spraying graffiti. A prot?g? of Andy Warhol, he was a supernova of SoHo's 1980s art scene before dying from a drug overdose at age 27.

Sure, Hello Kitty, Godzilla, and the crew of the Spaceship Yamato are on display, but a Japan Society of New York exhibit is not just for kids (www.japansociety.org). "Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture," through July 24, explores the dark origins of Japan's otaku or cartoon geek subculture.

Collecting old letters and documents is not only fun but can also be a good invest-ment, according to a new analysis by Abraham Wyner, assistant professor of statistics at the Wharton School. He figures the annualized return from 1949 through 2002, the study period, was 10.3% for best-quality items, comparable to stock returns, and 9.8% for simple autographs. In the study's final decade, top-quality items -- important documents signed by major historical figures -- outperformed stocks, generating an 11.7% annual return, two points more than the Standard & Poor's (MHP) 500-stock index. Wyner's study, commissioned by Ardmore (Pa.) dealer Steven Raab (raabcollection.com), shows it's smart to go for the best material. The top Abraham Lincoln item in Raab's inventory, a letter discussing the Civil War blockade of the South, costs $900,000, vs. $3,000 or less for a good Jimmy Carter piece. Auction house and dealer fees of about 20% to 50% will reduce real-life returns and make quick profits near-impossible. Wyner advises holding onto historical documents for a minimum of 10 years.

Here's one way to avoid losing track of all those bottles in your wine cellar. General Electric's (GE) $25,000 Monogram Walk-in Wine Vault has an electronic inventory management system that lets you locate bottles by country, type, and vintage using a touch-screen monitor. Users can also program the vault for the optimal time to open a bottle. The almost 8-ft.-by-9-ft. freestanding unit, designed for ideal temperature and humidity, stores nearly 1,100 bottles and must be professionally installed in your home (ge.com).


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