The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

How to Collect Anything ...

After 20 years of writing about collecting, working with collectors, seeing some of the best collections anywhere, hearing the stories about how those collections came to be, writing articles about collecting, and finally editing nearly innumerable books about collecting ranging from antiques and collectibles spanning hundreds of years and many nations, I have a few observations to pass along about collecting.

Collecting is an impulse we all have at some level or other. However, few people follow through seriously on the impulse and collect well. Here are a few things you need to do to collect with confidence and joy.

Where do we begin when we want to collect. Well, let's begin with what delights you. What objects raise your spirits? What things do you want to have around because they bring you joy? Take a moment to think of a few. Start with lost things from your own childhood. Do any of those fill you with nostalgia? Shiny Brite Christmas ornaments like the one pictured above, perhaps?  Let's move on a bit, putting away those colorful balls, chugging trains, sweet dolls, rugged action figures, and all the rest. What items from your parents' or grandparents' homes speak to you of happy times? What mysterious things intrigued you? What beautiful things stirred something inside you? Which objects could you not resist touching, examining, exploring?

If these do not inspire you, perhaps you have a penchant for history. Are there objects from the historical past that inspire or excite you? Perhaps gentlemen's or ladies canes fascinate you in all their forms. Western wear, the shooting irons or squirrel rifles of yore, bootleggers' stills, fine dinnerware of centuries long past requiring many rules and more pieces to hold successful formal dinners, simple yet elegant ceramics from Japan, aged cars or motorcycles, books by great minds of ages long past, shady advertising, souvenirs of places or events long gone? Did anything stir in you just now? Find that thing or those things that intrigue you most. Maybe you have to look to the materials rather than the objects first. Glass, metal, ceramic, plastics, mother-of-pearl, what will it be? I heard an author recently speak most intelligently of the miracle of stainless steel. His passion was contagious and his knowledge was wide spanning.

Before you settle on something to collect, you want to sit yourself down and ask yourself very hard questions about your own finances. Can you afford to pursue the thing that excites you the most? Be honest. If not, scale down to something within your means, something that won't leave you or your family struggling. That would be a crime, an obscene crime.

Once you've settled on something, take the time to learn all you can about that object. Read widely, go to shows where those items are available, talk to dealers and collectors who know about and love those items ...  and those who really love them will want to talk about them. Don't be afraid to admit you need to learn. How else will you get started? Learn the difference between marks made by manufacture and damage done over time. Find out how the materials your objects of passion age and what sorts of damage they are subject to. If that collecting object is popular, find out if it is currently or has in the past been faked. You'd be surprised how many items have been reproduced, some well and others quite shabbily.

Check out a few online auctions sites to see the range available in the thing that intrigues you most. Head out to wherever the dealers may be found in brick and mortar stores. Get to know those objects of fascination. Get to handle them and know them personally.

Then and only then, begin to collect. And when you do, collect for joy, not for investment. Collect the best you can afford rather than the most of that particular thing. But make sure those objects you collect give you pleasure. Be careful not to become addicted to the thrill of the hunt. Some collect avidly and constantly, piling up objects at home but never satisfied. They are hooked on the hunt, the stories of objects "bagged," deals made, swaps performed, and comrades met. Don't let the objects become all pervasive in your life. If you find yourself wanting no one else to touch those things, no one else to enter the room you have set up for them, you have tipped over the edge from healthy collecting to a form of idol worship that will not serve you or your family well. Take care.

Now we shift from "dos" to "don'ts." I mentioned "shady advertising" before. Let's return to that. The really, truly collectible things are things that have been owned, used, and most of them have been destroyed through use ... particularly if those objects were used and enjoyed. This being said, anything that has the term "collectible" plastered on the box is most certainly not. Over the years many "collectible" fads have come and gone. None are worth naming. None are worth you time and money. Any object made whose sole purpose is to part would-be collectors who are in it for a quick cash windfall with their hard earned cash are useless items. I have heard stories of people whipped into frenzies seeking such items knocking down the elderly to get to the last such boxed "treasure" on the shelf. Often these limited edition collectibles appear again in some other packaging six months later with much less fanfare. Steer clear. These shiny objects are destined for future trips through yard sales to landfills. Be suspicious of any object that suddenly has "investment experts" popping up on TV and radio shows like dandelions telling you which of these collectibles are the rarest of the rare and sure to put your kid through college. It just ain't happening.

If the objects you love suddenly begin increasing in value to dizzying heights ... it is most likely time to either content yourself with what you have ... or sell. Continuing to pay incredibly high prices for objects all out of proportion to their intrinsic value is setting yourself up for a crash. It is quite likely the market will drop as a bubble pops loudly all around you and your overheated antiques or collectibles. It happens periodically when enthusiasm outpaces good sense.  

That's enough for now. It's certainly enough to get you started. My intent here is not to gore anyone's ox, just to provide some sound advice. You'll derive a great deal of pleasure from the process and in time find yourself chasing after some truly elusive objects in your collecting field. It can be very entertaining and a great diversion from the troubles of this world. In the end, enjoy your collecting hobby without letting it consume you.

Oh yeah, one final thing about the most elusive object in your line. Sometimes items are rare because they are of high value as they were made very well, very expensively, and very briefly ... but quite often items are rare because they were never popular at all ... they were just considered butt-ugly by all potential buyers, never sold, and were quickly discontinued. You might want to avoid those items. But hey, you might just love butt-ugly and if so, well, good for you!

Good luck! Enjoy!


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