What do YOU collect?

One of the most common comments I get at the antique shop is "What do you collect? I bet your house is just full of good stuff!" More on that in a moment...

Since we deal in "antiques and collectables," we see collections every day. Most people collect something, whether it is as formal as a catalogued gallery of signed artwork, or simply a display of vintage utensils hanging on a kitchen wall. Paperweights, toy cars, ball cards, old tools, art glass, license plates, postcards, concrete statues, road signs, toy trains - the list is limited only by your imagination!

Most of our inventory comes from estate auctions, so we have the opportunity to explore some amazing lifelong collections, and we also have to cringe when we see a collection gone horribly wrong - something we see more often than not. After a few decades of estate auctions, I've come to see collecting as a rewarding and deeply personal act. Here are a few things I've learned:

1. Keep your collections separate from your investments. Despite the marketing hype, most "collectables" are not going to increase in value - consult a financial advisor to handle your retirement stuff. As a general rule, higher-priced items will hold their value better than inexpensive stuff, but this isn't always true - a cheap plastic tripod lamp from the 1960s is more "collectable" (and valuable) today than a high-end Stiffel lamp from the same era.

Did you save any of these cheap plastic dime-store lamps from the 1960s? You should have!

2. Consider an "active" rather than a "passive" collection - have things that you can use as well as display! Old mixing bowls and wooden spoons look great in the cabinet, and they also make amazing cookies! Vintage wood planes and carving tools work just as well today as they did 100 years ago. Jewelry, belt buckles, and other clothing and accessories are also fun and usable collections. At a recent estate sale, I got to tour the workshop of an elderly gentleman who built models of antique ships, carefully researched from his personal library of reference books, while he listened to recordings of sea shanties and clipper ship sound effects.

3. Avoid mass-produced "collectables." There's a reason we don't stock collector plates and Hummel figures and Nascar models - there is nothing unique or interesting about them, there are already millions of them on the secondary market, and they tend to clutter up resale shops (and homes). Don't get me wrong, if you truly enjoy looking at Precious Moments figurines, go for it! There are currently 62,711 listed on eBay. Oh, and as a side note - "limited edition" is manufacturer code for "we're only going to make as many of these suckers as we can sell."

Not particularly precious

4. Don't let your collection become a burden. When you get tired of one, get rid of it and start a new one! One of the saddest things we see at auction is a huge collection of something that hasn't been touched for decades. There is no joy in a cabinet crowded with hundreds of "collectable" cups and saucers, covered in a thick layer of dust and grime. Sometimes I wonder how many collectors despise their own accumulation and secretly dread birthdays and holidays, knowing that every gift they receive will be yet another one of THOSE things. When the prospect of adding something new to your collection no longer makes your heart go pitter-patter, it's time for a change.

5. Make it personal! Any group of related or unrelated items that speaks to YOU is the perfect collection (and this applies to home decor too!). Any item that brings joy or sparks a fond memory should be part of your gathering. A seashell picked up during a honeymoon beach trip, a ticket stub from an amazing concert, a hand-made wind chime, a hood ornament from your first car - the best collections are those that grow from love and don't have a "collector's price guide."

So, what do I personally collect? Nothing, really. Our shop is usually crowded, the auctions are long rows and huge tables of "stuff," the van is usually loaded, and the sorting room always seems to have a pile to be unpacked, cleaned, repaired, and priced. Other than a few shelves of my favorite books, my apartment is pretty much just the bare necessities - I guess I appreciate the Zen calmness of an uncluttered, minimalist space.

One that got away

That said, I've owned some really amazing things over the years, rare and unique antiques, unusual retro and vintage items. Often these things are sold in a matter of days or even hours – and yes, there are some things I regret selling. For the most part, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the memories of past treasures, rather than owning the actual item. I guess my collection is the incredible object I might find at the tomorrow's auction, flea market, or yard sale. Just in case, I'll set my alarm for an hour earlier than usual - I don't want to miss anything!

Life's good, y'all... ~Wes