By Mark A. Roeder
Collecting is easy, but so is making mistakes. I’ve made several over the years. When I was a kid, I assembled a Depression glass collection that included over a thousand pieces. That was a mistake for me because I found after a while I couldn’t do much with my collection besides admire it. I’d have been far better off putting most of my money into furniture. I’m not sorry I bought all that Depression glass. I enjoyed it. I had fun collecting it and when I sold it I was left with funds to buy antiques I enjoyed even more, but I’d have done better if I hadn’t purchased quite so much glass. Another mistake of mine was buying too many spinning wheels. Lovers of old spinning wheels might argue that there’s no such thing as enough, let alone too many, but I bought so many that some had to be stored in the attic or shed. I should’ve purchased fewer and used the rest of my collecting money on something else. As mistakes go, mine weren’t too bad, but I could have done better. That’s why it’s wise to think ahead and assemble a collection that’s right for you, your home, and your bank account.
The first question one should ask oneself when beginning a collection is; “Do I have enough money to collect what I desire?” While it is possible to locate just about anything, given enough persistence and time, not everything is affordable. I would love to start a collection of autographs of famous individuals that are of interest to me: U.S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Howard Carter, and others, but I do not collect these autographs because I cannot afford them. At several hundred to a few thousand dollars each they are too expensive. I could eventually add any one of these autographs to my collection, but it would mean focusing all my funds for a very long time on a single piece. I might not be able to buy anything else for years and I’d miss out on all the fun of collecting. Buying a piece that costs several hundred dollars isn’t right for me. Thinking this though has kept me from making a mistake.
When choosing a new collecting area, check out the prices. Before buying anything determine if that area of collecting is within your budget. If not, perhaps it would be wise to select another area that will not strain your resources. Several years ago I began collecting silver Roman coins. I had to cease collecting them because I couldn’t afford it. At $50 to $100 each, the specimens I was buying were too expensive. I would have been better off pursuing another, less expensive, collecting area. On the other hand, I did have fun collecting Roman coins and still enjoy my little collection. Each collector must decide for himself or herself just how big and how complete a collection must be to be enjoyable. Perhaps what you desire to collect is so expensive you’ll only be able to afford a single piece each year. If, knowing this, you still want to collect it, then go ahead. The choice is up to the individual collector. The point is to be aware of the possible drawbacks to your intended collection. Planning ahead will allow you to choose the area that is best for you.
A question only slightly less pressing than financing is; “Will I have enough space for my collection?” Having moved from a home into a small log cabin and then into apartments and back into a home, I have first-hand experience with lack of space. Many of my old collections have been dispersed simply because there wasn’t room for them. If there is not enough room to properly display and store a collection the enjoyment derived from it will be greatly diminished. Any collection that must be boxed away in the closet, garage, or attic quickly loses its appeal. Keep this in mind when starting a collection. Will you be able to display and enjoy it, or will it be exiled to the closet or garage?
Even a single antique can be a problem if there is no room to enjoy it. Several years ago I purchased a rare patent spinning wheel. I was excited at the time as I have a special affection for spinning wheels. Later, I came to regret my purchase. This particular spinning wheel was over ten feet in length, which makes it impossible to display in most of the places as I lived. As a result, it sat in storage until I finally sold it. Before making a purchase, make sure there is room for it in your home. Antiques stored out in the garage aren’t very enjoyable. It is better to pass such pieces up in favor of something that can be placed in the home and admired on a daily basis.
A collection need not be large, or even complete, to be enjoyable. For nearly fifty years I’ve collected green Depression glass in the parrot pattern. I’ll probably never assemble a complete set – it’s far too expensive and too difficult to find. I knew this going in, however, and determined that I would enjoy a collection of green parrot without ever assembling an entire set. Each collector must decide if the number of available items will be sufficient to meet their definition of a collection.
The last question to ask is; “Will this collection be appropriate for my home and lifestyle?” Before purchasing any antique determine what its chances for survival will be in your home. Family members, pets, and guests must all be considered. The potential dangers to antiques in my home are a Yorkie/Shih Taz named Skye and my two cats, Dasher and Banshee. Banshee has a bad habit of clawing furniture and Skye wets on rugs. I take these dangers into consideration. I purchase no antique rugs because they wouldn’t last long. I passed on a great buy on an Empire sofa with its original upholstery because I knew Banshee would shred it.
Visitors pose another threat. My parents have no wild dogs in their home to endanger their antiques, but they do have Uncle Tom. While a very nice person, he has no concept of the value or fragility of antiques. He thinks nothing of plopping down on a delicate Victorian settee or setting a leaky coffee cup on a marble top table. Before purchasing an antique take all these “living dangers” into account. I do so, not only for the protection of the antiques, but for the comfort of family and guests. Who wants to live in or visit a home where one must be constantly on guard to keep from damaging antiques?
Before starting a collection take all the variables into account; cost, space limitations, and the appropriateness of the collection to your home and lifestyle. Mistakes made in collecting antiques generally aren’t too tragic, but a little thought can increase the enjoyment of collecting. Thinking ahead will help you to choose a collecting area that is right for you.