Collecting—A Passion or an
by Bob Brooke
Collecting has been called a fad, a disease, an
education, an investment, an escape, and sometimes an obsession. Homer
Eaton Keyes, the founding editor of the Antiques Magazine, used
to call it "the pleasantest form of insanity."
It may be any or all of these things, depending on a
collector–and the collection–but at its best it can be one of the
most stimulating, satisfying, and beneficial pursuits in the world. It’s
also one of the oldest. Every civilization has produced important
collectors, and it’s largely thanks to them that the works of art of
their own and other cultures have been preserved.
Collecting in America is as old as the country itself,
but the collecting of antiques got its first real impetus at the time of
the Centennial Exposition in 1876, the worlds fair celebrating the
nation's 100th birthday. Since then American collectors have constantly
multiplied, seeking and bringing together works of artistic and
historical significance not only from our own past but from the four
corners of the world.
Collecting has grown from the esoteric pastime of a
select few to an absorbing passion of national proportions. And while
trends in collecting come and go, the interest in antiques and
collectibles has constantly increased. Today, American collectors are as
diverse as the things they collect. They’re people of every age and
character, from every educational, social and economic level. They
collect everything from highboys to paperweights. An even though they’re
all individualists, they all have in common an inquiring, acquisitive,
and compelling interest in items of the past.
Collecting is far more than the assembling of more or
less related objects. It’s a purposeful, even creative activity, and
the collections displayed reflect the character of the individual
collector. Collecting anything, antique or modern, is limited to two
things: the money available in the space to be filled. It's a personal
matter what to collect and how best to display it.
The taste of a collector may lead to watches or
clocks, China teapots, toy trains, furniture, jewelry, silver, and any
number of ceramic and pottery pieces. The lucky acquisition of an
admired piece may lead to a determination to get more of the same, or at
least to find out more about the object. Curiosity is a collector's
strongest character trait.
The best collector is an educated one. A collector
must learn to have an "eye" and a "feel" for good,
authentic examples of his or her chosen antique or collectible. He or
she must learn to recognize a true piece and learn how it should fee.
Glassware is a good example. Old pieces have a crispness to their edges
not found on new ones. Depression glass collectors need to improve their
sense of touch since virtually no pieces were signed and many of the
patterns have since been reproduced.
A collector should also collect what he or she likes–furniture,
ceramics, household items, even teddybears. This is more important than
value, especially in the beginning. It’s better to start out small and
upgrade a collection over time than to start out with a bang. And it’s
equally important to hold on to items in a collection for at least 10
years and, even better, 20.
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