Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why do you collect?

Everyone collects for different reasons. A while back, we offered an encyclopedia of sorts of the various types of collectors out there. From trophy hunters to bargain hunters, we covered them all. Of course, that was tongue-in-cheek (sort of). There are, in reality, a wide range of reasons that folks collect, and why you collect is, in many ways, as important as what you collect. In fact, we believe that you should think long and hard about why you collect, or want to collect. Knowing the why can help you better develop the what and can help make collecting more enjoyable.

For example, I (Andrew) am a history collector. In other words, I look for objects that have a story, a known past, a connection to an important event or person. Or I look for objects that help me fill in a piece of the puzzle in my research--identifying a stenciled motif on a Midwestern German blanket chest or a type of inlay on a southern Ohio chest of drawers.

Hollie, on the other hand, is more of an aesthetic collector. She looks for objects that, quite simply, she likes to look at. Age, origin, etc. don't matter as much to her, so long as she likes how it looks. She regularly tells me that our house would look a whole lot different if she were filling it by herself. From William Gedney photographs to Vermont painted furniture, Hollie wants to live with things that make her smile just to look at them.

In my work at Garth's, I usually try to determine why a potential consignor collected what they did. It can help me establish a good rapport with them, and often makes the consignment process more enjoyable for all involved.

In our upcoming firearms and militaria auction, there is a collection of 20th century items (uniforms, patches, buttons, etc.) that come from a central Ohio collector. Honestly, it's not big dollar stuff...not the rarest stuff, but I was immediately struck by the encyclopedic nature of it. There are complete field AND dress uniforms from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Additionally, there is a darn near complete collection of headgear (helmets and hats). Hundreds of patches, dozens of medals and badges, and, though some might not like it, a thorough assemblage of Nazi armbands. Clearly this is a collection that was put together carefully and thoughtfully. But, of course, I wondered why?

As it turns out, the collector was an addict. Fortunately, he got help and completed his 12 steps and got sober. But he found that he needed to keep himself occupied to stay that way. So, he threw himself into collecting 20th century American militaria. Flea markets, surplus stores, antique shops...a patch here, a helmet there, probably never spent more than $100 at a shot. But over the years, he amassed an impressive collection. But now, 20-some odd years later, he's still sober and has decided to move on and sell his collection.

The "why" of collecting is different for each collector, just like the "what" is. And that's okay. If we all collected the same things for the same reasons, auctions and shows would be pretty boring. Diversity is a good thing; it keeps the marketplace interesting. And an ever-widening range of motives for collecting can only help bring more collectors to shows and auctions. And that's a very good thing.


james conrad said...

Yeah, interesting post. I collect because i am fascinated by the construction details of early furniture (how it was made). That's not to say i dont have an emotional connection to the pieces i collect, i do, but i can spend hours examining how a piece of furniture was built.

Laura LeBlanc said...

I love your blog and your column for Maine Antiques Digest! As for why I collect, I think aesthetics lead me, but once I fall in love with an object, I want to learn everything I can about it, who might have made it, how it was made, and who might have owned and treasured it in the past. It's important to me to surround myself with objects that have had a life of their own before they became a part of mine, and will live a life long after mine is history. Thank you for inspiring me to think about my own collecting habits and for enriching my collecting experience!

Hollie and Andrew said...

These two comments help illustrate the wide range of reasons we have for collecting. And these numerous and varied reasons are exactly the reason the trade needs to open its mind. We are not all collectors of simply the "best" that we can afford.

james conrad said...

One of the things i miss about auctions/previews i used to attend but hardly do anymore because of the internet? Socializing with folks and talking antiques. It was fun, informative and entertaining.

Hollie and Andrew said...

Why don't you attend any more? The internet certainly has made it easy to collect without going to auctions or shows, but the social aspect of collecting is something we hear so many folks remember fondly. We greatly enjoy that aspect of collecting and that's one of the main reasons we go to auctions or shows (truth be told, we buy more online and by phone than we do when we are actually at shows and auctions).

james conrad said...

Why dont i attend anymore? Well, its a different age now, one can cover so much more ground in their area of interest on the net. Plus, although i fondly remember talking antiques prior to the auction, sitting in a chair for hours waiting for my lot to come up wasnt that much fun, I'd rather spend my antique time researching, bidding on the net.

I notice some houses trying to fight back against the internet age but i think they are making a big biz mistake, not only for themselves but their consignors as well.

james conrad said...

I forgot to add, i still attend some shows/previews however not nearly as many as i did say 5 years ago. Its just a different age now. Those within the antique industry who invest in websites and offer high quality sites/pics/condition reports will, i predict, do well, and those that dont, wont

Hollie and Andrew said...

James--you are spot on. All business changes, now faster than ever. Anyone who thinks they can survive this market correction intact by doing business the same ol' way is kidding themselves. The internet is a critical marketing tool for dealers and auctions alike.

The internet has changed the face of the antiques industry, but there still is, we think, room for tradition, i.e., creating events out of shows and auctions. Events that collectors, young and old, attend as much to socialize with each other as they do to add to their collections.

Laura LeBlanc said...

I think it's hard to discover antiques and collecting online, though once one has the passion for it, the internet is invaluable for research and for purchasing. But the tactile experience of handling an object at a show, a shop or an auction preview is just something that the internet doesn't offer. Most of the things I collect, I bought the first one at a show or a shop – and usually an approachable and knowledgeable dealer helped me take the plunge (or pushed me over the edge, whichever metaphor is more apt.) Also, to me, some shows and auctions are like museums except you can touch the things – say Antiques Week in New York in January. Finally there’s the travel aspect that’s missing in the web experience – there are towns I’ve come to love that I visit primarily because of shows. All this to say that while I imagine the internet is crucial to any dealer or auctioneer that wants to survive, I don’t see it ever replacing shows, shops or auctions.

Hollie and Andrew said...

We love going to shows and auctions, but probably 80% of our collection was purchased, or at least first seen, online. I (Andrew) think one's enjoyment of antiquing online depends on what you collect and why you collect. If one collects silver, the internet is your oyster! But if you collect things that just "speak to you," then it's hard to feel that connection via a digital image.

Our next two columns will be all about the need for the trade to aspire to become more relevant to young folks. Right now, antiques are not relevant enough to draw many young folks into shows, shops, and auctions. So, the internet may be the vehicle we can use to reach out to those under 40 and show them that we can be relevant.

Ed said...

I'm a young, 2nd generation dealer just beginning to start my own collection. I spend a lot of time looking at different markets online or travelling in person when possible (or trying to talk myself into travelling to new spots) - P4A's and Garth's websites are both great resources. I have a checklist of things that I look for, but I usually just stand in front of a piece and let it speak to me. If it makes economical sense and I'm still listening after 30 seconds, I usually buy it.

Your MAD column on this subject stood out with the tongue and cheek used to classify quirky collectors. I hope you get a chance to let loose or blow off more steam with future columns.

I look forward to reading your MAD column every month. An informed perspective on the industry without biased expectations from the days of yore.

Hollie and Andrew said...

We're thinking of following up our "types of collectors" column with a column dedicated to some of the ridiculous collectors' terms out there. If you have any suggestions, let us know!

We appreciate your kind words, Ed. We love having a monthly opportunity to opine about the marketplace. And we kinda like blowing off steam once in a while, too. Part of the reason the marketplace isn't attracting many young folks is because so many of its participants are stuck in their antiquated ways. We, and other young folks in the business, are trying to shake things up a bit....stir the pot, so to speak.