Definitions

Collecting

philately

[fi-lat-l-ee]

Inverted airplane airmail stamp, U.S., 1918

Collection and study of postage stamps. The first postage stamps were issued in England in 1840, and in the U.S. in 1842. Stamp collectors usually specialize, collecting stamps of one country, one period of time, or one subject (e.g., birds, flowers, art). Value depends on rarity and condition. An issue of stamps that includes a printer's error may have increased value.

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Systematic accumulation and study of coins, tokens, paper money, and objects of similar form and purpose. The long-held view that coin collecting began with the Italian Renaissance has been challenged by growing evidence that the activity is far more venerable. There exist a variety of literary accounts of collecting from ancient Greek and Roman sources, and there is tangible archaeological evidence that coins have been collected at least from the Roman era. Collecting was perhaps less important during the Middle Ages, but during the 15th–16th centuries it again became more popular, mostly among European aristocrats. In the 17th century the nature of collecting shifted slowly toward serious research. As a result, very broad collections were formed, studied, and catalogued. In the 20th century museums took over the main task of forming large collections of great detail and range. It was also during this time that a popular market for coins began to develop. Previously only the very wealthy purchased ancient coins and the number of sources were few. London became the world's largest numismatic market, serving the interests of public collections and private collectors in many lands. The Internet became an important aspect of coin collecting in the late 1990s, both because it afforded a virtual marketplace that permitted buyers and sellers from anywhere in the world to trade in coins and for the educational effect of the many Web sites devoted to the hobby. Seealso philately.

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The hobby of collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever items are of interest to the individual collector. Some collectors are generalists, accumulating merchandise, or stamps from all countries of the world. Others focus on a subtopic within their area of interest, perhaps 19th century postage stamps, milk bottle labels from Sussex, or Mongolian harnesses and tack.

The items collectors collect may be antique, or simply collectible. Antiques are collectible items at least 100 years old; collectibles are less than antique, and may even be new. Collectors and dealers may use the word vintage to describe older collectibles. Most collectibles are man-made commercial items, but some private collectors collect natural objects such as birds' eggs, butterflies, rocks, and seashells.

Beginning a collection

Some novice collectors start purchasing items that appeal to them, and then slowly work at acquiring knowledge about how to build a collection. Others (more cautious or studious types) want to develop some background in the field before starting to buy items. The term antique generally refers to items which were made at least 100 years ago or more. In some fields, such as antique cars, the time frame is less stringent — 25 years or so being considered enough time to make a car a "classic" if not an antique. In the area of furniture, some experts claim that a true antique must be at least 150 years old.

In general, then, items of significance, beauty, values or interest that are "too young" to be considered antiques, fall into the realm of collectibles. But not all collectibles are limited editions, and many of them have been around for decades: for example, the popular turn-of-the-century posters, Art Deco and Art Nouveau items, Carnival and Depression era glass, etc. In addition, there exists the "contemporary collectibles" category, featuring items like plates, figurines, bells, graphics, steins, and dolls.

Many collectors enjoy making a plan for their collections, combining education, stimulation and experimentation to develop a personal collecting style. And even those who reject the notion of "planned collecting" can refine their "selection skills" with some background information on the how-to's of collecting.

Strategies

Collectors' magazines are one of the most popular means to learn more about the field. These include titles such as Collectors News, Antiques & Collecting, Antique Trader, or Antiques & Collectibles Journal for general antiques and nostalgic collectibles coverage; M.I. Hummel Insights, Village D-Lights, and Precious Moments for specialized coverage on a single collectible brand; and Collector Editions for a roundup of news on modern collectibles. Attending conventions and collectibles shows is another way for a collector to familiarize him or herself with the possibilities. These shows will often include seminars on a variety of subjects such as artists, companies, decorating with collectibles or how to insure a collection. For example, the NCC (National Council of 56 Clubs) has individual member clubs that host regional Gatherings each year for collectors of Department 56 lighted villages.

A collector may find and join a local club for people who collect plates or other limited edition items. Collector publications frequently list the location, date and time of club meetings as a service to new collectors. Collectors who have already narrowed their collecting horizons to the creations of a particular producer may want to join a club that focuses on this producer's work. A potential collector may wish to chat with collectors with similar interests in specialized forums via the Internet. Fellow collectors are usually very happy to share information with new collectors; this includes information about where they have been successful in acquiring their collectibles, where they have struggled and what they are looking for. Collectors' forums are allow for an open exchange of information, sometimes with experts available to answer questions and offer guidance.

Learning from retailers and direct marketers is considered a great way to gain an education in collecting. Collectors may establish a relationship with a retailer that specializes in limited editions. Those on direct mail literature mailing lists can learn a great deal from the support that many dealers supply.

Narrowing a collection

Typically, experts say that a collector should decide when she/he will "zero in" on a specific collecting area rather than buying appealing items of all types. Collecting is considered to be very personal. Other experts believe that some type of limitation is a natural part of an individual's selection process. There are a number of ways in which a collector may locate and buy the limited edition collectibles he/she wishes to own. Giftware and limited edition retailers, direct mail or magazine ads, swap and sell programs, auctions, antiques shops, antiques malls — even house sales may be fertile fields for the collector. One source for information on dealer stores, company information, and much more in the realm of collecting is the Collectors' Information Bureau, found online at collectorsinfo.com Another way to add to a collection is to watch local ads for auctions, antiques shops, flea markets, and household or estate sales.

Some experts contend that collecting should not begin as an investment, that a collector should enjoy him/herself and purchase items that appeal to them. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a collector can become a more intelligent consumer of limited edition items and begin to select items that have an "edge" in the race for market appreciation. In addition to buying for beauty or for what they personally like, collectors might utilize certain checklists and guides. These guides, such as Warner’s Blue Ribbon Book on Swarovski, The No. 1 Price Guide to M.I. Hummel, and the Collectibles Market Guide & Price Index, offer criteria that may be helpful in evaluating plates, figurines, bells, and many other collectibles categories. When making a purchase, it is advised that a collector keep certain key ideas in mind, such as a buyer’s checklist.

Buyer's checklist

1. Maker — does the item's manufacturer have a reputation for quality and fine workmanship?

2. Artistry — is the subject one of broad, but not trite, appeal?

3. Limitation — is the edition limited, yet not so limited that it cannot penetrate the market? If the edition is closed, are the dealers bidding in the secondary market?

4.Commemorative importance — does the item commemorate a seasonal event or a historic event? If so, does it bring new insight to the event? Or is it an event in the history of the artists or of the maker?

5. Material — if the item is made of ceramic, is it porcelain, bone china, or fine china? If it is made of some other material, is it a fine example of its type?

Limited editions

1. Limited by announced quantity, with each item numbered.

2. Limited by announced quantity, with items not numbered.

3. Limited by announced firing period, numbered or not numbered.

4. Limited by year of issue, restricting the quantity to the number produced during the year of issue.

5. Limited by an announced time period which may be more or less than one year.

Collection display

Experts in collecting and interior design agree that a collector should first study the relationship between the living space and the collection they want to display. Both the individuality of the collection and the ambience of the space must be respected. This involves a delicate balancing act in which neither side is overpowered. Many older homes are rich in architectural detail: mantles, lintels over the doors and windows, ledges, and plate rails - all of which can be turned into an advantage for the collector. Modern homes, on the other hand, may be stark — without any architectural detailing. While they may lack inherent charm, these walls can serve as highly visible areas where collectibles can be displayed or stored.

In rooms without a fireplace or other dominant architectural focus, a grouping of collectibles can become the focal point. For the maximum dramatic effect, it is advised that the collector allow only one collection or area of emphasis in each room. More than one grouping dilutes the impact and may make the room appear disjointed or cluttered.

Cataloging, insurance, and maintenance

Collectibles experts tend to agree that a collector should begin keeping a record as soon as they start collecting. Record all details of purchase and price. Without this information, prospective buyers and insurance appraisers may not take the collector's word. It is also recommended to take a photograph or video of each item or groups of items where each may be easily identified. Records can be made in a format suitable for the collector, from a simple spiral notebook to a computer software program designed for collectibles. In addition to the information the collector records, it’s a good idea to keep all written material and certificates which have been received with the collectibles — receipts, flyers and stories, care and handling instructions, etc. They will help to document a collection for resale or replacement in the future. At least one website now exists where collectors can permanently register their collections in an online database with a photograph and description of each item. The collector can affix an inconspicuous identifying tag or seal that is virtually impossible to counterfeit. Having such a record of the collection stored separately is good insurance in case of a disaster such as fire and is an aid to law enforcement in thwarting thieves.

When it comes to insuring a collection, the first step is generally to check one's present homeowner or renter's policy to find out how extensive coverage may be in the case of fire, burglary, or other risk. Some policies carry a fairly high maximum payment for items such as collectibles, while others offer very little of this type of protection. Compare the amount of coverage available with the value of the collection. If the homeowner’s policy is deemed inadequate, collectors have the option of contacting insurance companies that offer special policies for collectibles, such as American Collectors Insurance, The Chubb Group of Insurance, and Collectibles Insurance Agency Also ascertain whether there is coverage for all eventualities — burglary, loss, damage, etc. It is essential as well that one determines how the value of items would be assessed by an insurance company: on replacement value, purchase price, or some type of "depreciated value."

A collector is most likely to obtain the best price for additional coverage or riders on his or her collection if he or she can work with an insurance agent who already does business with them. Approaching an agent with a request for coverage just on a collection — unless it is very extensive and very valuable — is not likely to kindle a great deal of enthusiasm on his or her part. Other collectors might be a good source of information on insurance protection. Caring for a collection falls under two main headings: security and cleaning/maintenance. Display valuables out of reach of children and pets, and in environments where heat, humidity, and sunlight are controlled. Avoid fire hazards, and make sure there are sufficient smoke detectors in good working order. Collectors with extensive holdings may want to consider an alarm system with sensors and electric eye equipment — especially if they living in a crime-heavy area or if the home is well known as one that contains many valuables.

In terms of maintenance and cleaning of collectibles, the proper advice depends upon the medium and the delicacy of the item involved. Many firms supply Care and Handling sheets with their products, and these should be kept for future reference. Collectors can call or write to the Customer Service Department of the manufacturer of an item if they are in doubt as to how to care for it. In general, it is considered good advice to keep hand-painted items out of direct sunlight to avoid fading. Hand-painted items of terra cotta, pewter, and some other materials should not be handled any more than necessary, to avoid smudges or chipping. Never put a collectible plate or other item in the dishwasher — most are not dishwasher safe. Porcelain collector plates may be carefully washed by hand with a mild soap, and spray-rinsed. Most porcelain figurines may be lightly dusted or spray-washed and rinsed with mild soap and a gentle spray of water. Do not immerse figurines in water. To avoid problems with dust and dirt, many collectors favor frames and display cases with protective glass, especially for valuable or intricate items.

Secondary market

The retail price of a collectible is valid only at the moment it was purchased. Once the collectible comes into the buyer’s possession, its value is linked to what is called the secondary market. Once a collectible is purchased, most of the costs associated with the retail price (i.e. advertising, production cost, shipping cost, etc.) must be deducted from the retail cost to determine the object’s immediate value on the secondary market, thus, retail cost is not equivalent to secondary market resale value. Depending on several different factors, individuals, auctioneers, and secondary retailers may sell a collectible for more, the same, or less than what they originally paid for it. These factors include, but are not limited to, condition, age, supply, and demand.

The 1960s through the early 1990s were major years for the manufacturing of contemporary collectibles. While some individuals purchased contemporary collectibles to enjoy and use, many purchased them as investments. Speculative secondary markets developed for many of these pieces. Because so many people bought for investment purposes, duplicates are common. And although many collectibles were labeled as "limited editions," the actual number of items produced was very large. The result of this is that there is very little demand for many (but not all) items produced during this time period, which means their secondary market values are often low.

There is no secondary market for an item unless someone is willing to buy it, and an object's value is whatever the buyer is willing to pay for it. Industry leaders believe that the secondary market is important for several reasons: primarily to allow experienced collectors to upgrade their collections, to stimulate the market and encourage new collectors, and to provide a means for monetary appreciation. To upgrade a collection, a collector may wish to dispose of things that he or she no longer enjoys in order to have the capital to buy things which he or she enjoys more. To stimulate the market, collectors may obtain some good quality pieces that have been traded in the past. They have an opportunity to learn the history of the hobby by owning some of the items that have been favorites in the past. Another reason is to make money, by selling an item with appreciated value.

Price guide

A price guide is a resource such as a book or website that lists typical selling prices. Stamp collectors were among the first to group together to compare prices - the American Philatelic Society was formed in 1886, though the first price guide was the Stanley Gibbons catalogue issued in November 1865. Price guides also cover normal retail shopping, such as cars (Kelley Blue Book and Parker's) or general goods.

On the Internet

Finding retired editions has become much more convenient with the advent of internet auctions and trading. It has never been easier to track down a retired piece, and to reach out to dozens of dealers using e-mail, in the matter of an hour or so. If a collector is looking for a retailer who may trade in both new and retired editions, a resource to try may be the Collectors' Information Bureau at collectorsinfo.com Retailers in retired editions have the advantage of selling the best editions that a manufacturer has ever created. Most retailers tend to focus on one or two specific lines. Their activity in acquiring inventory adds liquidity to the market, and their sales of retired pieces are important to establishing a trend in value which is more consistent than the random sales between individuals that may not be documented in a meaningful way.

The public and dealers alike are using internet auction websites such as eBay to buy and sell limited edition pieces. The thrill of "winning" an auction, and the convenience of shopping from home have contributed to a shift in volume from in-store sales of retired pieces to auction/mail order sales through such auction sites. Leading in Internet auctions, eBay's working assumption is that most people are good and won't defraud others. To protect the integrity of trading conducted through its service, eBay has invested in fraud protection. A small minority of transactions conducted on this site turn out to have been fraudulent, but buyers should take reasonable precautions to protect themselves and not let passions overwhelm common sense when shopping auctions.

When buying expensive retired pieces on eBay, experts recommend using an escrow account for the funds transfer, so if there is a problem with delivery or quality, the buyer will be less likely to lose his or her money. A form of fraud on the buy side involves swapping a defective piece for a good one bought via auction. In this case, the buyer, who may have a repaired piece, or a slightly defective one, buys a mint condition piece from the edition via auction, and when it is received, ships the defective one to the seller, demanding a refund on the auction. When a collector is the seller, he or she is advised to be sure to record the individual item number on the piece before shipping it, so the seller has the facts he or she needs to avoid being taken by this scam.

Intangibles

An alternative to collecting physical objects is collecting experiences of some kind, through observation or photography. Examples include bird-watching; transportation, e.g. train spotting, aircraft spotting, metrophiles, bus spotting, see also I-Spy; and visiting continents, countries, states, counties, and national parks.

See also

References

Notes

Bibliography

  • Philipp Blom (2005). To Have and To Hold: an Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting. ISBN 1-58567-377-3
  • Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Brown's Super Book of Things to Do and Collect: Based on the Charles M. Schulz Characters, Random House, 1984, paperback, ISBN 0-394-83165-9, (hardcover in library binding ISBN 0-394-93165-3)

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