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Worry about space later, collect now
By Barbara Beem

Insights Column

Kristin Vichich, I feel your pain. But I’m here to tell you, once you’re bitten by the collecting bug, it doesn’t get any better as time goes by. And maybe it gets worse.

A word of explanation: Kristin, you might recall, recently wrote an insightful letter to the editor to AntiqueWeek, explaining that although she loves wonderful things and recognizes a good buy when she sees one, she is young and not in a position to amass a collection to fill a house and beyond. First of all, let me say that I think we need more young people in this world like Kristin. And my hat goes off to her Mom, who should be proud that she successfully instilled such positive values in her daughter.

But here’s the thing, Kristin. When you’re young, you don’t have money to purchase wonderful treasures, nor do you have the proper space to display them. When you’re a bit older, you still don’t have the money, thanks to mortgages, insurance, and orthodontists. To make matters worse, your space is probably invaded by the prying hands of little ones. And then you get a bit older, and you start to wonder what in the world you’re ever going to do with all of the stuff you’ve amassed.

I guess it’s called life.

For myself, I’m, er, well, let’s just say I’m of a certain age. I still have a lot of stuff from my Baby Boomer upbringing, and having married a true packrat (he prefers to think of himself as a collector extraordinaire), we have accumulated a lot of stuff in our years together. Add to this the fact that we haven’t moved in a quarter of a century, and you can begin to imagine what I’m talking about. We have stuff everywhere: all through the house, on every piece of furniture (and there’s a lot of that), in every closet (ours is an old house, so here, we’re a bit challenged), in the basement, in the loft over the garage – at least we haven’t resorted to one of those rental pods. Yet.

And still, when we have a free weekend, what do we do? If we’re away, how do we spend at least one afternoon? You guessed it: we go looking for more stuff.

Now of course, we can’t buy every good buy. And over the years, having looked at a lot of good stuff and even more not-so-good stuff, we’ve developed a decent eye. With all of this comparison-shopping, it stands to reason that we know when something is drastically under priced. And with potential storage space in our house, it’s tough to say no.

This is complicated by the fact that our taste has changed over the years. We won’t get into the two Eastlake chairs that continue to get pushed about our dining room. Instead, let’s consider Ken’s pottery collection, a collection that began rather haphazardly with Roseville pottery, anything blue, but then, anything priced way under its value. Too easy. Soon this collecting trend gave way to Ken’s collection of Bennett pottery. He built a four-tier shelf (above) to hold that burgeoning collection, and needless to say, within a month, that display wall unit was hopelessly too small. So now it’s very special Bennett pieces. And what has become of the countless plates, pitchers, and toothbrush cups? You guessed it: they’re in boxes next to the blue Roseville.

And don’t begin to mention paint-by-number pictures.

For myself these days, I’m trying to limit my purchases to small things, or at least useful things. I have a few postcard collections going, but I can’t always remember what I’ve bought and what I haven’t bought. My accumulation of Bakelite is pretty interesting, but now I’m on the lookout for milk glass jewelry (that’s another story). In the past three years or so, I’ve bought my share of Vera napkins, E. Phillips Oppenheim suspense novels, and piano sheet music. Do I need more? Do I stop looking? What do you think?

Meanwhile, my folks have long enjoyed the illustrations of Maude Humphrey, mother of Humphrey Bogart. Sweet and sentimental, these turn-of-the-century drawings of beautiful women and cuddly children are hard to resist. For our part, finding a new picture was always the perfect way to please at Christmas or on their wedding anniversary. But the sad fact remains: they’re running out of wall space. How, though, do you call a halt to a lovely collection?

So you see, Kristin, this whole collecting thing is really a problem. My best advice to you is to buy – right now – what you like. Everything you like. Worry about what to do with it once you get it home. Find a place for it somewhere. Enjoy it. If it gets damaged, well, those things happen. Live for the moment. Collect on!

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