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The best collector is an educated one. The Educated Collector will feature information about antique and collectible objects to help collectors learn more about what they collect. Each column will give a brief history of a particular type of antique or collectible, known makers, and something about the market for it.

The Best Collector is an Educated One
by Bob Brooke

Whether a collector collects for pleasure or investment, he or she must develop an "eye" and a "feel" for good, authentic examples of a chosen antique or collectible.

In the vast timeline of history, collecting antiques is a relative newcomer, having gotten its first real impetus around the Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia in 1876. Since then, thousands of people have collected everything from hand tools to tea sets, from glassware to armoires. Some of these items have historical significance. Others recall the everyday life of ordinary people.

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.

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. And even though they're all individualists, they all have in common an inquiring, acquisitive, and compelling interest in items of the past.

The best of these collectors is an educated one. They had to learn to have an "eye" and a "feel" for good, authentic examples of his or her chosen antique or collectible-to recognize an authentic piece and learn how it should feel. 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 manufacturers signed virtually no pieces and many of the patterns have since been reproduced.

There are many ways collectors can learn about antiques. The most obvious is by reading books-especially those on particular kinds of antiques, price guides, and antique encyclopedias. Collectors can also find information about what they collect in antiques newspapers like AntiqueWeek and magazines like Southeastern Antiques and Collectibles.

But antique collecting is a hands-on avocation. While visiting museums and historic houses can help increase a collector's knowledge of how objects have been used in the past, neither allows visitors to touch pieces. However, the information gained from such visits is immeasurable. It's here that a collector learns to discern real antiques in a historical setting.

To learn how an antique or collectible feels, a collector needs to visit antique shows and shops. At the former, the collector will usually find knowledgeable dealers, many of whom are specialists who only do shows. Most are more than willing to share the knowledge of their specialty.

Unfortunately, not all antique dealers are as knowledgeable as most people believe. While higher-end dealers make it their business to know the provenance, or history, of items they're selling, lower-end dealers concentrate on the selling part of the antiques trade, satisfied to move pieces quickly without knowing much about their history.

In short, the better informed a collector is about what he or she collects, the better chance of buying additional pieces at prices below their market value-uncovering real bargains. The bottom line in antique collecting is to buy low and hopefully sell high, but that usually doesn't occur until after holding onto items for at least 10 years.


As an avid collector of a variety of antiques and collectibles for the last 20 years, Bob Brooke knows what he's writing about. Beginning with one modest English writing box, he's developed a variety of collections. Besides writing about antiques, specializing in furniture, Brooke has also sold at flea markets and worked in an antique shop, so he knows the business side, too. He's a regular feature writer for AntiqueWeek, and also writes for a number of other publications and Web sites, including British Heritage, Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine, OldandSold.com, and many others.

Author: Bob Brooke
URLs: The Antiques Almanac - www.theantiquesalmanac.com
Writing at Its Best - www.bobbrooke.com

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