Get It

Once again there are as many ways to acquire, as there are collections to acquire. Brick and mortar purchase, receiving…

How did you come by your collection(s)?

Once again there are as many ways to acquire, as there are collections to acquire. Brick and mortar purchase, receiving gifts, live auctions, trading with other collectors, dumpster diving, the internet and of course inheriting are probably the most common ways collections are brought into our lives.

When my grandparents passed my mother inherited several collections. My brother spoke up and received the family slides (10 boxes of them- 300 in each). My grandfather was an avid hobbyist photographer. I received the collection of Avon steins for my husband. I asked for and was given family letters and postcards. As my grandmother was an Avon salesperson for over 50 years, my mother has all her Ms. Albee ceramic awards (various poses of the likeness of the first Avon lady).  These are certainly lovely to have but we do more than just receive collections when someone passes away. We may be inspired to expand them!

Then again, there is the converse reaction of not wanting them at all! I received (and still have today) a large Italian globe in a stand from the 1950’s that is styled after the globes of the Renaissance. It is hollow so it can hold alcohol and bar tools. The previous owner inherited it from his parents but did not wish to keep it as it carried bad memories of alcoholism in his family. He was quite happy to give it to me free of charge if I could come over and take it away (he had it in the garage). I adored its style and felt good about helping a friend purge a bad memory. My acquisition was his healing and my gain. He was definitely in the final phase with the piece, but for me I’m still in the love it (and use it) phase of the cycle. And that’s just one way this cycle happens. I’ll have a lot more to say about the inheritance of collections related to storing and selling later. 

Before the Internet (and I know it’s hard to imagine life before it) most collections were acquired from hobby stores, gift or antique shops and traveling shows of a variety of collecting categories; coins, stamps, guns, books or record shows, just to name a few. On occasion I’ve gone to flea markets, swap meets and sci-fi conventions and music festivals as places to find interesting pieces. The thrill of the hunt for a treasure buried on some seller’s table is always an exciting experience. Though this form of active close contact buying method maybe be going through a change related to the recent (as of this writing) events of a world-wide shut down due to the covid-19 pandemic. However, I have faith that we will buy in person from shows and brick and mortar shops of all kinds again. The outdoor festivals and indoor mega-cons may have to monitor social distancing but- as I have seen on the news- people are clever and where there is a desire to purchase in person at these events there is a way.

And here’s a tip on acquiring items in person: don’t express over enthusiastic interest if you can help it.  First look for the price and I know that’s obvious but sometimes when we collectors finally spot that long lost “booty” we’ve been seeking price becomes no consequence.  Though few and far between, there are a few dealers out there ready to take advantage of your emotion and open wallet.  So just be cool, note the item, be curious, ask a few questions… then leave the table.  Give yourself time to consider the purchase.  This time will bring calmer thoughts and better decision-making.  No one wants to have buyer’s regret, especially if after you’ve made that emotional purchase and trot down the next isle of the marketplace to find another one just like it cheaper.  Most dealers have a no return policy at shows.  A collector’s shop may too but generally they give store credit.  Of course, some do give full refunds, which is great.  All I’m saying is check out the return policy before you buy.  Purchase policies may be posted at the dealer’s booth or in the store.

Yet, even before you go through all the hassle of finding these things out at the show, I recommend a “show plan”.  Depending on how intent I am to buy at the marketplace (flea, convention, festival or otherwise) I develop a list of items I am on the lookout for.  Again, this may be an obvious piece of advice, but I have attended many collector’s shows with different friends, and they were always in search of something but couldn’t quite remember which number or color or style they wanted.  It was just “in their head” they’d tell me.  Unfortunately, that strategy may encourage mistakes, and when you get home you now have two of the same.  Of course, that can come in handy later in this book when you decide you want to sell something.  However, I’m of the opinion that if you know what you want and what price you’re willing to pay before you step into the collecting marketplace your hunt for that particular treasure will be more successful.  And if you do love what you’re collecting this will definitely be a labor of love.                 

Though a dent in live events are affected on both sides of the collecting cycle (buy/sell) it’s a good bet that buying via the internet will experience a surge post pandemic. Once our economy has regained ground, and people will have more disposable income, the internet will be an even busier marketplace than before. Which brings to mind all the platform that you can purchase from today. A short list of the well known would be Amazon, eBay, Bonanza, Etsy. Straight out buying is certainly a guarantee you’ll get what you want but on-line auctions can be a thrill , because when you win over the other bidders…well can you say “icing on the collector’s cake”? -lol So it’s definitely worth a mention to say again eBay tops this list but there is also Listia, eBid, uBid, and OnlineAuction. To be certain there are many, many others these though are again well known and reputable.

Because if there is one caveat to this entire on-line method of acquisition it is the risk of not being able to physically see the item, touch it, turn it over and closely examine it. That is the single and greatest advantage of in person purchasing and it is huge. Naturally, all the platforms mentioned are well-aware of the risk of being virtual, thus this advice they give to sellers: post lots of photos. Even so, you must be diligent as a buyer to research the seller’s reputation, description of the item and feedback. The bulk of my experience comes from eBay of which I have been both buyer and seller since Oct 1999. And though there have been many changes to eBay’s site the one thing that keeps everyone in check since the early days is good, reliable feedback. It is the driving force that compels sellers and buyers to be “good citizens” on this platform. I’ll have a few more details about buying from eBay specifically in the next section but suffice to say whichever of the multitude of on-line selling platforms you choose to buy from, to ensure you’re getting what you pay for you must do your research. And depending on how “weighty” a purchase this is will likely dictate how much research you do.

If the item you’re seeking is a new collectible from a current television show or movie- that is to say- things that are happening now; your research is likely limited to finding the best price. My purchase of a bust of the 10th incarnation of the Doctor from the long running British science-fiction television series Doctor Who was just such a purchase.

I found it for around $70.00 and got free shipping from the on-line seller’s website as it was my first order. I did wait quite a while to purchase it too. What was I waiting for? For the price to go down, or a discount, or coupon deal. And while there is nothing wrong with immediately purchasing an item upon its release that you deeply desire to add to your collection, sometimes that passion and impatience can work against you if you also deeply desire to save a little money. You might ask me then why do you want to save a little money on that? It’s only $70.00. My answer is this… so I have more to spend on something else, of course! – lol

For a “weighty” purchase which I’d define as a vintage collectible, antique or any writings from a famous person yes, I’m thinking mainly autographs here. You need to do your homework and wait for the right moment. This can be difficult especially with on-line auctions. There are appraisers who wholly discourage purchasing autographs on-line. They recommend the best autograph is the one you obtain yourself from the actual person, plus have a photograph taken of the moment to provide that rock-solid proof for provenance. Well, that works for those famous people still alive but what about all the signatures and autographs from history that are gone and to be sure there are many more of those to acquire than from the living. The appraisers in support of only buying face to face in person would advise to do your research on the source you intend to buy from, then document the autograph’s history if none came with it. That is exactly how I acquired John Lennon’s autograph from 1962 in Liverpool in 1999 and added my own purchasing story to the piece.

Whoops! Got on a sidebar there didn’t I? Sorry about that. So anyway, if you still want to buy an autograph on-line maybe the best way to do it is already be familiar with the seller from previous in person transactions. When I was heavily involved in the world of Beatles collecting (and you can get so happily lost in that world) I knew most of the dealers. I had met them at festivals, and they had /have an on-line store too. And there’s another grateful nod to the internet for keeping commerce going in the virtual marketplace, regardless of the circumstances of your local community. Still, you can feel good about making your buy of a vintage, etc. collector piece on-line from someone you have never met if you spend time watching the seller, reading over their feedback ratings and reputation. I did this with the eBay seller Louis Mushro, I watched him (on and off) for a good two years before I purchased the item I wanted from him. What was it? Don’t laugh, tiny snips of John Lennon’s… hair! Yep, I did. I know it sounds creepy, but this Mr. Mushro was the person of reputation to buy from on eBay. He did have a shop in Michigan when he was alive and had curated this hair, and many, many others from history much further back than John; like Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon as well as George Washington! All with impeccable provenances and reputable endorsements. This man had been in business long before the internet. I had learned he was the “go-to” dealer for this kind of collectible and found articles from magazines both in print and on-line about him and his reputable offerings. So, yeah call me a crazy fan for wanting the tiniest bits of a famous mop-top. The anecdote proves my point. If you want to be assured you’re adding a genuine piece (and not a fake) to your collection do your research before you drop a pricey sum on it regardless if it is an auction or a straight buy it now.

No doubt on-line auctions are widely common today. Even the most famous of auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s have embraced the internet venue. However, the acquisition of highly valued antiques, paintings and memorabilia from the famous and/or wealthy via the live auction has been going on since the late 17th century. High end of course by the standards of any century following that, but there are live auctions today where you can get a great deal on some items for your collection. They are more challenging to find than Sotheby’s or Christie’s and any of the other large auction houses who sell the very high end pieces, but it’s well worth it to dig around the internet, in antique and collectible magazines, or connect with others who collect items similar to yours and find out where the super deals are found.

That’s how I found a couple of auction houses, but it wasn’t until I had come to the seller’s side of the equation. You already know where these live auctions houses are where you live and have made buys there. If so, then you know what I know, if you know what you’re looking at you can get the item or even a grouping if items for far less than at collector shows or non-auctions. A local auction house here in Orlando, where I live, hold auctions on a weekly basis. Most items come from the remains of estate sales, the other side of their business. And I’ll have more to say about them in the sell it phase, but to illustrate the buying side of a live auction I’ll share my experience. I came in early to sign up, receive a bidder number and preview the lots up for auction. It’s just like the big auction houses but the atmosphere is far less formal and friendlier, yet still very professional. I spied a few lots of ¾ scale miniatures I knew were collectible and a bit rare from the 1960’s. The two trays were full of Petite Princess miniatures made by Ideal toys. They also sold a ¾ scale house you could furnish with these pieces. There did happen to be a house up for auction too, but my interest was limited to the furniture.

When it came time to start the live auction you could feel the electricity of anticipation prickling in the air as lot after lot came up and the auctioneer encouraged the bidders through their paces to final sale. Then the two trays of Petite Princess items were presented. The auctioneer made a few comments then started the bidding at $5 per tray! Unfortunately for me there was someone else among the audience of bidder who also knew their value. I had to drop out at $35 and the other bidder got the lots for $40. I do think, if only I had bid more maybe…? I wasn’t devastated though to lose them because even though you can score a deal at these live auctions, you must be very careful not to get caught up in the emotions that the desire to have the items in your collection can generate. It’s tough as a collector to go to live auctions but if you can maintain a “take it or leave it” mind-set, the live auction can yield some of your greatest economic wins to add to your collections.

Sometimes the best wins involve no exchange of money at all. Gathering with other collectors interested in the same or similar things as you can be more gratifying because it is a true win-win. If you’re into trading cards of any kind this can be a wonderful way to complete a series or start a new one, not to mention the good friends you can make and continue to see, as you spend hours talking about a shared interest. Swap meets are the most common forum for trading amongst collectors. My husband used to attend yearly BSA patch trading meet ups to exchange parts of his patch collection for the patches other traders came with to the event. It may be due of my husband no longer attending these that they seem to have faded from popularity and my radar but I’m sure they still go on and for many types of collectibles. I can see how stamps, coins, paper ephemera of all kinds can be traded in this forum.

Now, consider the dumpster. Yes, I know some of you may be thinking how gross, but I bet more of you are thinking how clever- well- perhaps more desperate than clever. In any case it cannot be discounted at a valid form of acquiring pieces for a collection. And really, dumpster diving is just a term to illustrate you basically got it, dug it up or saved it from the trash. (discuss Stan’s bottle digging and friends saying I was going to throw this away but…)