Top Beginner Tips to Smart Collecting

Multicolor piggy banks still life
Andy Roberts / Getty Images

Collecting is usually an unconscious decision. It hits home when you realize you have ten cobalt blue bottles found over the years or when you get five elephants for Christmas "to go with the elephant collection". (Those two or three sitting on a table that makes others think you're into elephants.)

But sometimes collecting is a conscious decision. It might be when you want something to remember vacation trips, want to decorate your house with a personal touch or decide to look for fun stuff when shopping.

In either case, even though you should always collect with your heart, you can still collect smart!

of 10

What is a Collectible?

The word collectible means different things to different people. Ask a non-collector what a collectible is and they might mention little figurines that are specifically marketed as collectibles, Beanie Babies or perhaps stamps and coins, usually a specific thing.

Ask a collector and you'll get an in-depth answer on the feelings that are evoked, the investment made or the quest to find their stuff. Although collectors hope their collections will increase in value, that's usually not the reason they started collecting.

Both answers are right.

  • The Experts Weigh in With Their Opinions
of 10

What to Collect?

Close-up Of Multi Colored Wall
Daniel Kaesler / EyeEm / Getty Images

No one can tell you what to collect, but it should always be something you're drawn to and love looking at. It's that first thing you pick up at the flea market or what catches your eye at the gift shops each time you see it.

It doesn't always have to be a particular item, many collect by color or shape. Love the color cobalt blue? You could have a terrific collection of bottles, vases, boxes all in that one color. Perhaps you love the holidays? Another fun collection would be decorative items for the different holidays. Shamrocks for St. Patricks Day, heart stuff for Valentine's Day.

of 10

Buy With Your Heart

Mid adult female design professional giving shopping bag to customer at cash counter in studio
Maskot / Getty Images

The best advice is to Buy With Your Heart. If you love it and can afford it, get it! Collections should be something to live with and enjoy, not always for future profit. That's called investing and should be left to the experts. Yes, many times collections can increase in value, but even the experts aren't always right and can guess wrong.

If you still want to make big bucks, think Beanie Babies! Do you remember all the people buying up the Beanie Babies for a future college fund? Except for the very limited and early pieces, they're not paying for anyone's education. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't surround yourself with the little guys. Like them? Buy them!

  • More Collecting Tips
of 10

Limited Editions?

Limited Edition Sticker
Vectorig / Getty Images

Depending on what you collect, the term limited edition might come up. A limited edition can be anything the manufacturer wants it to be. The item might be limited to the year it was produced, with hundreds of thousands being produced or it could be limited to a specific number of pieces.

Before getting excited that an item is a limited edition, find out more about the edition size and how the company released the pieces. Also, check previous editions from the same manufacturer to see if they sold out and/or retain their values.

  • Commonly Used Terms and Descriptions
of 10

Condition, Condition, Condition

What a Mess!
Regis Martin / Getty Images

Buy the very best example you can find. A piece of pottery with a hairline crack or a glass plate with a chip should be substantially less than "book value" and will not appreciate in value the way that perfect piece might. Even if you're not buying for investment, when it's time to sell your stuff, it's a lot harder if the collection is chipped and cracked.

Problems to beware of, depending on the collectible, include rust, chips, cracks, missing pieces, tears, fading, and stains.

Newer collectors often feel an item can be repaired or a part replaced, unfortunately, that's not an easy task.

  • Listen to The Pottery
of 10

Keep the Boxes


I love to take stuff out of the boxes as soon as I get it and hate to keep the boxes, but that's foolish. If your collection is the newer stuff that comes in special boxes, it's always more valuable with those darn boxes. The same is true with vintage stuff, the item will always be worth more with the original box.

Also be sure to keep those boxes in excellent condition, a dented box will also devalue the item.

This also brings up the question, should you keep an item MIP? It depends on, do you want the display to look like a store shelf? If you can afford it, buy two. One to keep MIP and one to display.

of 10

Take Care of Your Treasures

Man sitting at table with old vinyl records
Westend61 / Getty Images

Take great care of your stuff. This means keeping items that can fade out of direct sunlight, storing those fragile Christmas items in a closet, not the attic. It also means researching the best way to clean your items, such as not putting that gorgeous glass in the dishwasher!

Find the company website and see what they say about taking the proper care of their stuff. Company websites are great resources and usually have lots of good tips to share with their collector base.

  • Learn More about Care and Repair
of 10

Research is the Key

mihailomilovanovic / Getty Images

If you're collecting vintage items, research is the key to being a smart collector. Buy a book, it will be a small investment when compared to the cost of a few mistakes.

Don't buy a book primarily for the price information, buy it to find out more about possible reproductions, company history, marks to look for, etc. Another good purchase is a general price guide that is handy to find out more about other stuff you might run across in your travels. One of my favorites are books from Judith Miller with terrific pictures and collecting hints.

  • Index of Collectible Books/Price Guides
  • Free eMail Newsletters for Collectors
  • Miller's Buy, Keep or Sell
of 10

Join a Club

You may not be a joiner, but a club or association is an excellent source of information. If you collect new stuff, a company sponsored club will usually offer editions limited to club members, as well as keep members informed of upcoming new releases.

If you collect vintage items, the conventions, newsletters, and forums that clubs sponsor are invaluable as a way of keeping informed about your collection and the history of it.

  • The A-Z of Collecting Clubs
of 10

Get Out and Shop

Two female friends standing in front of the window of an antique shop
Westend61 / Getty Images

Visit the local swap meets, shows, antique shops, wherever your stuff might show up. Even if you're not ready to purchase yet, learn more about the pieces by touching and feeling, by checking out marks, etc. It's the best way to becoming an informed collector and if the item shows up "cheap" on eBay, you'll be ready to pounce.

Don't buy online yet? Check out eBay and other online resources. Bargains can be found, but even more important those hard to find items will eventually show up and by adding a favorite search to your My eBay page, notification will be sent when it's up for sale.

  • Buying and Selling Resources