Tips for New Collectors

Learn about your area of interest.

New collectors need first to develop an appreciation for, and knowledge about, their area of interest. It's important not to rely entirely on other people when you begin to collect, nor should you fly blind without an adequate frame of reference. There are many freely available resources to help you learn about the area of collecting that interests you:

  • Visit museums and public collections for hands-on study.
  • Read reference books on the subject.
  • Study relevant websites.
  • Go to specialty shows and auctions to observe before you consider buying.
  • Visit dealers who specialize in the material that interests you.

If your particular interest is in decoys or folk art, our Links page provides an excellent road map.

Find a dealer you trust.

An experienced dealer has a knowledge base that is in many cases without parallel. Most dealers have a real interest in encouraging new collectors, first, because they are enthusiastic about what they do, and second, because new collectors represent a new source of business. A dealer can be especially helpful when it comes to deciding where you want to go with your collection. Having a theme to a collection makes sense. Otherwise you can spend a lot of money and end up with a mish mash.

Buy what you like.

One of the simplest rules of collecting is also one of the easiest to follow: buy what you like. You can be influenced by others who are more experienced, be they dealers or collectors, but ultimately you should decide what you want to buy. After all, you have to live with it.

Buy the best.

Not following this rule is one of the most common mistakes that new collectors make. Always buy the very best quality that you can afford. Accept only minimal restoration. Try for as much original structure and surface as you can. Then, stretch to purchase objects that meet these criteria. Don't feel compelled to fill your shelves or walls with whatever you've decided to collect as quickly as you can. It is far better, and more satisfying, to focus on little gems and to add to them selectively. Be disciplined. Without doubt, years later, assuming you follow your knowledge and instincts, the object that you paid the most for is likely to be the one that everyone wants.

Trade up and move on.

Don't be reluctant to trade or sell items purchased earlier as your knowledge grows or your tastes change. You will have invested considerable resources as you begin to build your collection. Inevitably, as your taste and your willingness to commit dollars grow, you will find you have material that you don't want anymore. Don't let it stay on your bottom shelf; get rid of it and use the resulting resources to buy the things you want. If you have been wise and bought good things from the beginning, you should have no difficulty doing that.