The Greater Lansing Woman (a magazine, not a genus or species) has pulled together a list of ten things worth collecting. While any collector will scoff at such a list and provide their own Top Ten, these are online and inviting commentary — which I shall do hereforth. Their list doesn’t appear to be taken from any other source, and I think they put a bit of thought into it, providing anyone in need of a collection with something they can run with. Here we go:
1. Quilts. While I’m not a guy’s guy, collecting quilts sounds a bit lame to me — compare it to collecting carpet samples or throw pillows; a quilt is utilitarian, and is often hand-crafted from whatever the maker had on-hand at the time, removing any sort of basis for price comparison. However, as the Wifey and I discovered at a recent local auction, people get all stitched-in-the-ditch when handmade quilts are up for sale. Things I found unassuming (and might sniff once and leave at the foot of the bed if presented with one) were going for well over a hundred bucks each. They fall into the gray area between art and utility, and if there’s anything that demands a premium it’s items with more than one interested audience. Toss in the modern interest in decorating with real antiques, there’s also people looking for a hundred-year-old quilt for a stylish guestroom. Aside from inherent value and wide reach, if you’re a fan of soft and snuggly collectibles and teddy-bears are a little too creepy for you, quilts are right up your alley.
2. Cast Iron. The casual collector might be interested in collecting just what they like to see on their shelves, which works well — but a high-end cast-iron collector has to be a bit more careful. Replicas abound, and are quite difficult to detect due to the traditional manufacturing methods. You might even have the trouble of telling whether something’s original 19th century, was made in the early 20th century from the same molds, or a 21st century version made for the decorating market. Once you’ve got your appraisal skills fine-tuned, make sure to build some stronger shelves.
3. Dog and Cat Figurines. Like the cast iron, there’s such a wide range of items encompassed here. High-end collectors need to know their thing; casual collectors just need to limit their focus, lest they become known as the crazy lady with a den full of tiny, dead-eyed creatures.
4. Nancy Drew mystery books. I’m surprised this market isn’t already dominated by focus on the earliest of editions, but eBay sellers don’t seem to be obsessive over the edition number. Farah’s Guide is considered the premiere price-guide for keeping track of the 2,745(!?!) printings of Nancy Drew books since 1930. Between the books, a TV series and a recent movie, Nancy Drew has had more impact than just the books. Also remember collecting books makes you an intellectual, even if you never predicted how Nancy would solve the mystery.
5. Little Golden Books. Now, here’s a series of books that demand a premium based on their edition. Little Golden Books, between being beat-up by loving children, and now three or four generations of those loving children wanting to reclaim something of their childhood, makes these a desirable and increasingly rare commodity. There’s also the plus of those long-discontinued books with socially unacceptable topics, like Little Black Sambo, that mostly can only be found in private collections. If you like digging through boxes of colored-in kid’s books with loose boards, hit the rummage sales and you’re sure to find some charmers every weekend.
6. Christmas. The List here focuses on antique Christmas ornaments, completely missing the Hallmarkified modern Christmas collectibles market. This is a good collection for people without the interest or stamina to remember publishing dates or maker’s marks: collecting modern ornament series shouldn’t be overlooked. When it comes to the antique Christmas collectibles, though, you might want to note the care and safety required if you’re going to use it during the Season: the glass is very fragile, paper and celluloid decorations are very flammable, and the electrical items were (or have become, due to age) fire hazards.
7. Star Trek, Star Wars. They go from Christmas, which these days amounts to anything related to the last 1/4 of the calendar, to a rather specialized pair of collectibles. As far as pop culture icons go, these are two of the biggies in the past thirty years, especially to the rapidly-aging Generation X. This is also, strangely, a guy-oriented collectible (probably all the guns and busty characters), one of the few where a guy can devote a whole room to non-sports collectibles and not have his buddies nudge-nudge about it. “Hey guys, wanna come over for the game? Oh, and I got some great new carnival-glass candy dishes I gotta show you!” The ‘grown-up playing with toys’ stigma has faded in the past decades — especially now that those toys are worth a pretty penny.
8. Kewpie Dolls. This one surprised me, because it’s not a common collectible, but it’s got all the hallmarks of a good collection: common but not everywhere; a cultural connection that most people can identify; quality and age makes for a nice range of price; and a variety of styles to keep it interesting. With such a long production timeline and their share of knockoffs, research is always a good idea; a Kewpie price guide, is always a help.
9. Western & Cowboy Decor. Cowboy stuff has always been a popular decorating motif, as the article points out, but there’s a bunch more to western & cowboy collecting than just the decor: Marx’s Johnny West action figure series, silent cowboy movies, comic books, Louis L’Amour novels — and, depending on how they’re used, can count as decor if you’re that interested in defining your collection that way. As with the Star-Something collectibles, this is largely a guy-focused like of collecting, although moms (like my Wifey) are often attracted to it when setting up a newborn boy’s bedroom. The romanticism and fantasy-world of the cowboy, train-robberies and Indian-oppression aside, appeals to a very deep American vein in many people.
10. My Little Pony. If all the modern-pop-culture collectibles seem to be boy-focused, here’s a shining example of where girls — sorry — women can relive their happy fantasies of childhood through their collections. My Little Pony is a long-running example (we bought a new one for my niece last month), but there were loads of these toys in the 1980s when marketers began to really catch on to the focusing of fantasy-toys, combined with colorful cartoons, marketed directly to young girls. Remember, pre-seventies the toys for girls tended to be fantasies of their own impending adulthood (Barbie, tea sets, baby dolls), so a chubby rubber pony with rainbow hair and a birthday cake branded on its butt is quite a left turn from a peeing baby doll. Rainbow Brite, the Smurfs, Popples, Care Bears, Jem — there’s so many to pick from, it shouldn’t be hard to pick a favorite and run with it. While girl play-time involved far less smashing with bricks and firecrackers than boy toys, they weren’t as careful as one might have ideally expected…not as many toys survived as you might think.