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A buyer's guide on collectables from the UK's leading online auction house.
6 Mins

Buyer's Guide: Collectables

Jess Gibson
Jess Gibson

In some way or another, most people are collectors (and no, we don’t want you to confuse ‘collector’ with ‘hoarder’ – the two things are very different, indeed). Whether you’ve got a penchant for old-school toys from the 70s and 80s – stored in their original, unopened packaging, no less – an avid fan of Pokémon cards and related merchandise, a bibliophile who gathers mounds of dusty volumes you’ll never have the time to read, or a lover of pristine model trains, many of us enjoy dedicating our time to gathering items that either remind us of our childhood loves or that match a time period/aesthetic that we’ve come to admire.

According to definition, a collectable – alternatively referred to as a collector’s item – is an item of particular interest or value to a person or group. And by value, we don’t mean in monetary terms, as this is not always the case. Yes, antiques can be denoted as a collectable, but not all antiques are collectables – ok?!

A tradition that originated (in its modern form, at least) during the Renaissance with the Cabinet of Curiosities – a type of collectable museum – there are various members of the animal world who also display this type of behaviour. Take, for instance, blackbirds and magpies, both of which collect items that catch their eye (often shiny or unique, man-made items) items. There’s also a number of members of the animal kingdom who collect pretty or interesting items to build their nests to attract mates, including feathers, bottle caps, unusual stones etc…

So, among the very generic title of ‘collectable’, there’s various subheadings – including curios and manufactured collectables – that identify the specific category each item deemed a collectable would fit under. This helps items to be grouped together effectively, making them easier to find and purchase for those who consider themselves dedicated collectors of particular items. In the world of manufactured collectables, items are created for the specific purpose of collecting them, and are therefore include things such as figurines, ornamental plates, coins, stamps, dolls (particularly beautiful old china dolls), and drinkware. Amongst these items, there are limited editions and specially produced versions that are limited in volume, aiding the marketing technique applied to these items. Traditionally applied to the arts – books, art pieces, films, and music – this has now expanded to include variants of classic car models and wines.

Whilst we often consider the more artistic pieces or classic examples as collectables, the past few decades have witnessed the category widen exponentially to include what is often (derogatively) referred to as elements of ‘nerd culture’ – such as comic books, old games consoles, figurines from certain film or TV franchises, posters, and originally-packaged games. As we’ve seen in the past 20 years, nerd culture has become an increasingly prevalent element of modern life, feeding into most aspects of pop culture, including clothing, body art, music, and TV programmes (think ‘Big Bang Theory’ – the ultimate meta example of nerd culture in recent years), meaning that it has become a prominent offshoot in the collectable world.

Despite popular belief, collectables often relate to individuals’ specific interests and thus collecting is very rarely an activity undertaken for the purpose of accruing vast amounts of money; it’s actually done more for the purpose of personal enjoyment and satisfaction (unless, of course, you’re dealing with a super rare or total one-of-a-kind item that can’t be found elsewhere).

But what if you yourself are a collector and want to find a simple, easy-to-understand way to build your collections via online auctions? Well, you’re in the right place – we’ve got a selection of tips to help you on your way!

A race for space

Before you get started, it’s important that you consider a) where in your home you’re going to gather this collection, b) whether you’re wanting to display the items or keep them for your own personal enjoyment, and c) the size/dimensions of the items you’re collecting – as this will impact what space you set aside. Because, let’s be fair, if you’re a classic car collector, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be storing the cars within your home (unless, of course, you’re a millionaire with an endless amount of show car floor space – in which case, lucky you), so you’ll need to have a dedicated area set aside or paid for to contain the items.

Obviously, if you’re into stamps or coins, these are fairly simple to store – you most likely just need a photograph album-style books that you can pop them in! If you’re a collector of china dolls (as beautiful as they are) or taxidermy, you might want to consider the comfort of any guests in your home, who could be just a little freaked out by their presence…

You also need to think about the quality of space you’re providing. Original pieces of art, for example, require extensive upkeep and proper placement that includes careful cleaning maintenance and prevents sun exposure (as this can leach the colour/quality of the painting). Big fan of figurines that are in their original packaging? Probably best to keep them on a shelf that neither children nor pets can get at!

Category variations

When searching online auction listings, it’s useful to make a list of all the variations that may exist in terms of listing description – depending on the seller’s own knowledge, you might find certain words/terms are used that you may not initially think of. Terms like ‘ancient’ or ‘curio’ may be used in the listing title or description incorrectly , for example, or a collection of original, limited edition iPhones (in their original packaging, no less) might be listed under vintage electronics, which you might find unexpected.

Spell check!

Ah, the English language – isn’t it wonderful?

Well, when it comes to the choice of spellings available for the titles and descriptions of lots, you may find yourself thwarted by different versions of words you weren’t aware of! The word ‘collectable’, for example, can also be spelt ‘collectible’, or can be referred to as a ‘collector’s item’ – confusing, right? But forewarned is forearmed, so make sure you search for ALL versions of the word/phrase, otherwise you may just miss out on the item for which you’ve spent months or years searching for.

Know your limits

As always, set a budget. We can’t emphasise the importance of this enough! This reduces the risk of you getting carried away if you become involved in a bidding war. Decide on what your comfortable limit is before you get started. Collecting is a rewarding experience, but it’s no fun if it leaves you in debt.

Picture perfect

Zoom in. Check for imperfections, especially if there are none listed. If you don’t feel like you can see everything you want to before placing a bid, feel free to ask for more specifics. At William George, we have a close relationship with our sellers – particularly regular ones – and wouldn’t hesitate to discuss any questions or concerns you have with them to ensure you’re fully satisfied with your potential purchases.

Thinking of the future

Regardless of how long you’ve been collecting, or how long you plan to continue collecting (once you’ve got ‘em all, am I right?!), you need to carefully consider the future of your collection. Do you plan on selling it on at some point or donating to a specific museum (the Isle of Wight has an amazing teddy bear museum for anyone in the business of Beanie Babies or other teddy-based collections)? Then the quality and care of these items is absolutely vital. But, for example, if it’s something you plan on passing on to your children, or to a local school for educational purposes (WW1/WW2 propaganda posters and newspapers are always in demand for real-life, hands-on artifact analysis), then you need to make this explicit, either in your will or in to a loved-one. Sorry to be morbid here, but this is actually an important thing to think about!

Being a collector is incredibly fun, rewarding, and satisfying, regardless of whatever it is that you’re collecting and why – whether you collect books that you sometime hope to get round to reading or little pig ornaments that you want dotted around your home for guests to admire. One of the most exciting, far-reaching fields at auction, we deal with all sorts of collectables.

Take a look at our live auctions now – you never know what you might find to tickle your fancy!