Collecting without cash

For many collectors, collecting funds aren’t merely short – they’re non-existent. Discussing collectibles for under $10 isn’t much use when one doesn’t have $10 to spare. For those who have been collecting for a few years there is an answer to a total lack of available collecting funds – collecting without cash.

How does this work? Simple. It’s merely a matter of falling back on one’s resources. One of the wisest sayings I’ve ever heard is “It’s not getting what you want – it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Simply put, this means that happiness lies in enjoying what one already has – rather that obtaining new (or in our case old) items. The main mistake made by most collectors is not enjoying what is already in their collection. Most are so busy seeking out new additions that they don’t pay attention to what is right there in front of them.

There are exceptions, of course. I am one. I have been for a long time. While I enjoy finding a “new” piece, I focus on enjoying what I already have. I’m not alone either. I have a cousin who almost never adds a new piece to her collection of brown and white graniteware, but she derives tremendous enjoyment from her collection every day. Perhaps you too are an exception to the rule. If so, count yourself lucky. If not, let me give you the greatest gift I can. Enjoying what you already have can not only be just as enjoyable as adding a new piece, but even more so.

I am sure there are some who are rolling their eyes and thinking “That’s all well and good for him. He probably has a warehouse filled with antiques.” Such is not the case. I have a bit more furniture that I can fit into my small abode, but most of those reading this column probably have more antiques.

Over the years I’ve pared down my collection. I’ve found that less really is more. I have fewer pieces than in the past, but I’ve kept all my favorites. Often these favorites aren’t my most valuable pieces. Many of them cost under $10. Value has very little to do with how well I like a piece. The point, however, is that I don’t possess a vast collection. My collection is likely more modest than yours. I’m a writer after all and writers are not known for their wealth. So, if I can enjoying collecting without cash you certainly can as well.

If you have no cash to spare, heading for the antique mall or browsing eBay isn’t of much use. Sure, it’s fun to look, but finding a great piece at a great price can be downright depressing if one cannot afford it. When the collecting bug bites, check out your own shelves, cupboards, and those packed away cardboard boxes instead. Take the time to look at your antiques and collectibles as if they weren’t yours. Pretend you’re in an antique shop or at an auction and have just spotted that egg basket, 1950s toaster, or vintage orange crate. Far too many collectors look at the items in their collections without truly seeing them. Take the time to see your antiques as others might. This alone will greatly increase your appreciation of what you already have. This alone is better than adding a “new” piece to your collection.

Next, have some fun with your collection. Take the time you would have spent shopping in antique malls and putter around with your antiques. Regroup and rearrange. This alone can be a lot of fun. It’s amazing how just moving things around will create a whole new look. It will also bring pieces to your attention that haven’t gained much notice before. Try organizing your pieces by color or group similar items together. If this is already your display scheme, break it up and try something different. Another idea is to create a “still life.” Arrange some of your collectibles as if you were preparing to paint a picture or setting up a photo for a magazine. I derive a great deal of enjoyment by creating such vignettes. Not only are they beautiful, but they bring the past to life. It’s not difficult to create a whole new look without buying a single piece.

If you have antiques boxed away, unpack them and put away some of the pieces already on display. Museums rotate their collections so why shouldn’t you?

Even small changes can increase your enjoyment of your collection. I keep a small antique or collectible on my desk by my computer. Sometimes, it’s a spongeware batter pitcher, at other times it’s a vintage photo, a 1930s vase, or a wooden potato masher.

The point is that I keep mixing it up. I don’t let any piece sit there too long. This way, whenever I look up I see something that might have otherwise gone unnoticed sitting on a shelf. My attention is focused on the piece and I enjoy it all the more.

Another way to collect without cash is to do a bit of trading. Most antique dealers aren’t terribly keen on bartering, but you have some very salable pieces they might make an exception. The idea works even better among friends.

Another possibility is posting a barter ad on There might be a local collector who will gladly trade their Roseville for your antique doll. It’s easiest and safest to stick with trading with friends, but craigslist is a possibility and it’s free. You may even have friends that have already mentioned something like “If you ever want to part with ….” I have a cousin and niece who both have their eye on my corner cabinet. If I began to eye something in their collections, I’m sure we could work out a trade that would make us both happy.

If you haven’t been collecting long and don’t have many pieces to work with, don’t hesitate to bring in newer pieces that are also in your possession. Not everything has to be a hundred years old – or even fifty.

There’s nothing wrong with mixing even brand new pieces in with your antiques. There are no rules when it comes to enjoying a collection. Don’t worry about what others think either. The only person you need to please is yourself.

Shopping for antiques is great fun. Discovering and purchasing a great piece is a source of happiness. This is only the beginning, however.

Don’t cheat yourself out of the even greater enjoyment by neglecting a new acquisition once it’s in your possession. Far too many collectors fail to truly appreciate what they have. It is as if their entire focus is on the hunt. Once they’ve bagged a Victorian settee, stained glass window, or plant stand they all but forget about it. Don’t become one of these collectors.

Take the time to appreciate your antiques not only when you purchase them, but every day after that too. You’ll find the value of your collection in terms of enjoyment will soar. Those who appreciate what they’ve got don’t need more.