Rationalizing the purchase of antiques and collectibles is often a simple task. Many antiques are a good buy even at full price. When they can be found for less, they’re even a better buy. Money spent on antiques is usually money well spent, but not everyone understands that. Sometimes, a spouse or friend must be won over. At other times, we need to reassure ourselves that the $1,200 step-back cupboard we just purchased wasn’t an extravagance, but a good buy. For these reasons, we will cover a few more rationalizations.
Many antiques and collectibles can still serve the function for which they were originally produced. They are usually better built, last longer, and often cost less. What better rationalizations for the purchase of antiques could there be? Other antiques can serve a new purpose. A few years ago, I purchased a circa 1900 oak kitchen table with lion’s paw feet at an auction for only $95. I used it as my kitchen table for years. Now, it serves as my computer desk. A new kitchen table or computer desk would have cost much more. I’m sure a computer desk would be made of pressed wood and not solid oak like my table. My purchase was obviously a good buy.
I make use of antiques as much as possible. Old stoneware jars serve as trash cans; an 1844 immigrant’s trunk holds sweaters and blankets; a Shaker-style work table serves as an end table; an Empire dresser, old crocks, a turn-of-the-century bed, a step-back cupboard, a kitchen cupboard, and other pieces are all used for their intended purposes. Almost without exception all these antique pieces cost less than new items. Not only am I surrounded by antiques, but I saved money by purchasing them.
Another good rationalization for collecting is that it’s good for the economy. There’s a whole industry dedicated to collecting. Just think about it for a moment. There are antique dealers, auctioneers, and pickers who all depend on collectors to stay in business. These individuals are only the beginning. Antique mall owners, antique periodical publishers and editors, price guide publishers, antique columnists, writers of feature articles on antiques, and so many more depend on your interest in collecting. Even some television shows tap into the collecting market. The list could go on from here. The bottom line is: collecting is good for the economy. It is our duty to go out and buy $500 Victorian tables and $800 cupboards. People are depending on us.
Perhaps the most important rationalization for collecting antiques is that it preserves the past for future generations. We would have very few 18th and early 19th century pieces around today if it were not for the collectors of the past. Sure, a few pieces would have survived by chance, some would still be in use, but most would be long gone. How many pie safes, spinning wheels, corner cupboards, and Hoosier cabinets were destroyed or left to rot, before dedicated individuals started collecting them? How many coverlets and hand-stitched antique quilts were used as packing blankets or rags before collectors recognized their beauty and charm? Thinking about all the beautiful antiques that were destroyed because no one preserved them is enough to make one cry. We collectors are saving future generations from such sorrow. It seems that just about everything is collected today. This means that a great wealth of antiques and collectibles will be preserved for future ages.
The value of preservation is especially noticeable if we look around our own homes at treasured pieces from the past. One of my most prized antiques was an 1881 walnut cylinder desk, complete with cubby-holes and the original key. Even the paint on the cast-iron legs is just as it was 100 years ago and more. It was used originally by a Petersburg, Ind., businessman named Charles A. Burger. It stayed in his family, in the same house, for a century, then was purchased by a friend of mine. It was a lucky purchase. The Burger home was destroyed by a tornado a few years ago. By that time, all the antiques had been sold and dispersed, a sad event in itself, but not so sad as what could have happened. The desk now belongs to my niece. Every time I visit, I look at the old desk, I think of its past and wonder where it will be in the future. Preserving the past for the future is the responsibility of collectors. If we don’t do it, who will?
There is a great deal of talk in the collecting world about profit and investment. These are good rationalizations for collecting antiques, but the real force behind collecting is enjoyment. This is perhaps an even more powerful rationalization than preserving pieces for the future. How much enjoyment do we derive from collecting antiques? Think of all the fun we have seeking out treasures for our collections. All the trips to auctions, antique shows, shops, malls, flea markets, etcetera are gratifying in themselves. All those hours spent browsing eBay when it’s too cold to go anywhere are a source of enjoyment. Actually discovering a special piece is a real thrill. I can usually recount every detail of the discovery and purchase of prized possessions. And, how about all the time we spend reading about antiques; browsing through magazines and collecting publications, searching out articles in newspapers, and even reading about antiques online? Think of the hours of pleasure we all derive from this.
Even planning out future purchases can be a pleasant experience. I searched for a corner cabinet for more than 20 years. I looked through antique malls and shops. I scoured flea markets and antique shows. I browsed through magazines and books. During all this I eagerly looked forward to someday buying a corner cabinet. A couple of years ago, I found one I liked at an auction. That was an exciting day, especially when I actually bought it! Twenty years of waiting was over, but I almost miss the anticipation. Planning can be half the fun.
One of my joys of collecting is writing columns such as these. I don’t make all that much money, but I get to do what I love. I sit and write while sipping Scottish Breakfast tea and think of all the collectors who will read these words and realize how dear collecting is to them. And so the enjoyment of collecting continues. In the end, enjoyment is the only rationalization we need.
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