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How to collect, part 1: Simplicity in collecting

There’s nothing so multifaceted in value as something old and sentimental. A great grandmother’s ring may hold financial value as well as the memories of her when she passes to the granddaughter, who never saw her relative’s youth.

There’s a question in the back of my mind when I stare down at the dusty items at a flea market.

Did they ever think that their silverware or cooling fans would ever be fought over by angry collectors?

While there are several themes present in the room, my attempt to utilize minimalism is somewhat evident in the style of my room. It provides an overall simple feel for the interior, but the eclectic attitude of each item in the room makes it full of ideas and feelings.

Simple items of function are sometimes the highest bids at auction and bring collectors from miles around. So what do people think when the trinket that held no value at all to them sells for a hundred dollars?

Think back to that grandmother’s ring… if it’s mere costume jewelry or a real sapphire, the granddaughter would still keep it. However, what compelled the grandmother to share this one item with her relative is the true mystery. When by happenstance or purpose, it’s so curious to me that people think to hold onto certain items. In an economy and society that is now emphasizing minimalism and efficiency, we may not be able to afford to keep trinkets and treasures much longer.

So we need to think ahead to what we own now and what we should keep.

My saying is “Buy it once and buy it right.” In the past, people didn’t have fifteen rings in their jewelry box unless they had wealth. Those of average income had one or two gowns, not a whole closet full. This is probably the reason they never had to think about keeping things for the future. Those few items were the only things they had. Why would they ever imagine getting rid of them?

People go to Wal-mart multiple times per week, buying things they don’t need. I’m guilty as well. If we just educate ourselves with one thing from the golden generation, we should take with it that one phrase. “Buy it once and buy it right.” Keep only the things that are the most valuable to you, financially and sentimentally. Eliminate the garbage and purge your belongings. Simplicity and minimalism are the best concepts to collect by.

While this has no relation to antiques or collecting, simplicity has worked out for a few other noteworthy people.





Buying for profit: Antiques are a gambling chance

By Lindsey Oyler | Alestle Copy Editor

 While antiques are a source of storytelling, general pleasure and value… there is one kind of value that upholds the antique collector’s hobby: Financial value.

It’s the strangest thing to pick something up and wonder how much it’s worth. People write books on the topic and some even go to school to learn about it. It’s not nearly as popular a major now as it has been in the past, but if you’re good at what you do, there’s a chance of really doing well in the career

For those hobbyists, like me, it’s a game. It’s like gambling, really, at times. To pick up a knife with gilding on the handle is like a trip to the casino. You could strike it lucky and sell it for a few bucks on ebay… or you could find a knife enthusiast who has been vying for this piece for his collection.

Remember the rules to looking for an items… novelty, patina, a story… value. The other qualities are suggestive of how much financial value the item may hold. Use your head and it may help.

Hot items at the moment include:

Bakelite. It’s a kind of plastic that was produced in the ‘50s, mainly. It required petroleum and was a very intricate process. They don’t make it anymore due to the ease of concocting current plastics. So now it’s valuable… there’s jewelry, silverware, toys and radios and telephones made from the stuff. One way you can assess whether or not it’s Bakelite is the smell of it. Rub the plastic as hard and fast as you can with your thumb until the plastic goes hot. Smell it. If it smells like a pink eraser you had in grade school, it’s Bakelite. The sound of it should clunk against other Bakelite. It’s a very distinct sound. However, the tried and true version of distinguishing plastics is with 409. Take a Q-tip and dip it in the 409. Rub it on the plastic (it won’t hurt it) and watch for a yellow tinge to appear on the cotton swab. It will be very obvious.

Mason jars, apothecary jars. Everyone is decorating their house with jars right now… and it’s nuts to find a full set of anything. The cap may be missing or broken, the jar may be cracked. If you find any sort of jar, don’t expect a windfall of money… but you could profit from it easily. There’s a large audience for these items right now.

Costume Jewelry: This field takes a keen eye. You have to know what people want to collect or wear. Rhinestones are a good pick, usually.  A necklace (depending on the detail and the pattern) can cost anywhere from 20 dollars to about 150 dollars – that I’ve seen. Certain gems (Alexandrite, Tiger Eye) can raise the price of jewelry. Alexandrite in particular is a bluish toned gem that changes color in the light. It can go from teal to purple in the right kinds of light and was very desirable in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Be careful at estate auctions with this kind of item. It can be highly profitable if you find the right piece, but you can lose money on plastic, broken junk if you’re not careful.

There are so many more kinds of items that are desirable in the collecting realm. Furniture is one of them, but the study is so difficult and can go back centuries into time. Unless you’re fairly skilled, try collecting furniture for its use, not for profit.

Most auction houses will appraise an item for a low fee, but honestly just googling antique appraisal can bring you so many online links that you can probably get a price range for your piece. Be warned, you will get your hopes up at one time or another when you find an especially collectible piece going for $500 when yours in reality is only worth $120. Remember, not everyone may be interested in your item and that will most likely bring the price down.

Art in Artifacts: The stories behind the pieces are what make them gold

By Lindsey Oyler | Alestle Copy Editor


There’s something about an auction… Estate sales more specifically. Almost all of a person’s treasures set out on a wooden trailer for the public to complain about, analyze and purchase for mere singles.

There’s another side of it. An old widow’s costume jewelry, an aged farmer’s prized record collection. There’s another side to people that comes to the surface when it’s auction day. Consider it their “Starry Night” to every regular Vincent Van Gogh.

This picture is actually a puzzle that almost perfectly depicts what any good country auction should look like. Kind of a fantasy situation for auction-goers.

There are certain things that every regular auction-goer looks for. Patina, value, novelty and a story. When the granddaughter of an old widow approached me over Thanksgiving break at her dead grandmother’s estate sale, my heart skipped a beat. When she poured out the stories of her military days and how her costume jewelry collection began in Germany, my heart skipped two.

I am a poor college student. I do not go to auctions to make money as Discovery and History Channel portray the auction environment. I go out of respect, admiration and love of the personal history of people and artifacts.

My personal favorite items include an old Bakelite (a collectible and valuable type of plastic from around the ‘30s) manicure set that belonged to a woman in the ‘20s, an autograph from T-Bone Walker that was posted in an old Taylorville café and a feather and felt hat from the ‘40s.

Places you can attend an auction? There are storage unit auctions throughout the region but Adam’s Auction and Real Estate is one company to watch for local auctions and consignment biddings. Be forewarned, you have to go out of the city sometimes for those really exceptional auctions and cheaper bids. However, the few people that do go to country auctions usually know what to look for. So you may have some stiff competition.

Pieces of paper

By Lindsey Oyler | Alestle Copy Editor

Sometimes the best things come in small packages.

Or just another package. I bought a phone book from my hometown, dated 1961 (exactly 50 years old) the other week. I opened it up and found slips of paper. They’re cumbersome to look through piece by piece, to say the least, but worthwhile in the end.

Inside of this book I found an advertisement slip (connecting to book to a local business that had shut down years before), two slips of stationary from the 1893 World’s Fair, paperwork proving the championship bloodline of some dachshund. The strangest combination of papers I have ever seen in my life.

It would be extremely difficult to sell these individual pieces. Which is all the better. They’re tiny and easy to store and have some sort of sentimental value. And if you really want the money for them, hunting down the person they may be connected to could be worth your financial while. It all connected back to novelty and a story. The daughter of a factory worker would pay a lot of money to have her grandfather’s signature on a contract found at auction.

There are some things better left untouched. Perhaps you could just store away these papers and stumble across them again someday. They’ll impress you again and again.

Everything in moderation

By Lindsey Oyler | Alestle Copy Editor

Sometimes there is a decision to be made. Do you keep or sell?

Most auctioneers give people the respect of the euphemism “collector.” In other words, the people who keep what they buy.

Oi, this pair “was a couple of collectors,” they’ll say. The line between collector and a hoarder is ridiculously verbal. Explained: if they call you a collector, you’re probably still a hoarder. Just a slightly more selective and particular one.

If you frequent auctions, flea markets, shops of the old, my one vital suggestion to you is to find that line in your own life. Be as picky as pick can get. There’s an old saying to keep the things closest to your body the finest. As an example, you should buy fine bed linens and go with the cheaper set of drapes. This rule can be applied to buying antique and vintage. Buy the expensive set of jewelry but get cheap wall art.

There’s another saying as well. Buy it once and buy it right. You’re getting that expensive set of jewelry and plan on keeping it, you better have done your homework. If it’s supposedly Kramer of New York, you had better have seen the hallmark and checked it twice. That way you’re not paying over 300 dollars for the fake stuff.

And again, the cheap wall art. Try to limit yourself to two pieces per room. The buy it once and buy it right statement applies here, but less so. Just limit yourself. Don’t go too crazy when you find those 1960’s movie posters (yes, you). However, if there happens to be a Jimmy Page poster from 1963, an exception may be made from time to time.

I am currently undergoing this very sentiment. My boyfriend and I are both living under our parent’s roofs (when I’m not at school). Our collections are starting to ebb at the space that’s left in our bedrooms. Our walls are covered and our shelves are full. Selling the small, uninteresting items is beginning to help but not as much as I’d like it to.

One thing my boyfriend’s father said kind of reached me though. “Why do you buy things just because they’re interesting?”

A shot through the heart, honestly. However, the thought itself is one to ponder. Not just a collector’s problem, but also any shopaholic or consumer. The trend seems to be affecting most everyone today. Why buy things just because they’re interesting? Is there a sense of entitlement to the things we admire most? Is it a competition?

I leave you with these words and your thoughts. Please enjoy these photos of the things I felt entitled to last weekend.

Pictured, from top to bottom: 1950’s Shuron glasses. Publicity Photo for Mary Ann Jackson (of “Our Gang,” otherwise known as “Little Rascals”), big greeting card from 1958.

Old items, new money: The Rules of buying vintage and antique

Lindsey Oyler | Alestle Copy Editor

An auction can be confusing and maddening. You just accidentally rose your hand too soon? Looks like that jankety old toaster is now yours for 50 bucks. Watch your hands and your eye contact, always.

To start, most auctioneers hand out numbers and keep your drivers license and information on file. Once you become a regular, It’s possible for you to have your own specific number. That’s usually the point of no return. Godspeed.

The trick is to get your number and observe the items on auction about half an hour to twenty minutes before the actual bidding begins. Once it starts, you may not see what you’re buying due to crowding or not getting a good look at that crack down the side of a table you might be bidding on.

Make friends, but carefully. Do not tell someone what you’re looking to buy ever. They’ll see value in it if you do and outbid you. Don’t underestimate that slouchy farmer leaning up on the tree. He will rip you a new one if given the chance of a profit.

However, if you make friends at an auction, it can sometimes result in some favors. That middle-aged woman who thinks this is your first auction? Silly her. Sometimes being a 20-year-old female has its advantages. Old farmers make no exception.

Things to avoid (unless you have some specific craft project or plan on destroying everything you buy with fire) include old records. They don’t sell for crap and unless you plan on listening to them or using them for something else, don’t think they’ll make you any sort of profit on resale. Don’t buy plates or photos or paintings unless they have a name you recognize or paperwork for authenticity. Steer clear of mugs, glassware and crummy jewelry.

There are several things to look for when buying at an auction if you don’t already have something in mind. Value, novelty, patina and a story.

  • Value: the money price.
  • Novelty: is it collectible? Can I find it anywhere else?
  • Patina: the markings or collection or rust, dust or color on an item; in short, it looks old–it has character.
  • A story: a plate that was used at dinner with a couple of Nazis is more unique than a plate from grandma’s basement.

Julia and Lindsey

I recently picked up a cooking classic at an auction in my hometown. That’s right, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s Julia Child’s hit cooking book. It’s a wonderful book, and it’s so extensive and thorough about everything. It’s so detailed and precise.

I’ve decided to let you in on a few of my personal favorites, applicable to lowly college students of poor cooking skill (myself).

Omelets are included right after scrambled eggs and something called a ramekin (which I later discovered is a soufflé dish of sorts, thank you Crate and Barrel).

Omelets are perfect for quick cooking. The one art you really even have to master is the flip without cracking the omelets down the side. Don’t worry, it’s learned easily.

Julia says that a good omelet is smooth, tender and creamy on the inside and should take less than thirty seconds to make. She also recommends practicing the movement and visualizing it before the actual technique is applied. Something about a wrist flick that can be learned much easier when shown instead of reading it aloud.

The pan must be greased well for a good flip. One omelet can include up to about eight eggs and should be beaten well. Two to three eggs are best for one tender omelet. The size of the pan should be adjusted accordingly.

Julia recommends butter with her eggs and only that (reminiscent of Madame Paula Deen) but I sincerely believe that sweet onions, sausage and very finely cut peppers should be included in every omelet, as well as a very good quality pepper jack cheese. A spicy omelet is a good omelet, so much that you do not need any Tabasco sauce.

The pan should be on a very high heat already before pouring your mixture into the pan. You can usually tell if butter is used for grease and it begins to change color. You add the eggs and heat them up by circling the pan over the heat. Then add your mix ins.

You either flip the omelet over the ingredients then or you can gather all the eggs to one side of the pan. It really just depends on personal preference. After flipping out onto a plate, be sure to serve right away. It will toughen up over time.

Omelets are a good source of fats and proteins. Cheese can add for calcium.