bbo Blog When none knows what it’s all about, it’s all about money or 5 principal dilemmas of a beginner collector.
By  Beata Bochińska

When none knows what it’s all about, it’s all about money or 5 principal dilemmas of a beginner collector.

Icons on blan­kets, rari­ties on your grandma’s cup­bo­ard, sur­pri­ses from the Inter­net – a hunt for bar­ga­ins! That’s what we like best.

Bar­ga­ins! It’s them that seem to be the big­ge­st dri­ving for­ce of the col­lec­tor mar­ket. Do they real­ly bring a return of the inve­st­ment? And what return? After all we don’t want to tra­de, we col­lect with no hid­den reasons? It’s all abo­ut art! Is it real­ly?

Dilem­ma 1. How to refra­in from buy­ing?

Many of us start from some­thing cat­ching the eye and we sim­ply feel like buy­ing it, the pri­ce is low so why not? A short whi­le later the­re are all kinds of “almo­st clas­sics” peering from eve­ry cup­bo­ard, shelf and card­bo­ard box in our apart­ment. Turns out the real rari­ties are sel­dom ava­ila­ble for 20 PLN … So we buy the (also beau­ti­ful) second league lying to our­se­lves that this will sure­ly pay off. And just a moment after the pur­cha­se we know it will be dif­fi­cult to sell this “almo­st rari­ty” at a higher pri­ce … but wha­te­ver, you only live once, may­be it will turn out well. Bar­ga­ins lure and cal­ls like mer­ma­ids call sailors cra­shing on the reef. Eve­ry­one knows abo­ut the mer­ma­ids and yet they still sail and sail …

There’s no cure for the afflic­tion known as bar­ga­in pur­cha­se. Only the very ortho­dox col­lec­tors can rise up to the chal­len­ge and deny them­se­lves the ple­asu­re of spen­ding small sums. But don’t lose hope, may­be one day you will suc­ce­ed too?!

Dilem­ma 2. Sell or wait?

At the begin­ning of 2016 I deci­ded to sell a part of my col­lec­tion in an auc­tion house. I’ve pre­pa­red for that quite a lot and over 150 objects went for sale. Majo­ri­ty of them was sold. I knew that after publi­shing the book I could pro­ba­bly earn more but I tho­ught that: a. what if none buys my book and pri­ces do not go up (!), b. it wouldn’t be right not to use the eco­no­mic situ­ation I’ve cre­ated (oop­sie, an ide­ali­st in four­th gene­ra­tion … cau­tion! That is incu­ra­ble!). So I sold them. A year pas­sed sin­ce then. After my book „Zacznij kochać dizajn. Jak kolek­cjo­no­wać pol­ską sztu­kę użyt­ko­wą” (“Start to love desi­gn. How to col­lect Poli­sh applied arts”) was publi­shed, ave­ra­ge pri­ces went up 6 times and some got even 10 x higher …

So, if you ask whe­ther to wait or to sell my answer is: always wait! Desi­gn of the mid-20th cen­tu­ry will only incre­ase its pri­ce and wor­th, also the sub­stan­tial one. How sho­uld you obey I don’t know – I am, as you can see, a poor exam­ple of a reaso­na­ble per­son. I am rather a com­pul­si­ve ide­ali­st. For­tu­na­te­ly I still have a few of tho­se objects so there’s still hope. Do not hur­ry!

Dilem­ma 3. To cata­lo­gue or just gather?

-I am not a muse­olo­gi­st, my col­lec­tion is not that serio­us, I don’t know that much, apart from that, I don’t remem­ber if that’s Hor­bo­wy or Dro­st – my nervo­us friend said when I gen­tly poin­ted out that it may be wor­th to have a cata­lo­gue of her objects. She did not want to. And that time it was real­ly serio­us and it would pay off. A few mon­th later she was appro­ached by a por­tal that media­ted in sen­ding vin­ta­ge objects to the USA. Unfor­tu­na­te­ly she didn’t know what she had: how many objects?, what objects?, what pri­ces? from what years? Neither did she know the dimen­sions of tho­se objects (neces­sa­ry for the deli­ve­ry). Gathe­ring all that infor­ma­tion would have taken her 3 weeks – and that much time she did not have … She’s a stub­born Sile­sian, after the defe­at she dug her heels in not cata­lo­gu­ing the col­lec­tion for sure. No is no, that’s it! She doesn’t have to. I just hope none bre­aks in .. with such obsti­na­cy and no cata­lo­gue she has no chan­ce to insu­re the col­lec­tion, and one of her figu­ri­nes is wor­th seve­ral dozen tho­usand PLN. But wha­te­ver …

Cata­lo­gu­ing, apart from the prag­ma­tic aim of allo­wing for an insu­ran­ce of one’s col­lec­tion, its quick len­ding or imme­dia­te­ly sen­ding a descrip­tion to a poten­tial buy­er, brings other bene­fits too. Whi­le cata­lo­gu­ing our tre­asu­res we have to look thro­ugh them care­ful­ly, descri­be them and think abo­ut the­ir featu­res, quali­ties and assets or errors and flaws. Thanks to cata­lo­gu­ing we learn how to see becau­se we have to name the featu­res of the object! I advi­se this les­son of hum­ble­ness and patien­ce to each begin­ner col­lec­tor: fir­st the descrip­tion, i.e. the ana­ly­sis (cata­lo­gu­ing), then inter­pre­ta­tion (con­te­xt aga­in­st other objects in the back­gro­und) and at the end valu­ing (arti­stic and pri­cing). Not the other way aro­und! But who would want to spend so much time on that? Why do we need that? Then comes the sur­pri­se – was that vase wor­th so much? But I’ve seen it a few times in the Inter­net and I never tho­ught it’s so valu­able and good? I had never and I will not unless I can see with com­pre­hen­sion. One sim­ply has to do the­ir home­work.
One more thing: luc­ky people are usu­al­ly the ones that have hel­ped the­ir luck a lot …

Dilem­ma 4. Belie­ve on the word?

The sto­ry is so cli­chéd this time it is dif­fi­cult to tell it. Mr Z. comes to the flea mar­ket in town Ł. eve­ry year. He’s known for having bar­ga­ins for friends. It’s been heard mul­ti­ple times they’re not so bar­ga­in but wha­te­ver, he knows some­one will get temp­ted. And they do. The pla­tes are almo­st under-gla­zed pain­ted, the dra­wing on them is almo­st from the 60ties, and the signa­tu­re is almo­st the fac­to­ry that it sho­uld be. Almo­st. Becau­se Mr Z. is nice, his pri­ces are not too high and not too low, sim­ply bar­ga­in. And he sel­ls. And then, when some­one points out after a year it was not the ori­gi­nal, Mr Z. says he was not sure but if it was the ori­gi­nal he wouldn’t sell it for the pri­ce. And that’s whe­re the Inter­net has its advan­ta­ge – if objects turn out not to be what was in the descrip­tion, we can easi­ly return them and seek our rights. But there’s an objec­tion – we have to read tho­se descrip­tions care­ful­ly. Even ask in wri­ting for addi­tio­nal infor­ma­tion. It’s best if the ven­dor con­firms that’s the ori­gi­nal. If he doesn’t – he doubts – buy­ing such object is our own risk. And there’s no point hur­ling insults at the ven­dor. Our fail, one we’ve asked for. But don’t wor­ry: this has hap­pe­ned to each and eve­ry one of us at least once – the impor­tant thing is to draw conc­lu­sions. It’s not always wor­th buy­ing che­ap, espe­cial­ly … with for­ge­ries :)

In this case my advi­ce is pre­ci­se: you either buy che­ap and risk and then have no pre­ten­tions to any­one or you ask an expert to help you con­firm the authen­ti­ci­ty. Know­led­ge costs but none’s pro­mi­sed that you hob­by will be a stre­am of bar­ga­ins and flu­kes. If it would be so, I sup­po­se, your col­lec­tion would be smal­ler and less inte­re­sting. You don’t need to buy eve­ry­thing very che­aply – it’s impor­tant to buy reaso­na­bly :)

Dilem­ma 5. or doublets, doublets ….

Urban legends abo­ut exchan­ges among­st the col­lec­tors are out the­re, by cof­fee tables and on forums. And what’s more impor­tant, they’re true. It has hap­pe­ned mul­ti­ple times that two col­lec­tors with doublets met and even tho­ugh one of them didn’t have the money for the desi­red object, he did have some­thing that was pre­cio­us for the other one. Such exchan­ges are only reaso­na­ble if you have a doublet or two … That’s why it is wor­th hun­ting for ack­now­led­ged objects you alre­ady have but are sure of the­ir wor­th. The­ir time will come. An expe­rien­ced col­lec­tor doesn’t have to have hun­dreds of most known objects, icons and rari­ties, it’s eno­ugh if they have 30 but doubled – it can quic­kly turn out they’ll acqu­ire the rest in exchan­ge for the others. Yes, eve­ry­thing requ­ires the pro­per appro­ach and stra­te­gy, even col­lec­ting “old vases” – I am tel­ling you, the world is com­pli­ca­ted and full of traps.

Ah, I for­got. To reach the sta­ge of tru­ly bene­fi­cial exchan­ges one has to gain fel­low col­lec­tors’ tru­st. No way to go witho­ut it. So it is wor­th wor­king on your repu­ta­tion, help, repay and be nice. Sha­re an impor­tant infor­ma­tion or a cata­lo­gue, may­be help with a com­pli­ca­ted trans­ac­tion. Nothing works quite as well as mutu­al rela­tion­ships in this world. And such rela­tion­ship are built over years, not with three ran­dom auc­tions … it helps to remem­ber that. A true col­lec­tor, the one from real rari­ties, doesn’t want to just acqu­ire the object. He likes to boast abo­ut from whom (that is from what col­lec­tion) they have it as well. That gro­up is pic­ky and likes spen­ding time clo­sing deals with nice people – that’s part of the hob­by. Spen­ding time tal­king to nice and know­led­ge­able “desi­gn fre­aks” gives them sen­se of joy and belon­ging to the gro­up of inte­re­sting aesthe­tes. It’s wor­th remem­be­ring that whi­le answe­ring a question or deli­ve­ring sold objects – you never know who’s on the other side of the … Inter­net :)