For many collectors and homeowners, the downtime of the last year provided the rare opportunity to do a deep dive into their collections and document their objects of value. This trip down memory lane can be a real project – especially if it means pulling together a lot of items, gathering paperwork scattered throughout the house, and doing a thorough dusting – but the process of assembling, organizing, cataloging, and valuing your collections and assets can also be insightful, fulfilling, and often, surprising. It is also the next, important step for all serious collectors who believe their collections have value, whether monetary or through the history they preserve.
No one knows more about your collection than you do so this next step of personally documenting and cataloging your items based on the information you have, the research you have done, and the knowledge you have acquired, allows you to curate your collections and tell their stories as the narrator, in the way you always intended when the subject first captured your attention and inspired your drive to acquire.
Over the years, I have seen passionate collectors tell their stories and share their collections by building museum-quality showcases in their homes, creating websites as a central repository for their knowledge on a specific subject, posting online image galleries, publishing coffee-table photography books to capture the art behind their objects, and posting YouTube videos to show and share. Do a Google search on any topic of interest and “collectibles” and a wide range of information options will present themselves.
Assembling and assessing your collections can also give you a sense of how much your objects are currently worth (based on condition, rarity, maker…), which should lead you to a conversation with a friend or family member about what you would like to see happen to the collection when you are gone, and what they should know about its value if your intent is to have it sold off or donated. While not every item in your collection may have value or has increased in value over time, here may be those examples where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when deciding what happens to items or a collection, next.
Organizing, documenting, cataloging, and valuing a collection built over time is no doubt daunting. Back when you picked up an item here or there at a show, antique shop, or at auction, the paperwork and receipts were inconsequential when compared to the acquisition. What we paid for something, when and where, may still be lodged somewhere in our memory but exists no place else for authentication. Connecting that memory to the object while you can, is an invaluable service to a legacy collection and therefore as worthy of your time as the time invested in building it.
This asset and collection management process can take many forms, from tagging items and writing down on paper what you know/remember to using an Excel spreadsheet or online museum catalog software to document collections by the objects that define them. This process of profiling individual items within a collection enhances the collection’s reason d’etre and lets you tell the objects’ story.
Back in the late 1920s when my grandfather first started collecting autographs as a hobby, he made it a point to make a note in pencil in the top right corner of the back of every item he acquired with the date of acquisition, where/how he acquired it, and the subject’s name. When he would purchase musical “grab bag” auction lots at Parke-Bernet, he would spend hours at the New York City Public Library researching what he could on each individual in the collection and cataloging that information in a notebook. These notebooks were an invaluable resource when the time came to sell off his collection.
Researching helpful background information on objects and assessing current valuations has come a long way since my grandfather’s public library days. Today, Google searches will bring you to auction platform sites that provide an archival history of sales with catalog descriptions; collector sites with maker identifiers; company profiles and maker biographies; and price guides, among other information. While it used to be that collecting these useful bits of information required going to and sifting through multiple websites, new platform sites for the art, antiques, and collectibles market have emerged as aggregators of this content for more one-stop information shopping and asset valuing. This past month I received a press release from one such company, WorthPoint, which caught my interest as it pertains to this topic.
WorthPoint (www.worthpoint.com) was founded in 2007 and has since grown with the digital information age into the largest online resource for researching, valuing, and preserving antiques, art, and collectibles. Through data aggregated from online marketplaces, including eBay and leading auction houses, WorthPoint offers more than 565 million archived prices and nearly 1.3 billion images to improve pricing transparency for sellers and buyers. This subscription-fee site also offers a page (M.A.P.S.) of over 177,325 identifiers for glass, china, coins, currency, tools, and more, and a Library of over 1,000 antiques and collectibles books, guides, and dictionaries online for reading and research.
This August, the Company released the Vault, a new solution for collectors seeking new ways to catalog collections and position items for sale, and for the average homeowner to document and preserve family heirlooms. This state-of-the-art collection management system combines images of an item to establish provenance, catalogs different types of collections and organizes household valuables to prepare for estate planning, downsizing, or insurance purposes.
Items stored in the Vault receive a WorthScore™, which is a value estimation of similar items sold in a given time period. This helps users analyze price trends and guide decisions about whether they would like to sell or keep their items. The product is especially useful in estate planning, connecting family heirlooms, and oral history, or even locating items within your home to prepare for downsizing.
I share this information not because I endorse or recommend this company but because I have learned something new about a possible resource, and thought you might be interested in knowing more, as well, as you look to take the next, important step in realizing your vision and making plans for your legacy collection.