5 Ways Collectors Can Keep Active During Social Distancing

Rebekah Kaufman
Published on

The “new normal” of social distancing and sheltering in place has altered practically every aspect of our lives. Many of us find ourselves at home, with a little more time on our hands than usual. There are several practical, collection-centric activities enthusiasts can do right now that are good for their hearts and heads – as well as their treasured items. Each exercise has long term, positive outcomes that will far outlast this disruptive pandemic. Here are five to get you started.

Catalog

Do you have a central database, or spreadsheet, which documents and catalogs the items in your collection? Although this may sound obvious to some disciplined collectors, many others do not have this in place for any number of reasons. Basic entries per item usually include the name of the item; a brief description of it, including artist or manufacturer if known, condition, size, marks, provenance, and/or outstanding features; where you purchased it; and the price paid. Such rosters are critical for insurance, appraisal, inheritance, and collection management purposes, among others. Once you have this list up and running, update it regularly with acquisitions and deaccessions, and store copies of it in several places. 

Satsuma pottery. Photo courtesy of Treadway.
Satsuma pottery. Photo courtesy of Treadway.

Now, on a less fun note: you may know everything about each item in your collection, but your heirs do not. Your descriptions and work here could be the difference between your lifetime passion heading for a landfill or a premier auction house upon your passing. Your cataloging should also specify exactly what you want to happen to your collection upon your death – either by item or in its entirety. 

Clean

Keeping precious or antique items clean helps preserve their integrity, aesthetics, and in some cases, value. Even items behind glass can get dusty, and dust can cause physical damage to some fabrics and natural materials over time. When was the last time you took a really close look at the cleanliness of your items on display – especially those in high traffic areas, or those displayed near windows and doors? We won’t tell if you don’t! Given spring and cleaning go hand in hand, now might be the best time to give the items in your collection a gentle dusting, wash, buff, fluff, polish, or whatever is appropriate for their age, composition, and category. 

Gustav Stickley Mantel Clock 14" tall. Photo courtesy of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts.
Gustav Stickley Mantel Clock 14″ tall. Photo courtesy of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts.

Rekindle

Here’s a twofer. If your collection is displayed on shelves or in cases, take everything off or down. Now dust those surfaces! This helps to partially accomplish the “cleaning” suggestion noted above. Next, carefully study each item on its own. Chances are, you will discover something really interesting about some of these items, perhaps a detail or configuration you hadn’t noticed before. Or perhaps you will “re-find” a thrilling example you forgot you owned. Interests and preferences evolve and grow; take this gift of time to evaluate and focus on your collection and the priorities and motivations behind it. Looking at your collection with a fresh eye today will help better inform your acquisition strategy moving forward. And of course, once you return your items to their display homes, make sure to put your rediscovered favorites right up front. 

Click

If you are a collector of any type, chances are you enjoy looking at other collections. Today’s technologies make it easy – and usually free – to virtually tour, visit, and enjoy collections from some of the world’s finest museums from the comfort and safety of your own home. Premier destinations from every corner of the globe, including London’s Tate Britain, New York City’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Japan’s Tokyo National Museum, all offer online access to their spaces and collections. Check out the full listing of these international “armchair excursions” on the Google Arts & Culture page. Collectors are also starting to connect with each other through online conventions and events during this period of social distancing. Although originally designed for international accessibility, affordability, and inclusiveness, virtual events right now offer unprecedented learning and networking opportunities… in a most unprecedented time. The Virtual Doll Convention, recently covered by Auction Daily, is a great example of this. 

19th C. Russian Icon – Virgin of the Burning Bush. Photo courtesy of Artemis Gallery.

Teach

As a collector, consider sharing the things you love with the world. Although this can take many forms, all can originate from the comfort and safety of your home. Consider preparing a seminar on your collection to share online, or in person, once things return to normal. How about putting together an exhibit for your local library, senior center, or after school program to go live when they reopen? I have a housebound collecting colleague who is taking one interesting thing from her diverse personal collection per day, writing up its history and details, and sharing its story on Facebook. “I’m going to try to do this every day,” she said, “…pick an object in my house and tell you about it. It’s 1/2 antique lesson and 1/2 to keep me from going completely bonkers while I’m stuck in place.” 

And finally, writing a research article is another option. For example, I recently welcomed an extraordinary item into my collection. Its presentation, history, and detailing are as captivating as its provenance. Given I had some unexpected extra time to do so, I did a deep dive research-wise on it, exploring every angle and taking numerous photographs of it. I wrote up its story and submitted this body of work to my collector’s society journal, who accepted the feature with glee. A win-win all around. And we could certainly use as many of those as we can get these days!