Antiques, which have been around for a longer period of time, tend to have lengthier histories of reliable scholarship than collectibles, and — theoretically anyhow — it's easier to distinguish the genuine from the reproduction. Once the expert collectors, curators, and dealers sort out all the recognition factors for twentieth-century objects, however, there's no reason that the existence of reproductions should continue to affect collector interest in the genuine article.
Incidentally, don't confuse legitimate reproductions with fakes. Fakes intend to deceive; they won't be addressed here because they require books of their own. You should begin to collect by learning, first, to recognize the genuine. Reproductions, thankfully, are often clearly marked with the name of the reproducer. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art's reproductions of Eva Zeisel's Town and Country dinnerware, for example, are clearly marked as such, as are most museum reproductions-which, by the way, are generally of excellent quality.) These reproductions should be considered (as the Chinese think of all those copies of Ming ceramics) as significant tributes to design and the continuing popularity of a classic original.
Become a Successful Collector
How? First of all, learn to focus. Decide once and for all whether you want to own examples of all the Bakelite bracelets in existence, or only the Bakelite bangle bracelets. Decide if you love the color green well enough to restrict yourself to collecting the hundreds of examples of Jade-ite kitchenware that would constitute a complete collection or if you really need a touch of red among the plates and bowls. Decide if you want to own only vases by Weller or if you'll allow yourself that great piece by Hull that's a virtual steal.
Before you go out hunting, get yourself a notebook so you can jot down information on the pieces you discover. Include where you found the piece, price, condition, portability (size and weight), and manufacturer. Also keep track of your plans for your growing collection. Are you willing to have it include some examples that are in mediocre condition? Do you prefer exciting design to excellence of manufacture? Is it important to you to know that you own things that are rarities or unique in the field? The more you know about your own likes and dislikes as they apply to collecting, the better satisfied you will be with your collection.
Work on self-discipline. Try not to purchase a piece that doesn't fit within the parameters of your collection just because it has an attractive price tag. And always be prepared to spend more on occasion than is entirely wise. If you're pricked by guilt as you cart home find after find; if you fret about spending far too much on your "frivolous" passion, try to remember that compared to numerous other compulsions (some of them carved in stone), collecting is a harmless vice. Keep in mind, too, that the pain of paying more than you intended will eventually ease and pass into forgetfulness, but the pain of letting some irreplaceable treasure go will return to haunt you for decades to come-usually at 3 a.m.
Finally, keep in mind that melding rarity, fine condition, great design, and high quality in a single assemblage of objects is possible to achieve, but unbelievably difficult. So, be prepared to give it half a lifetime, for starters.