Excerpt: 'Antique Roadshow Collectibles'

Luckily, only some of us are born collectors. Otherwise, it would be truly a jungle out there. Compared with such unquenchable thirst, such burning passion to acquire absolutely all the Lalique perfume bottles ever manufactured or the fifteen best and rarest toy robots, the rest of us are furnishers or accumulators at best. Perhaps one of the nicest things about Antique Roadshow is that it introduces us to hundreds of people like ourselves, people who already are — or soon will be — collectors.

Often, latent collectors start out as innocent heirs of their grandfather's toy cars or grandmother's dolls, things that they had loved as children. Maybe they were forbidden to play with these toys — or allowed to touch them only on special occasions. Today, these heirs have become the careful conservators of that inheritance. While many of them are a little reverential about the family "thingamajig," they have rarely been interested in even semischolarly diggings into methods of manufacture, for instance, or in tracking down makers' names. Most of them are simply curious and not too knowledgeable about values other than sentimental.

Until they visit or watch Antique Roadshow, that is. Because any time a latent collector learns a little more about his grandparents' thingamajig, he starts to look around a lot more carefully. Sporting a similar thing in a shop window, he may go in to ask the price. Often, although it's pricier than imagined, he buys it to complement the one he inherited — first, because it's like the one he already owns and second, he now knows a little about it. Then he adds another and another of the same type of item to something that is suddenly on its way to becoming "The Family Collection of Thingamajigs."

From here, it's just a tiny step to purchasing a good magnifying glass; tracking down reliable reference materials; reading every book available on the subject; ransacking the Internet; attending specialty shows, flea markets, tag sales, and auctions; and always upending, touching, pinging, and turning inside out any and all examples of thingamajigs that cross his path. Now, our latent collector begins examining inner workings and condition (that's what the magnifying glass is for), searching for labels and indications of age, analyzing materials, and thereby expanding his knowledge. Excited and in love, our passive caretaker has become a full-blown collector-late blooming, perhaps, but passionate and thrilled, joining thousands of others drawn to his field by accident, or by interest, or by the object's eye appeal, or — like our collector — by nostalgia.

Unlike born collectors, this group isn't usually driven to own the "all" or the "every." The latent collector's fascination with the object of choice is grounded basically in curiosity, accident, and — all right — some smidgen of acquisitiveness. Love of collecting Mickey Mouse memorabilia, Buddy L trucks, or Norman Rockwell posters has less to do with omnium gatherum than it does with the latent collector's interest in this particular thing and its relevance to the social and historical past — most frequently, his own.

What Is a Collectible?

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