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Featured Article/Paper Number 2

by Dr. J. Darragh M. Elliott, M.Sc., Ph.D.



Like many children, my collecting started at an early age with the collecting of coins and stamps.

While my parents, and I also were pack rats, I did not have any training or advise on the art of collecting, and so with what little money I had at the time, I decided to have a lot of inexpensive coins instead of only a few that would appreciate in value in the years to come.

Gradually over the years my ideas and preferences changed, I made mistakes, I bought things that would never appreciate, threw out items that I should have kept, but I learned early on to buy what I liked first and to think about it later as an investment. I suppose that the old adage applies, "the older the boys, the bigger their toys." However, I still feel that this is the first rule of any collector, serious or otherwise.

The second rule took quite a while for me to really appreciate. This is, if I may take a quote from the Walt Disney movie So Dear To My Heart, "It's what you do with what you've got that counts." In this context, it is the psychology of collecting. If you purchase an item, not only because you like it, but also with the idea in mind at the time of purchase, that someday you will sell it, if only to upgrade your collection, then it becomes much easier to part with it at a later date for whatever purposes are intended, and you will be able to part with the item much easier. You have not fallen so much in love with the item that it is impossible to part with it.

In a number of areas, I am now a serious collector, but I arrived at this stage inadvertently, and through many years of training and in so learning, the actual learning was for pleasure that turned into a business, and thence into the business of appraising.

It started with the career of my mother, who was not only a opera singer, an extremely creative person in crafts and architecture, and a painter for more than forty years. As a result, I was introduced to the arts, and brought up with "hands on experience" in fine art, art history, china, porcelain, furniture, and of course the performing arts. If I learned anything at all, I learned that to be creative, is to learn how to think.

With the passing of my mother, I was asked to donate a trophy to the Duplicate bridge section of the Granite Club Limited in Toronto, Ontario in her memory. While I could have gone out and purchased a trophy, I decided that it would be more in keeping if I put to use the talents that she had taught me, which was to create my own.

Here again, I could have taken the easy way out, but no I had to take on the most difficult of area art to create (the hand). What resulted after many hours of designing and sketching to get it exactly right, was a symbolic pair of hands, joined at the wrists and cupped. This sculpture was cut out of metal, gas welded, and then silver plated. It turned out to be approximately 30 inches high by 4 inches deep, with a varying overall width. This then was placed on a double tiered pedestal, giving it a overall height of 38 to 40 inches.

The meaning behind the creation of this sculpture was, that the pair of hands were holding a hand of cards. However, the cards that these hands are holding cannot be seen, as she is not here to be able to show them to you. But that cards that these hands are indeed holding, are those that are dealt to one over one's lifetime, and it is how they are played that determines the outcome.

I guess that the greatest form of flattery is when someone copies your work. In this instance, while only changed slightly, a major corporation copied this design and incorporated it into their logo.

This work brought to light the third rule of collecting which is, the meaning and/or the representation.

From this stemmed the fourth rule of collecting. This is the appreciation of the work, and also very importantly, the appreciation within the value of the work.

Then naturally, followed the fifth rule of collecting, which is the investment. And this is how I became an avid collector.

As my business turned into mainly fine art, sculpture and porcelain acquisition, it became necessary to do a lot of research, and my art, sculpture, porcelain, etc. library grew substantially. However, this was still not enough, as I was being asked different questions such as, "what is this painting worth, is this a real painting by such and such an artist?"

While I had some knowledge on these subjects, it was necessary to have some academic standing behind me if I was going to go anywhere in the "real world". Consequently, I went back to school and took a comprehensive course in Art History.

This also led into areas of playing detective within my research, as well as fakery, and how to some degree to detect it. The restoration and/or conservation of art. This in turn led into the appraisal business of fine art etc.

As a result of my studies, and my previous experience taught me the sixth rule of collecting.

Always do your homework into the history of whatever it is that you are collecting. Find out all of the provenance on the item if it is available. Find out as much as you can about the subject area in which you are collecting. Know exactly what it is that you are purchasing, and why. If you are unable to acquire this knowledge, then in the alternative, hire an expert especially, if it is an expensive item. This is not something to be ashamed of, as within certain areas, even very large dealers have asked me to do the research and to also acquire the items for them. In turn, I have no hesitation in asking someone with greater knowledge for assistance. Even if I have to pay for their services.

My research into fine art and antiques in general, has led me to now be able to analyze a particular item from a much different perspective and comprehension, which would not have been possible for my training otherwise. This then created my seventh rule of collecting.

This is to be selective. The greater your collection grows, the more space you have to find to display it. Therefore, the more selective you have to become. Just because something has a name behind it, does not necessarily mean that it will increase in value especially, if it is of poor quality, or damaged. Here you have to not only take into consideration the subject, and the cost of the item, but more importantly, the time and cost it is going to require to place that item into mint condition. If the subject is of poor quality or subject in the first instance, even after restoration, which in many cases can cost more than the item itself, it will still be of a poor quality and a poor subject. One can be easily taken in by a name, and purchase the item because it was created by so and so. A rose is a rose is a rose. No matter what is done, the subject is still a rose. In being selective, refer to rules one and two.

Therefore, my eighth rule of collecting, if one has followed the first seven is, if you can afford it, and you want it, buy it now, because it may not be around tomorrow, or if it is, or you find it elsewhere, it can be much more expensive. A antique dealer, or an art dealer cannot be an expert in every aspect of antiques or art. In many cases you may know more about the subject, and this is where the studying and research pays off. From experience, even in dealing with auction galleries, either they do not know, or a mistake has been made. A bargain is there waiting for the right person to come along. On the converse, if you have purchased something and find the same item less expensive elsewhere, it is best to remember that whatever was paid for the item is, what it is worth to you and this is the best way to avoid disappointment.

My ninth rule, having learned from my previous mistakes, and also following my first and second rules is, to purchase the very best that you can afford in order to have the greatest chance of future appreciation.

Lastly, my tenth rule is two fold. Always remember, that no matter how good or large you think that your collection is, is that there is always someone out there who has a bigger and better collection of whatever it is that you have. This will avoid making the mistake of pompousness.

Also, to always remember. That you can never learn or know it all. There is always someone out there who knows more about any particular subject than you. Therefore, if one remembers that "it's what you do with what you've got that counts", you should always be happy with your collection(s), and not to be envious of others.


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