Display your Collection

January 16, 2016 by  
Filed under New, Spotlight

Display your Collection
The time has arrived to display your collection of ‘whatzits’. The day it will no longer be relegated to that stuck drawer. No longer stuffed into those generic plastic storage tubs marked, “Shoes“…lurking at the back of your garage.

What brought on this new insight?

Maybe you’ve just tripped over that bloated cardboard box.  You know … the one full of ‘whatzits’, for the last time.

Or, maybe it was the purchase of that final collectible …the crowning jewel for your collection.

Whatever it is that got you here I say, “good on you, ..it’s about time.”

It’s not been an easy journey. Your collecting road has taken you to out-of-the-way shows, auctions and even online. You’ve met others along the way. Some like yourself and some slightly fanatical.  

You’ve spent years buying and selling individual pieces. Tweaking your collection. Massaging it into what it has today.

Which has brought you to where you are now. You’re ready to display your collection. Ready to share with the world.

And why not?

Every piece you own has a long ribbon of story in it’s wake. Snippets of facts and trivia you can recite on cue like a Shakespearean actor. But there’s more.

You also know the story in acquiring each piece. Your story. What it took to find and to make it a part of your collection and your life.

We go from privately enjoying what we have quietly gathered to showing the world the collection we have built. And developing that into something shareable for everyone.

I’m talking about your willingness to now display your collection.

Letting those around you in on what you’ve spent all this time collecting.

There are many positive reasons for displaying your collection too. It may have become large and unmanageable. This will compel you to take stock of what you have.

If you display your collection you will be forced to distill it. To trim off the fat. After all, collections require physical space. In some cases lots of it. This will help you to identify which items will move to the top shelf and which will become part of the next sell-off.

Displaying will make you more social too. When you collect you get a sense of identity. When you display your collection you now gain a sense of community. Think back to the last time  you admired someone else’s collectibles. I’ll bet the conversation flowed as free as honey.

You were always going to get here. It’s the collector’s nature. In fact it’s the one biggest differences between a collector and a hoarder. Hoarders simply gather in guilt.

Displaying is not an option. True collectors move to making their collections public. They are proud of what they have accomplished.

So how do you begin to display your collection?

There are going to many variables to consider first depending on the individual and their unique collections. Space needed versus space available is a huge consideration …maybe the biggest. Followed next by your budget.

This is a story about an experience I had many years ago.  This is especially for those who may feel they have far too many items to display. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. A new way of thinking really.

First a bit of back-story. Fifteen years ago or so,  I was running my own landscape construction outfit. One day I received a call from a gentleman inquiring about me coming to work on his property. He was brief and to the point. His address was close to mine and we made arrangements to meet at his large rural property the next day.

His was originally a farming community named “Snelgrove.” It was now dotted with new subdivisions. Including one where I bought a small home. The community had been annexed by the encroaching city but large farm properties still existed.

I arrived at his address as arranged. It turned out to be over 100 acres of rolling property with a large ranch style home and 3 large barns. All very well kept. Except for the fact the construction styles were decades old it looked like everything was brand new.

I started down the paved driveway and arrived at a wrought iron gate framed with brick pillars. I pulled my truck close  enough to reach the intercom when the gate suddenly lurched. It began slowly churning out a rhythmic, “clak-clak-clak…”

And like the great “Oz” himself…revealing himself as the curtain drew. I now could see that gentleman that had placed the call.

There sitting silently on a large gleaming riding-style mower was a man close to 80. He looked one size too small for his clothes. But he was dressed very neatly in crisp beige cargo pants, spotless white sneakers and blue shirt buttoned to his chin. A tall straw cowboy hat tipped heavily to one side. He looked like a character from a movie. He was extremely dapper.

After introductions I learned he had owned the property for well over 50 years. He had farmed thousands of the surrounding acres. That is until the “city people”, as he referred to them,  started arriving and building subdivisions.

My home too was on land he had plowed decades earlier. He even grumbled about the clay content he had to deal with on my corner.

As times changed he switched careers and began to sell insurance. He’d now retired from that as well but had apparently been quite successful. Throughout it all he maintained his property, never downsizing below 100 acres. In fact he renovated the barns and home while adding paved walkways and sitting areas all over the property.

We talked very briefly about the job he originally called me about. And while he was an extremely likeable old gent I could not afford to work for him. He had some ideas that would’ve taken me days to complete.

Offering me $30 per day was the tip-off that he was very out of touch with current operating costs or he considered labor to be very cheap. He came from a time where simple hard work got you through and he seemed surprised I had to turn him down.

I then suggested he may be better off looking for someone more in line with his budget. There were many students in the area that would’ve been happy with the arrangement. As I began to climb back into the cab of my pickup he suddenly asked if I’d like to see his collection before I left.

Okay, now this could be interesting, I thought.

So I happily accepted. He stayed seated on his riding tractor and started down an immaculately paved winding pathway. I walked behind him.

After a few minutes we arrived at barn #1. He opened the door and turned on the lights. I was stunned. Looking at this gentleman should have been an indication of what I would see inside but nothing could have prepared me…

I watched as the lights flooded the interior. Besides the aisle there wasn’t an unfilled spot in the entire building. This barn was jammed full. Antiques dating as far back as World War 1 dressed the ceiling and walls.

My head had to catch up with my eyes. I was looking at antique advertising everywhere there was available wall space. Many for products I’ve never even heard of. It was part old time country store and part museum. It was stunning. Vintage glass display cabinets formed a labyrinth of aisles to follow.

There were saluting mannequins wearing military uniforms and medals. Some sitting on overhead wire shelving suspended by cables. Display cabinets were neatly stuffed with even more arrangements of military ribbons, patches, awards and photographs.

Wartime hardware was positioned wherever he found space. I saw antique field radios, knives and helmets. A military motorcycle was frozen in time with a mannequin rider. There were letters, books and magazines that looked like they would be more at home in a pre-war office. I moved throughout the space in awe. The old gent remained politely quiet.

The silence was finally broken by an old style ringer.

One of the many antique wooden phones came to life. He had about a dozen of them mounted to the wall right beside the door we entered. He walked over and answered one of them. He muttered a response then replaced the receiver.

He turned to me and spoke for the first time since going inside. He said that he rigged up old phones in each of the barns so his wife could check on him from the house. He then laughed to himself.

Wait…each of the barns?

Suddenly I remembered there were two more barns. I stammered something along the lines of… the other barns…they look like this too? No, he replied. They were more organized.

We eventually went to the other barns. They were just as mind-blowing. But inside them the collections were more focused. In barn #2 he had partially recreated the platform from the original Snelgrove Train Station. A station that had been gone for almost 25 years.

There was a ticket booth, overhead signage, ceiling and wall fixtures, benches for waiting passengers, luggage dollies with antique luggage…it was truly amazing. He told me he was there at the station the day it was torn down. He bought everything that was salvageable. His goal was to preserve it’s history.

Barn #3 was the same as the other two but this time he had recreated the Snelgrove Telephone Exchange. Antique desks, those strange looking displays with cables plugged everywhere and operator headsets were surrounded by mannequins wearing fashions of the day.

And of course lots of signage, glass display cabinets, desks, lighting and anything else to recreate the illusion of a typical work day for the telephone exchange employees. It was truly amazing. This was way beyond a typical display.

This was a dream project for him. I remember thinking it would take several lifetimes to build this project. And here this little old man had accomplished it all in one.

He noticed that I was overwhelmed trying to take it all in.

Something he had probably seen in the faces of visitors many times over. Admittedly I was a little sad for this guy. These were just barns after-all, not professionally constructed facilities. How could this be sustainable? What would become of all this effort?

He told me that memorabilia collectors and antique dealers have been calling him for years  from all over north America. He didn’t mention a successor so I think he was contemplating finally selling it off in pieces. Not because he needed money but because he wanted some control over where it ended up. He believed strongly in this piece of history.

It wasn’t a wasted effort though. For years now he had been holding tours for local school children and senior centers. About once a week a school bus would arrive for a scheduled tour. The visitors would be shown around the huge collection as well as learn the local history.

He not only spoke of the individual pieces and their significance but how they came to be in his barn. He kept a giant medieval-looking book for comments and signatures. It sat atop an ornate pedestal near one of the displays. It was stuffed with commentary. He even invited me to sign.

Remember what I said about you becoming a part of the story fabric? This old guy had that down pat. He became a part of the living history of each of those pieces I experienced that day. He gave me new insight that hit me like a tsunami. And it’s stayed with me ever since. All in exchange for about one hour of my life. It was a bargain.

“If you display your collection will it change the world?”

Maybe not. But instead, ask yourself this. Will it change one person’s life? If you have dedicated yourself to the message behind your collection then to that I would answer…just maybe. Maybe it will indeed change one person’s life.

So you’ve got some thinking and planning to do. First have a good look at what it is you are collecting. Obviously size is a factor. Collecting vintage buses will present a different set of obstacles than collecting vintage belt buckles.

It’s unusual to have the kind of available space that old man had. His circumstances were unique. But then your collection probably doesn’t rival the size of his either. If you ever feel your task is too great just think back to that old man and his three barns.

The old guy had a very first day too. He started with a single vintage glass display cabinet. In it he placed his most prized pieces. The rest of his collection and his story grew from there.

Now you have some choices to make. You need to start by taking stock of your space requirements. You do that by looking closely at your collection.

Is this going to be displayed in your home or place of business? Will it be viewed by large numbers of people, as in an office lobby, or just a few, as in guests to your home?

Will your display involve a simple ‘stand’ or would you prefer an enclosed case? An enclosed case will need only a wiping down where exposed individual pieces could be a dusting nightmare. Not to mention a case will keep curious fingers at bay. Depending on what you have to display may require a custom approach.

The benefits to an enclosed case are pretty obvious but it does come with a cost consideration. The choices for display cases can number in the thousands. Full glass, glass and wood, custom finishes or you could go with one of the formed acrylics. That’s always an option if cost is a concern.

The possible configurations are as varied as the number of collections out there. You really need to look closely at your situation and identify your ideal solution.

One suggestion though with regards to the glass. Opt for tempered glass, or safety glass if possible. You’ll also want something that protects against UV rays. Those are the  natural ultra-violet rays present in sunlight.

UV is notorious for fading color on whatever it contacts, over time that is. The last thing you want to find on your prized possession, is one side is a brighter color than the other.

After deciding on what you can afford there are some styling cues you should be following. It should blend with it’s surroundings while providing an unobstructed viewing experience. Don’t forget the small details as well. Details such as shelf dimensions or locks. Display cases are big business and you get what you pay for.

One good thing about the display case expense is that it’s cost will be amortized over the life of your collection. You will likely buy a display case only once. After it’s paid for you won’t need to spend any more. Unless of course you decide to expand.

If you’re already thinking ahead to expanding you must consider how many pieces are going to be displayed. Will you display everything or just the cream of the crop? Do you have a location for the additional cases?

The display will cost real money and you want to make sure it is within your budget while adapting to changes in your growing collection.

If your collection grows will it accommodate your additional pieces?

The higher end manufacturers may be able to configure something that can grow with your collection. And don’t forget about the finer details like custom wood finishes and mirror inserts.

You’ve dedicated a good part of your life to collecting what you love. You have painstakingly grown your collection to the point it’s at today. Sure, you will eventually part ways. Your pieces will one day find themselves with new people, that’s life. But for now you are the caretaker.

Which means like it or not you are part of it’s fabric…it’s living history. In 100 years regardless of where that item ends up it will have once been displayed by you. That fact can never be changed. That responsibility alone deserves a well thought out way to display your collection today.

Best of luck and collect well.

Peter
SmokinMonkey.com

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