Part 1 – Let’s Begin

The term “steward” is an important one, because stewardship is what collection management is all about. The very concept is important, because a collection represents many things. It can represent your values, your point of view, your taste, an historic perspective, a certain artist’s works, and so on. What you collect and how you organize it is unique to your way of thinking. And you are the caretaker of those objects that comprise your collection. You’re doing it for yourself and for generations to come. This is contrary to the collecting experience in general, because collecting is a self-centered activity. This new perspective has caught many collectors by surprise, because they never thought-at least when they began-that their collections would be either important or valuable. It’s like the old guy on the park bench who says if he’d known how long he was going to live, he’d have taken better care of himself. Hope you got the point here.

Many stewards begin training a junior steward long before their own passing so the new steward, when the time comes, knows how the collection is organized, how the original collector thought of the objects, how or when to add acquisitions, and so forth. What is interesting and kind of intriguing is that we never know what will be of value tomorrow. Often a well organized collection can begin a rebirth of interest within a specific category.

This is easily illustrated when one considers the John Basmajian collection of animation art that was offered for sale in 1984. The Basmajian Collection sale was the single-most thing that led to the resurgence of interest in animation art we are still experiencing today. But Basmajian didn’t know that when he began saving odds and ends at the studio where he worked. It was more than thirty-five years after he began his collection that he was able to see the value of his efforts.

Getting to work

The first thing you probably should do is make a page in your notebook for each object in your collection. It’s not a bad idea to take a photo and tape it to the inventory page. Once you have a sheet for each object it’s time to get to the details. Here are some of the particulars you’ll want to consider recording;

  • Date of acquisition
  • Price you paid
  • Size or measurements
  • Who sold it to you
  • Type of enclosure
  • Location on your premises
  • Anything special or particular you know about the item
  • Relative value to the collection

The last point is one of the most important, because only you can make the determination of the importance of the object to your collection or proposed collection. Plan your collection as though you were a museologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is easier than it seems. You’re about to consider the following;

  • What is my collection about?
  • Does my collection tell a story?
  • Do the objects in my collection relate to one and other? And, if they do, how?
  • What is the importance of my collection within its realm?

Some of these questions are going to be difficult to answer early in your collecting experience. Not only because you can change your course as time goes along, but because trends in collecting are tough to manage. They often govern what’s available. A fine example of this is that a year prior to the 50th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs only a modest amount of art from the Disney film was available in the marketplace. Just afterward it seemed like everyone had something from the famous film for sale. But never loose sight of those questions. You will be able to come up with answers.

Collecting is like trying to win at gin rummy-sometimes you have to change your hand several times before you get a winning one.
Also, as you budget for your collection don’t forget the extras. There’s framing and matting, insurance, storage materials, and maintenance. It’s not a bad idea to set aside at least ten percent of your collecting funds for these things. A cel can cost you $1000, but framing might be $200, conservation and restoration $300 and an appraisal $35.