5 tips for building a killer collection

Marian ParsonsAll Things Home, Antiques, Decorating, Favorite Finds, Ironstone, Tips and Tricks38 Comments

Yesterday, I talked about paring down and today I’m talking about collecting!  Believe it or not, but the two can very much go hand in hand.  I believe editing is an important part of building a killer collection.

As I was working on the process of purging, deciding what to keep and what to box up to sell, I realized that there has been some method behind building the ironstone collection I have today and I thought I would share it.

ironstone collection | miss mustard seed

Collection building tip no. 1 | Collect what you love

This might be obvious, but if you’re someone who likes a lot of things, it’ll be hard to pin yourself down to focus on one main collection.  (Not that you have to, but having too many collections can get a little overwhelming!)  So, what gets you most excited?  What do you always gravitate towards?  What have you loved consistently enough over time to start building a collection?

I have loved ironstone for 15 years and I am a hound for it.  I can spot it across an antique store and it gets me giddy just about every time.

white ironstone | miss mustard seed

Collection building tip no. 2 | a collection should be dynamic

I think a collection should have “anchors” or statement pieces that always remain, but other pieces could revolve in and out.  The benefit of that is it gives you the opportunity to trade up and make sure the collection holds pieces you really love and not just pieces you collected because you collect them.

If you’re a collector, you probably know what I mean.  When you first start a collection, you just want that collection to get big, so you buy indiscriminately.  Eventually, your tastes become more refined and you learn that good collections aren’t about quantity, but about quality.  Challenge yourself to let go of pieces you don’t love or they don’t contribute anything to the overall collection.

ironstone tureens | miss mustard seed

collection building tip no. 3 | A collection should have a “crown jewel”

It took me a few years before I splurged on the highlight of my ironstone collection – a cake pedestal.  I am so, so glad I did, though.  It’s better than having the 8-10 pieces I could’ve bought instead of this one.  I think every collection needs that one special piece.  It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or most valuable, but it should be the piece you love the most.   While the cake pedestal (below) is the most valuable, my favorite might be the large soup tureen I found in my Oma’s attic.  (It’s the largest tureen on the right in the picture of above.)

 ironstone cake stand | miss mustard seed

collection building tip no. 4 | A collection should have variety

I try to be intentional about each piece I keep to make sure it’s unique in some way and it has characteristics that endear it to me.  Sometimes it’s a small detail on the handle, a beautiful hallmark, or even the way it’s stained and imperfect.  There is something that speaks to you and makes it special.

ironstone brush box | hallmark | miss mustard seed

collection building tip no. 5 | A collection should evoke a feeling

It should make you smile when you see it and you should enjoy interacting with it, whether it’s to rearrange, clean, maintain, etc.  If a collection literally sits and collects dust without much notice or is hidden in a cabinet, I would question if the owner really loves it.  Enjoy your things and, if applicable, use them.  Arrange them in a way so you and others can enjoy and appreciate them.

ironstone compote | miss mustard seed

So, what do you like to collect?

collection graphic

To learn more about ironstone, you can read a few posts about it here…

ironstone 101

ironstone paint palette

German ironstone cake stand

ironstone molds

146 ironstone plates

5 tips for building a killer collection

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38 Comments on “5 tips for building a killer collection”

  1. I have a few collections, antique dolls (French and German), seashells and coral, transfer ware, flow blue, antique sewing accessories (and my husband would say sewing machines, lol), and one that keeps growing, and I hardly purge, though I think I should, vases, almost all are old, and used frequently. I am a gardener. My favorite piece of yours, and I always smile when I see it, is the compote with the apples. It is a unique piece. Happy Tuesday Marian!

  2. I love toleware, sandwich depression glassware and a small teacup collection. The toleware I collect for the beautiful flowers. They are the flowers I wish I could grow and they bloom all winter long!

  3. I collected Depression glass for several years and then, all of a sudden, I was over it! I have a large set of mixed transferware that I use every day. I have 30 different plates and a variety of all the other pieces. I don’t see much plain ironstone like you have in your collection, Marian, up here in Ontario but I have been on the look out. I am starting to get into antique and vintage linens too and recently inherited my mom’s collection.

  4. I collect old padlocks – they can be so beautiful, wooden sock darners, Santa head mugs (these only come out at Christmas time) and I have hundred of vintage Christmas ornaments (only the mercury glass ones). My true love, however is Ironstone! I seem to have gravitated to creamers and smaller pitchers, although I have many other pieces. Nothing gets me more excited than to find affordable Ironstone when I’m out and about; it is so hard to find here in NE Florida for some reason. You had a post once that was about using the things you love. That spurred me to hang platters on the walls, use bowls to display other collectibles and to use the things that are still functional.

    1. I collect ironstone, also, and I’m in SW Florida. It is hard to find, but it makes each find so exciting!

  5. I collect vintage quilts, globes and paint by numbers. The globe collection was complete when I finally found the tin banks. . . The PBN and quilts will NEVER be but because there are so many out there, I have strict “rules” for my collection.
    1. Quilts must be hand done, in usable condition, primarily white and in patterns I don’t already have. So I might trade up if I found a beauty Dresden plate in better condition than the one I already have, for instance.
    2. PBN must be well done (obviously!!) and be either birds, horses or winter scenes. No Elvis, Japan, flowers or puppies. This makes collecting harder.

    As I’ve collected – and shed collections (I have collected Jadeite – too expensive! – linen 50s table cloths – I got bored – handmade pottery – ditto – furniture – you only need so much – antique silverware – love but my kids think they taste funny – Fiesta ware – waaaaay too much. . . I could go on ?) I have found that the collection itself is a way of keeping score and what I’m really collecting is a story and THAT is what I love. I love the hunt, the find and the thrill of discovery. The collection itself is almost – almost – incidental.

    Happy hunting!!!

  6. I collect Jim Shore Santa’s lol. I really do and love to display them at Christmas. , I found a beautiful ironstone soup tureen but the price was 150 and I was hoping for a deal:)

  7. We recently moved, so I have been unpacking and sorting all my collections in our basement and pretty much setting up an organized antique store down there that I can “shop” from to decorate the new house. I’ve never been able to do this before, set everything up in categories on shelves, and analyze and SEE it and sort it and decide whether it stays or goes. This is a valuable process! What goes will likely be part of an Etsy shop in the near future. It’s pretty obvious that dishes, fabric, and antique wood chairs are the biggest categories!

  8. I love authentic primitive, and my favorite collection is early lighting pieces. This past week I found the perfect early rush light for 1/10th of the value price. On Friday I also picked up early style tallow candles from Gettysburg that are extremely rare. They are perfect to add to my collection. Your ironstone collection is beautiful! Whenever I see pieces locally, I always think of you, wondering if you had been shopping there recently.

  9. Thanks for the tips. I have several items I love. One is aluminum ware pieces that were my moms. I love your ironstone too. I have a small home and lately I have been trying to downsize some. Its hard with some things but I feel as though you need to surround yourself with things you love and not clutter! Now to find a focal piece and build on that.

  10. I collect Ironstone and old quilts. I love both. I live in Lycoming County and if you ever want to beef up your collection, we have some fantastic shops that have a lot of Ironstone. I would love to show you around. I used to buy everything and now I buy unique pieces or pieces that are a super steal. Some sellers don’t price accordingly so I grab up the really inexpensive stuff. My favorite find is an Ironstone spoon rest. I love it and it sits on my stove. I wash it, dry it and put it back myself. I don’t trust my teenagers! lol

    1. Ha, we would be fighting over the “good stuff”, I’m afraid! 🙂 I will throw elbows.

      It looks like it would be a little far for a day trip, but maybe an overnighter. I’ll have to look into doing that with my mom.

  11. Marian- As always, you can describe things in words as beautiful as the pieces themselves. What really always speaks to me is your ability to create balance and rhythm with the proportion your lovely collection. The first photo is my favorite example of that, but all of your photos speak volumes. Great post. Phyllis

  12. I collect milk glass. It was pretty easy at first when I was finding the usual pieces, but it’s gotten harder to find more unique pieces and/or ones I don’t have. I have a secret shop- this little antique shop in the teeny tiny Kansas town my grandpa lives in. Last time I visited I hit the jackpot and got several new pieces! Also, the last couple of years, I’ve been loving Nativity ornaments. They don’t necessarily have to be antique or vintage (although that’s a plus), just unique. Hopefully I’ll be able to build these collections into something my girls will pass down to their children and grandchildren someday 🙂

  13. My husband and I have been collecting antique and vintage french furniture, garden elements and some china. The hunt is really a big part of the fun and it’s something we enjoy doing together. We really enjoy learning about the pieces and which region and period they’re from. Over the years, we’ve become fairly good at determining what’s real and what’s repo, although we still get stumped sometimes. We’ve met a lot of great people along the way and have some great fun stories to tell.

  14. Majolica! I love the happy colors, the amazing texture and the whimsical feel it has. I particularly gravitate to the leaf motif and have a set of four cabbage leaf baby soup tureens with lids and underplates that I love.

  15. I have been buying, selling, and displaying vintage dish-ware for years. I especially love transfer-ware, ironstone, restaurant ware (what we use for every day), and right now, mid-century art glass in turquoise and olive. I have a thing for platters and pitchers, and I love bentwood chairs. My style has gone from primitive to a mix of modern and country. My kids think I’m goofy because I tell them that “there should be a dish in every room.”

  16. Ironstone isn’t readily available here either. Wonder why? (MI) But like so many others I collect and have for years. Some of my favorites are antique toys with mohair Teddy bears high on my list. I also love quilts and have way too many. I do sell, but as soon as I clear a spot, I find something I can’t live without to replace it, so my volume never seems to go down. Love your blog!

  17. Pewter, can’t get enough of it and there is a great variety in the large coffee/tea pots and smaller pieces. Peacock-motif, anything vintage, especially chenille bedspreads and old linens. Vintage Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers, figurines, love them. What a terrific idea, if you have the space, to categorize and sort your collections so you can actually see what you have set up on shelves in the basement, a mini shop. Beats having things packed in Rubbermaid containers.
    Love your Blog!!

  18. I collect cow-shaped creamers! I think it’s just evolved…I like all the various styles of white ones but my favorite is probably a Guernsey one that’s from the 30’s! All of my cows fit on a tray displayed by my dining room…so far! I also collect vintage Scottie and Westie “stuff” since I’ve owned these terriers for more than 30 years (I had to use my fingers on that count!). Wow. I’m old. I keep editing my terrier collection and I enjoy sharing with friends and occasionally selling at vintage sales.
    Thanks for encouraging our habits!

    1. I love cow-shaped creamers and vintage terrier paintings, hooked rugs, etc. In fact, I’m sitting here in my kitchen typing this and glanced up at my buttery and there are 3 creamers and a vintage pencil sketch of 3 Jack Russells. They make me smile!

  19. Milk glass is my favorite. My husband thinks that I have to much, but he doesn’t have a clue. I am like you and trying to find different pieces for my collection, have even walked out of some of my places without a piece or two before, gasp!!!! There is nothing more exciting than finding the piece you don’t have, its like a beam of light from heaven shining down to highlight the piece for you to get to it, just follow the light…

  20. I have several salesman samples of furniture. These small pieces are mostly found with vintage children’s toys. I have them scattered throughout my house with antique German dolls beside them. I also had shelves made for my kitchen which display 2 of my favorite pieces.
    I too love ironstone and the pieces are also on an open cabinet in my kitchen to enjoy.

  21. I used to collect tea pots (yellow or red only, six cups only) and vintage salt & pepper shakers, and then, like the commenter above – one day I was over it! I gave or sold pretty much everything, and right now, I only have ONE teapot in my house, and only 3 sets of S&P shakers.

    Years ago, I bought myself a glass egg because I thought it was so beautiful. Then I bought a marble egg, and later, found a beautifully worn soft grey and white stone egg on the beach. I put them in a lovely turned wood bowl in my entryway and loved and stroked them every day as I walked in and out.

    But it was a mistake, because people started buying me eggs indiscriminately. Eggs for birthdays, Christmases and hostess gifts! Eggs “just because I saw this and thought of you”. Cheap eggs, expensive eggs, metal, wood and stone eggs, big eggs, little eggs, eggs for dinner! lol I had bowls and bowls heaped with eggs.

    I finally had to get rid of them all so that people would stop buying them for me.

    After I read this post, I realized that I have inadvertently started a bird collection (bird paintings, bird clocks, bird pottery); and I also have some bird fabric that I intend to make into pillows…

    I either need to admit I’m collecting birds and start doing it in a curated way, or put some of them away before I end up with a house full of birds I don’t like or want from well-meaning friends. 🙂

    1. have you read Karen Kingston’s “clear out your clutter with feng shui” there is a hilarious section on why and what people collect, and moving on … People used to give me cats. I don’t know why because I have enough real furry ones! xx

    2. Yeah, it’s sort of that way with me and cows. 🙂 I do like cow paintings and a few other pieces, like my cow head, but I wouldn’t say I’m a cow collector! I like the thought, though, that someone noticed and wanted to gift me with something they thought I would love.

  22. Marian,
    One tip that I might add to acquiring a “killer” collection is don’t discount going to thrift, consignment and estate sales. Many times this is where antique pickers buy their goods to put in their booths and shops and mark it up for profit.

    In fact, some of my best finds have been at consignment and thrift stores such as Goodwill. You wont always hit the jackpot every time but if you are patient you will find you run across some great deals. My experience for the most part is that if you go to a shop that specializes in one type of décor such as French Farmhouse or Mid-Century Modern you will pay more.

  23. I collect the original chartreuse and gray Russell Wright pottery. I’m slowly learning to edit my belongings and focus on the items that truly make me happy.

  24. I love glass…but I especially love Murano glass animals from the 1960’s…you know the small ones that come from bits of glass at the end of the day! The trouble is I’m very clumsy..it kinda runs in my family but only on the women’s side! The amount of animals I have broken purely just opening the package up when it arrives or pulling it out of the cabinet to show my husband…then missing the shelf and bashing the legs off! I have about 300 of them…all different animals..different sizes too! I don’t just collect Murano animals…I just love glass animals! When we visited Las Vegas I managed to find 2 glass flamingos…I just love those! I have some really unique pieces too…I started collecting about 12 years ago…back then they didn’t cost very much but now when I look to add the odd one I don’t have…they have so gone up in price. I love them all and wouldnt part with one of them!

  25. I loved the story about the egg collection! I enjoy collecting Ironstone as well as antique linens. Some posts mentioned they have a difficult time finding the ironstone in their area of the country. I have often heard that it can be easier to find antiques especially in the Northeast or eastern coastline. The theory being that years ago as people migrated west, they left things behind and did not bring all their possessions with them to where they resettled. I dream of taking a trip up North and scooping up some finds. In my area of Tennessee, you just have to be a little more patient, but it makes that special piece all the more thrilling when you find it.

  26. I love my vintage Pyrex in Butterprint that I inherited from my mom. I try to add pieces, whenever I can find them for a reasonable price, which isn’t often. 🙁 Plus, it’s a fairly rare print… hard to find.) I’m adding pink vintage Pyrex prints, as well.

    I just started collecting ironstone. VERY difficult to find here in So Cal. =/ But, my first piece was found at our local Salvation Army. A beautiful, plain mixing bowl I ‘stole’ for $7.00. 🙂

  27. I collect rare and old books. I have a small collection, but it is something I hope to see grow. I have a collection of my Memaw’s Avon bottles. I am not adding to them, I just have them as is because they were hers, and she is in heaven.

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