Three Rules for Collecting

I’ve always been a natural collector. If I find something I like, a part of my brain immediately lights up and says “maybe you should get another one!”. It’s just natural for me to be curious about objects and enjoy having them around me. To temper my instincts, I have made a concerted effort not to let my collections get too big, or too expensive. I frequently move things to better display everything, and try to know when it is time to say goodbye. If you are a collector, I offer three simple rules I’ve followed in my decades of collecting. With these rules I’ve been able to enjoy my collections and achieve balance in my space.

A small collection of vintage items, grouped by colour.

#1 – Set a Size Limit, then Follow the “One In, One Out” Rule: When you first get excited about something it can be easy to keep acquiring, especially if that item hits your sweet spot in terms of availability and price. For me recently, that item has been vintage McCoy planters. These beauties are found all over North America, but they’re still rare enough that they’re fun to spot. The small ones sell for around $20. They are lovely to me, and I use some of them to actually grow plants, so I can convince myself they’re even useful. With so many reasons to love them, what’s the harm in buying just one more?

The harm, simply, is that eventually I have too many. Hitting a wall with collection size is expected. Collections tend to fill the available space, but there are warning signs when it’s time to stop – You won’t appreciate the ones you have as you try to find a place for another new addition. You will stop being able to display them. You will hate having to dust them. You may look at them and worry about what else you could have done with the money. At this point, you can either sell the whole collection (dramatic but effective!) or you can decide how many is enough, and keep your collection at that number.

Once you’re at your limit, I’m a fan of the “one in, one out” rule because instead of a dead end to your collecting, you will now enter a period of refinement. For instance, now instead of buying three $20 McCoy planters, I will wait to buy a much nicer one for $60. Then I get rid of one of my lesser pieces by selling it so the collection takes up the same amount of space. I’m learning as I go, and investing in pieces that are special. This evolution is how great collections are made.

Most of my McCoy planters are displayed on this antique moveable staircase. The staircase is from a nunnery in Quebec.

#2 – Display Your Collections: Want a really simple way to tell if you enjoy a collection? Look around and see if the collection is on display or shoved away in a box somewhere. There are exceptions (temporary storage issues etc), but in general, if you should have a collection you will have it displayed. You will make space. It will make you happy to see it, because it will reflect an interest or affection you currently hold.

I love to display my collections, no matter how small. I have about a dozen Tiki mugs. One day, the dream is to have a full tiki bar, but for now it’s just a little collection I keep on the book shelf that makes me smile. Learning how to attractively display your collections will make your home more interesting and personal. The golden rule of display is “like with like”. Even three similar items look better displayed together. Aim for a triangle shape in your display (larger items in the back, smaller in front). Group your little collections and put them out where you can see them. Give them some love. Don’t be embarrassed or think that something has to be expensive or “impressive” to be out. Your home is your sanctuary, and if something makes you happy put it where you can see it.

My little selection of new and vintage Tiki mugs (hello Darth Vader!)

#3 – Beware of Nostalgia and Learn When to Let Go: You’re a growing person, so don’t expect all your collections to last. Beware of nostalgia that might make you hold onto an item you no longer actually enjoy. Ask yourself if you’re just keeping something because you’ve always kept it. Or if you have good memories of collecting something (I bought this with dear old dad!) and so parting with the item feels cruel. If this is the case my advice is to shrink the collection to your absolute favourite or most meaningful pieces. I recently had to do this with china inherited from my grandmothers. I didn’t want to keep full sets of dishes, but I did carefully go through the sets to keep a small sample. Then I mounted an assortment of plates on my kitchen wall. I see these plates every day and they mean something to me. This small display is a much better use of these items than having boxes of dishes forgotten in the basement.

Once a collection is no longer making you happy, it’s okay to get rid of it. Honest. You don’t have to feel like you wasted money or time or space. It served its purpose. My mother spent years collecting a full 100 antique biscuit barrels (yes, she kept count). She loved them, but then one day she decided enough was enough. She sold all but a few of her best ones. She moved on to collecting birds for her kitchen. Learn to embrace change and say goodbye to your items when it’s time to let them go.

Sometimes collections are small and silly, like this group of china dog figurines. I displayed them with a photo of Kurt Vonnegut because he liked dogs.

It takes effort to enforce these rules, but collecting is still a great source of joy for me. It’s just how I’m wired. There is a specific excitement in a new find, and the pride of displaying that makes my space comforting to me. By thinking critically, and only keeping what I want to display, I have things I love and room to breathe. Life keeps going, change is inevitable, and the good collector knows how to go with the flow. Happy collecting!

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The Roadshow Antiques South Market

collectivatorrasouthThis summer we took a sunny drive to nearby Pickering Markets for the first time. This large building is situated just east of Toronto off highway 401, and encompasses a farmer’s market, flea market, food court and antique market. There’s plenty of free parking and multiple entrances so it’s easy to navigate. We didn’t spend much time in the flea market but headed straight to the antique section that anchors one end of the building. This is home to the Roadshow Antiques South location. It’s a smaller sister market to the Roadshow Antiques North market in Innisfil Ontario. I’ve never been to the other location, but based on the website it appears quite similar.

The Roadshow Antiques market is sectioned off into aisles and most of the booths are filled with items. I’d say only 5 – 10% of the booths were either unoccupied or very under stocked. The staff were friendly and I had a few people ask me if I needed help finding anything. It was also easy to simply roam the booths without feeling watched or rushed. For convenience the front cash has cubbies so they can hold your items while you browse.

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In terms of general quality of stock, I’d say it’s a mixed bag. I had no problem finding cool vintage items at fair prices, and a truly great selection of Pez (more on that later). However if you’re looking for strictly older antiques or furniture you may be disappointed. This market weighs more towards collectibles and nostalgia of vintage (or newer) age. There were a few booths featuring vintage jewelry and fashion accessories, toys and advertising. Some dealers specialized in popular collectibles like cameras and records. There was some good antique and vintage furniture scattered throughout, but the emphasis was on smalls.

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The Roadshow Antiques market is not going to wow you with every booth, but with over 150 dealers it has something for almost everyone. If you’re looking for classic collectible items like bottles, tins or china you’re in luck. Of particular interest to me were a few stalls full of classic vintage kitchenware. There was diner styled plates, glasses, cake stands, and Pyrex at good prices. I even found a small Tiki display and picked up a new mug for my collection. Speaking of Tiki, if you’re the type of person who finds kitcsh irresistible, there were plenty of “bad art” paintings, cutesy 1950s figurines and odd decor to catch your eye.

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Finally, as I mentioned above, there was Pez. So much Pez. I was in the last aisle of the market, ready to pay and leave, when I turned to see a towering Peter Pez display filled with older dispensers. I literally gasped like a Southern lady with the vapors. If you’re a Pez collector this is a GREAT place to go. The Pez dealer, Darlene, was there and we had a lovely conversation about her collection (some of which can be found on her website Pezopedia). She also sells Lego minifigs, Hot Wheel cars and other collectible toys.

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In the end, I think most people would enjoy checking out the deals at the Roadshow Antiques market. Many of the booths had sales on all regularly priced items, and I imagine stock gets replenished quite often. The rest of the mall offers a food court (the Italian and Mexican food was good), a large section of discounted toiletries and clothes, as well as a great British booth with cheap tea and crisps. We enjoyed spending a few hours comfortably browsing and we left with a bag of interesting items. I look forward to visiting the Pickering Markets again.

Vintage and Antique Shopping in Nashville

Before I get into my post, indulge me for a minute so I can describe where I am. Here, let me give you a visual:

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This is the view from the balcony of my room at the huge “Gaylord Opryland” hotel in Nashville. For most of our trip we were at a rented condo, but this week my husband has a conference so we got a free room here. It’s pretty ridiculous. There are three large atriums with full size trees, waterfalls, restaurants, shops… all under glass domes and surrounded by hotel room balconies. I have a two story waterfall right below me, which I love because it provides the greatest white noise. I feel like I’m outside, in a garden, without heat or bugs. Talk about ideal writing conditions! I could get used to this.

Anyway, before I found myself writing in a fantasy tropical paradise, I was hitting the streets of Nashville looking for antiques. I didn’t get to see a lot, but I did visit the 8th Ave. South area. This is considered one of the main Antique districts in the city. The first place I looked, Classic Modern, was also one of my favourites. It had a great selection of vintage (1950s – 1970s) furniture and accessories, as well as antiques from the 19th century, jewelry and folk art. They had quite a few complete sets of furniture – a full 1950s chrome kitchen table set, or a 1960s couch and chairs for instance. Very cool. Prices were reasonable for the quality of the items. I also talked to the owner and a fellow patron for quite a while – real friendly people around here!

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The second place I visited was “Pre to Post Modern”. I liked the signage out front because it reminded me of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. It said something like “Come inside! It’s fun in here!” on the clapboard, and you can’t resist that.

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It was fun inside! They had a well curated selection of mid century accessories, advertising, clothes, decor and even some furniture. Everything was organized in themes so the clothes, hats and purses were together in a room, there was a rec room with albums and posters, the tiki stuff got its own corner etc. Very fun to browse. The best part was the prices! I was looking at smalls, but even the furniture was affordable. I wish I could have schlepped home one of their bar carts, but as it was I took three tiki mugs for a grand total of $12. If I lived in the area I would be popping in all the time.

Finally, the last place I visited was a good old fashioned antique “mall”. This one was called 8th Ave Antiques. The booths were a bit spotty in terms of age and quality, but I did find more antique furniture, china and art here. Some dealers had recognizable interests like pop culture memorabilia, kitchenware, or country furniture. Others were seemingly random with antique, vintage or even new and reproduction items. I didn’t see anything I had to buy (and pack – a deterrent for sure). Still, there was enough selection that if I were in the area I would gladly try again.

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Although I didn’t see everything the area has to offer (I missed a whole antique mall further up the road!), I enjoyed my antique and vintage shopping on 8th street in Nashville. There was a lot of mid century to 1970s decor, country smalls, and fun kitsch. Antiques (as in pieces over 100 years old) were harder to find but there were some good examples. Prices were overall lower than in Toronto, especially for the mid century modern stuff. Let me put it this way – shopping at even these three stores I’d have no problems outfitting a fabulous vintage rec room. Now I just need to get some bigger luggage!

Vintage Vernonware on “Rules of Engagement”

Holiday preparations are in full swing, and I’m off to sunny Orlando this week, so I’m going to make it quick and share a little something I found on TV. I was watching a rerun of the TV show “Rules of Engagement” (don’t judge me) and what should I see?

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Vintage Vernonware! A kitchen cupboard’s worth! It’s one of the plaids, and it looks like the pattern is probably “Organdie”. Organdie was designed by artist Gale Turnbull. It was the first plaid Vernonware and the other plaids (including my patterns Tam O’Shanter and Gingham) were inspired by this original design. The Organdie pattern was produced between 1937 and 1958.

The funny thing, at least for a nerd like me, was that the plot of this episode revolved around a burglary. The apartment pictured above was broken into, but the thieves didn’t take anything because there was nothing “worth taking”. Ha ha. Joke’s on those imaginary burglars who didn’t realize that if they carefully boxed up that dinnerware and sold it on eBay, they could have made a cool 200 bucks. 300 on a good day. Sitcom burglars never want to put in the effort.

Here’s another look at the Vernonware. They don’t have a lot, but the pieces they have are quite nice. I especially admire the salad bowls (upper right) and tall tumblers (mid left). I’ve been trying to find those in my pattern and they’re rare.

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I’d like to think that at some point the set decorator who compiled these dishes will find my blog. If they do I just want to say hey, good job. Those are some nice dishes. (I’m pretty sure that this article will forever be the only google hit for “Vernonware Rules of Engagement”. I’m going to write niche niche blogs and make my millions!).

In the real world I also made a Vernonware discovery. I bought four bread plates and one small gravy boat in the Gingham pattern from a dealer on eBay. I got the pieces for really low prices – less than $5 for everything – but I had to pay $25 for shipping from California. I still think it was worth it. All the pieces were in excellent condition and my little gravy boat is really cute:

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Vernonware Plaid Gravy Boat

Another small but lovely piece has joined my collection! Now if only I had some gravy.