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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Vintage McCoy – “Spring Wood” Jardiniere and Pedestal

I wrote about vintage McCoy pottery before, specifically my lovely green planters. Today I would like to introduce the largest piece in my collection. Take a gander at my pink Jardiniere and metal pedestal from the “Spring Wood” line:

McCoy Jardiniere and stand

Isn’t she a beaut? Skinny legs and all. Jardinieres are large decorative planters (the word comes from the French jardiniére which is the feminine form of “gardener”). McCoy made different jardinieres over the years and many came on pottery or metal stands. Finding a jardiniere with matching pedestal is quite the feat for collectors, so I’m lucky to have found one with both “jard and ped”.

The “Spring Wood” design was first produced in 1961. It was made in pink, white and mint green with hand painted dogwood flower motif and a satin glaze. The design proved popular and was also used on smaller planters and vases. I love this set’s vintage look. The legs in particular, with their slightly “space age” satellite configuration, are classic mid-century modern.

My Jardiniere is in great condition with only one small mark. There is a slight indentation from when the pottery was made on the upper right corner of the design. It’s a minor flaw and otherwise the pot is without cracks, chips or crazing. The pot measures around 9″ wide and 7″ tall. She’s a good solid planter used every day to house my money tree.

McCoy jardiniere and stand

Amazingly, the money tree is still alive!

Spring Wood Jardiniere and Pedestal

McCoy Jardiniere and stand

I bought this set in an antique store in Quebec City about 10 years ago. When I bought it my boyfriend and I didn’t have a lot of extra money, so I know I would not have paid a huge amount (maybe $80?) I can’t remember, but I know the price was on the line between “that’s a lot of money for something I don’t need” and “if I don’t get this now I will always regret it”. I think every collector faces this dilemma from time to time! To sweeten my deal, the price also included a smaller rectangular planter from the same line. How could I resist?

McCoy "Spring Wood" planter

The matching planter

My jardiniere and stand has given me 10 years of stylish keeping-plants-off-the-floor service, and it will always be a favourite piece in my vintage McCoy pottery collection 🙂

Thinking of collecting McCoy? Check out the McCoy Pottery Collectors Society for great info including production dates and photographs of popular lines.

Vintage McCoy Pottery – Green Planters

I’m back! I’ll leave my absence unexplained but let’s just say it involved espionage and sports car chases through exotic locales. It was definitely not due to tax preparation.

I thought I might dip my toe back into blog writing by introducing yet another of my collections – vintage McCoy pottery. Vintage McCoy planters to be exact, and in this entry at least, green planters. Here’s the small assortment I have right now:

Green McCoy planters

Those colours are a bit brighter than normal. Guess who has two thumbs and recently discovered all the settings on her new camera? This girl!

As you can see, I haven’t actually planted anything in my planters, but rest assured these vintage beauties are fully functional. I hope to install narrow glass shelves on our dining room window and display some of my McCoy collection with plants. I love the idea of having partial privacy from the planters, while at the same time allowing light to filter into the room. The plants should do well in the light and the shelves will be in a corner so they won’t be in the way. I know this type of window shelving was more popular in the 1950s but there’s no reason not to revive the trend today if it fits your space! Even Martha Stewart is a fan, as you can see from this photo I found on her website:

Glass shelves in window

Mmmmm. That's tasteful.

Even if you’re not at the point of renovating the windows, McCoy pottery is still a very approachable and affordable brand to collect. McCoy started back in 1910 in as a sanitary and stoneware company in clay rich Zanesville, Ohio. The wares first made by the company were more utilitarian in nature, but then in the 1930s they began to market more decorative pieces for the home. Much like the Shiny Brite company, McCoy pottery became very popular with middle class families in the 1950s due to their quality workmanship and mass-produced price. McCoy branched out from mugs and kitchen ware to include planters, cookie jars, jardines, wall pockets and vases. The items came in a huge variety of shape, colour and glaze. I collect pretty much exclusively the planters, but even in this one area I can easily find shapes ranging from flowers to animals, birds, fish and even boots. Take a look at the variety in my small collection of green, standard shaped planters:

Notice the glazing on the bamboo planter (vintage from the 1960s):

The beautiful variations in colour and glaze make every piece unique. The more common shapes and colours are still found for affordable prices. For instance I found this chalice inspired planter at my local thrift store for $10:

Try to find something this nice at Walmart for ten bucks.

You ever hear the expression “the real McCoy”? Well, that’s actually a very old Scottish saying and nothing to do with pottery at all, but it does serve as a memorable warning about McCoy knock offs. The brand is so popular that newly made reproductions have been found in many styles. Collectors who buy pieces worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars must carefully inspect the mark and the quality of the clay before purchase. The marks varied throughout the years, and some items were never marked in the first place. Marks can be convincingly replicated on reproductions, but what is harder to replicate is the heavy clay used in real vintage McCoy. New pottery is more brittle and less dense. The glazing might not be as expertly applied, or cover the proper amount of the surface as well. In general, the knock offs look and feel cheaper than their authentic counterparts. Try to get your hands on some real ones and inspect them carefully to know what feels right.

McCoy pottery marks

You can see the variety of McCoy marks on even this small selection of items.

Don’t let the fear of knock-offs stop you from picking up one of these delightful pieces if you find one at an antique show or in your local SallyAnne. Online sales can be a bit tricky, but this is where feedback and reputation are important. I’ve bought from reputable dealers online with no problems at all. The real McCoys are still available and affordable in many styles. If you are in doubt about making a substantial purchase, you can use the links below to help guide your decision. I’ll profile more of my McCoy pottery later, as well as any updates on those dreamy glass shelves 🙂

Real McCoy Links (about real McCoys!):
Chiquita’s McCoy Pottery – Chiquita likes McCoy a LOT. Great photos of her vast collection, as well as collecting tips and historical information.
McCoy Pottery Online – Marks, history, photos, auctions and all things McCoy.