How-to Tuesday: Starting a Collection

I love the idea of collecting things. My Dad loves elephants, my grandma had tons of these strange little figurines, my grandpa collected stamps, and Tom Hanks is known for his typewriter collection. When I was little, I collected keychains, but that was child’s play. As I’ve established my personal style and homed in on my passions, some collections have started to emerge. Like tattoos, there’s something cool about liking something so much that you want to go all-in. Here’s my guide to starting and building a collection, followed by some detail about my own collections and ideas for things to collect if you’re looking for inspiration.

Image Credits: Laura Gummerman and Elsie Larson; Kim Jeffery; Victoria Pearson; John Gruen; via decoist; via Anthropologie; via

The Guide

  1. Get Started
    1. Figure out what you want to collect. There are a couple different ways you can go about this:
      1. Purely Aesthetic: Sometimes collections serve the purpose of simply creating a decor “moment.” That’s how I felt when I saw Elsie’s rainbow glass collection. This creates a beautiful statement. It’s something that can also be done in a single color palate for an equally wow-filled moment.
      2. Meaningful: Who cares what it looks like – collect something that holds special meaning for you. Are you a big wine drinker? Save all the corks from your favorite bottles and stick em in a clear jar. Or save matchbooks from your favorite restaurants (which, sadly, isn’t so much a thing now that smoking indoors is banned). You could collect vintage leather jackets if you’re an edgy fashionista or apothecary jars if you’re a doctor/pharmacist.
      3. Combination: The best collections (IMO) are both beautiful and meaningful. Maybe your family is in the bar or liquor business so you start collecting crystal decanters. Or perhaps you grew up fishing with your dad so you have a collection of colorful lures. Did you and your spouse bond over travel? You could start collecting globes or postcards.
    2. Just start. It was so long before I began collecting oyster plates (read more on that below) because it’s not the cheapest thing to collect. I didn’t want to buy one plate and then have to just let it sit there while I waited til I could afford the next one and the one after that. You can’t start displaying them until you get enough of them to look substantial and since I wasn’t going to drop $1,000 at once, I just didn’t buy any. Finally, I realized that was silly. I needed to just get started. Sure, it may take a few years, but it’ll take even longer if you don’t buy any. Just pull the trigger.
  2. Build It Out
    1. Always be on the lookout. Check sites like Etsy, Ebay, and EBTH constantly if your collection is vintage in nature. Also, you’re more likely to stroll shopping districts when you’re traveling (vs. in your own city) so approach tourist expeditions with your collection in the back of your mind.
    2. Take your time. If you’re looking for something purely aesthetic (above), you can often order in bulk; however, if you want your collection to feel more personal, it won’t happen overnight. You want to flesh out your collection with pieces that seem to call to you. When you rush it, it’ll end up looking cheap. You don’t want your wall to look like an Applebee’s, with all their made-to-look-vintage signs.
  3. Display or Store
    1. If your collection can serve a decorative purpose, you’ve basically got yourself some stellar original artwork at a fraction of the price. Frames, open shelving, and plate hangers are all great options. I love this lookbook from House Beautiful.
    2. If you’re not displaying, get yourself some clear storage bins and keep things organized and compartmentalized. If you simply dump things in a bag, you won’t ever look at it. If you’ve got some sort of a system (bonus points for clear sided holders so you can see things), you’re more inclined to revisit those items. Even if you’re just sitting alone on the floor of your closet, that’s the kind of thing that sparks joy, which is why you started the collection in the first place.

My Collections

  • Whiting & Davis Handbags I got my first Whiting & Davis piece (a small coin purse) from my Mom, who had received it as a gift from my grandma (her mother in law). Ok, I may have stolen it. Since then, I’ve purchased one every few years, always keeping my eyes peeled for vintage pieces to build upon my collection. My most treasured one, though, is the one I found in my Grandma’s closet after she passed, since she’s the one who sparked my affinity for the brand in the first place. Dainty, elegant, and a bit glam – they have such a regency look and are perfect for formal events. When it comes to fashion collections, I love the idea of one day passing the collection down to a daughter.
  • Playbills I’ve saved almost every playbill from Broadway shows I’ve attended. They’re stuffed in a bag in the back of my closet.
  • Oyster Plates While some collections aren’t meant to be viewed (like my Whiting & Davis or playbills), others are curated and displayed for all to see. That’s what my oyster plates are. I have begun collecting vintage oyster plates that are beautiful enough to be displayed. This collection will take some time to finish because the plates can be quite pricey. I source them on Etsy, Ebay, and thrift stores and think they look lovely behind the dining table. Why oyster plates? Well, oysters have become kind of a symbolic food for me and my beau. They’re extremely popular in each of our hometowns, albeit served in totally different ways. In the Lowcountry, we like ’em roasted; in the Northeast they eat them raw. We always love eating raw oysters on the street by our favorite fish monger on Arthur Avenue and at our wedding we combined our two cultures by serving an oyster shooter (with vodka floater, of course) as one of the passed hors d’oeuvres. So basically, this collection is beautiful and a reminder of how we found some common ground between our Northern/Southern cultures. Hanging plates is a common thing (though I’m told it’s far more common in the South, where I grew up) but I took it to another level by choosing a specific type of plate that’s full of meaning for us.
  • Cheese Boards – This is not a collection I’ve started, but one I’m considering if we ever move. I love to assemble a cheese board almost as much as I love to eat it. I think it would be cool to have a bunch of wooden ones in various shapes/sizes grouped together on a wall.

Cool Collections I’ve Seen

  • Memorabilia: Playbills, vintage movie posters, magazine covers, sheet music, and records all look great grouped together on a wall. Memorabilia can be personal, too. I’ve seen cancer survivors save all their hospital bands and it was beautiful.
  • Knick Knacks: Vintage keys or patches look very cool when corralled together and framed or placed in shadow boxes.
  • Kitchen Objects: I’ve seen salt and pepper shakers and tea kettles displayed in bakers racks.
  • Outdated/Old Timey Items: I’ve seen old school film cameras, war-time revolvers, and typewriters, grouped and displayed.
  • Sports: This seems standard, but it can go beyond memorabilia. Golfers can save a ball from every course they play or tennis pros can collect vintage rackets.
  • Travel Souvenirs: It’s common to zero in on an item and pick up one from each destination you visit. I’ve seen this done with postcards, ornaments, snow globes, and coffee mugs.