The Value Of Writing It Down Collector Chats

July 10, 2024

The other day I was working with a collection of Native American materials assembled by a discriminating collector. As I went through the items, I was so pleased to see that the collector had tagged items with the data on when and where and for how much he paid for each item. This is something that took some time to do but in the end resulted in a collection that was far easier to understand and evaluate. Record keeping for most of us, and even for a museum geek like me, is challenging. You buy something for a great price and you take it home and enjoy your treasure, but rarely do you think of documenting it. And yet, as our memories fade a bit and we acquire more and more items, where items came from and how much we paid seems to get lost. I confess to having things where the exact amount of the purchase or the shop or the date of purchase has been forgotten. And occasionally I get in the dog house when this accidental memory lapse happens over a gift for my wife! For every collector, whether you have 12 of something or 200, it is important to document your collection. It can be as simple as attaching a tag to the item or more complex by creating a detailed spreadsheet inventory system. The bottom line is that if you get hit by that steamroller tomorrow, your heirs will have some clue what you have. And if something is lost or stolen or destroyed, having that record for the police and the insurance company is vital. The record should not just be the price but also where you found it and when. We have all seen price changes in collecting, so having some kind of notion what you paid and when and where is important when you turn around and decide it is time to sell. Finally, knowledge is key in our business, and recording the provenance of an object is so important in preserving the history of the piece. Many times in the museum world, we are able to make attributions of production or ownership based upon collector records as to where and when they acquired the item. Take, for example, a group of grain decorated blanket chests that I was researching some years ago. Several turned up in collections and I was able, through figuring out when and where they were acquired, to actually establish that most were made in the New Holland area of Lancaster County. Eventually, this led to the discovery of a previously unknown shop. Again, none of this would have been possible without collectors who kept records. So I applaud the original collector who inspired this article. His notes and labels helped me to understand his amazing collection and hopefully will also do so for others in the future. Born to collect should be the motto of Peter Seiberts family. Raised in Central Pennsylvania, Seibert has been collecting and writing about antiques for more than three decades. By day, he is a museum director and has worked in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Virginia and New Mexico. In addition, he advises and consults with auction houses throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, particularly about American furniture and decorative arts. Seiberts writings include books on photography, American fraternal societies and paintings. He and his family are restoring a 1905 arts and crafts house filled with years worth of antique treasures found in shops, co-ops and at auctions.
Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert

Peter Seibert, a native Pennsylvanian, grew up in the antiques business and remains closely tied to auction houses, collectors, and dealers. Professionally, he has served as museum director and public historian in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Virginia. He holds an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State and has authored two books and numerous articles on decorative arts, interior design, and history.


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