Developing a Good Eye: Part 3

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Working Through the Where:

The Four Best Stops on a Collector’s Roadtrip


This is Part 3 of an ongoing series. Click below for the previous installments:

1: Learning To Discern
2: Working Through The When


The last time I drove cross country, I talked to people who lived in Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. I was hunting for something specific, so I needed to tap into the locals’ insider knowledge base. I talked to everyone, sifting for an expert.

A map is pretty helpful too, whether or not you have GPS, because it gives you a constant overview of your journey. Still, a map is useless if you have no idea from where it is you are starting. You have to know two things, in fact: where you are, currently, and where you want to go. Developing a collector’s Good Eye and acumen is like that. In fact, it is a whole lot like a road trip.

If time and money are no issue, you can wander around aimlessly, see whatever pops up, and buy everything you come across. No prep, no pain, but also, very likely a lot less gain. However, if a person is serious about becoming an expert, they won’t want to meander, and won’t want (or can’t afford) to fritter away time and resources on regrettable purchases. A person who has determined to take the road to developing a Good Eye takes the time to figure out his starting point, his key resources for the journey, the destination, and the best route to get there. He identifies a few top places he does not want to miss, because there is truth in the saying that the trip is as important as the destination.

There are many ways to learn to ask “Where” questions about your collectibles. The questions could involve learning what the city hallmarks are for silver assayed in Great Britain. You could decide to research which are the best parts of the country to find new pieces for your genre of collection. Another could be, “Which are the best cities for flea market, estate, and garage sale finds?” According to antiques expert Reyne Haines, Texas yard sales mainly yield used clothing and baby gear, while New York estate sales are still a treasure trove for collectors. The “Where Questions” you formulate will be compass points to direct you, as well as markers on your journey to becoming expert. They are also food for conversation with other collectors along the way.

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The First Stop

You really can’t get far down the road without making the first critical stop. This stop is at your favorite, comfortable chair, where you need to sit down, and do a little critical thinking about your current knowledge base, and the areas in which you lack information. If you are a Star Wars memorabilia fan, consider what it would take to learn everything possible about the franchise, its production, and locations. Look at every facet of the object of your fascination. Think about camera and CGI techniques, the script, the costuming, the depiction of outer space and alien worlds. Identify what elements it is about each film (or whatever you collect) that drives you to collect it. Define what is most interesting to you, and then watch for those same elements and their development across the history of the Star Wars franchise. Identifying and then focusing on what makes something interesting, or of value to you, will direct you to ask better questions, and search out deeper and more thorough information in places like online forums. YouTube videos and online education courses, like Lynda.com or Skillshare, are easily accessible pools of information.

Even if your fascination for Star Wars is limited to the action figures, research their development, creation, and manufacturing. This first stop is comparable to the red bubble on the “You Are Here” map at the mall. Without that key element for orientation, you could be lost for hours (days, even), hopelessly unable to find the store you need. This is exacerbated when you find yourself unable to retrace your steps through a vast ocean of parked vehicles all resembling your car. So, before you go any farther, stop and analyze your current position. Define what it is that you love most about what you collect, and identify at least a few areas in which you need to grow your knowledge. This will direct how you expand your knowledge base.

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Collectibles on display from our visit with The Brick Store Museum

Stop Numbers 2 and 3

The 2nd and 3rd places to visit along the route to developing your Good Eye are sites you must not miss. Museums, for example Winterthur, the former home of the Duponts (who were collectors of fine antiques), are the places where you can expand your mind beyond its current limits, no matter what you collect. Museums house collections that time and history have determined to be the most important. Take in what has lasted, what was brilliantly made, what is important enough to have been preserved, and what is still beautiful in spite of changing tastes.

Museums are a gift to your growth. In a similar manner, galleries have the bead on today and tomorrow’s aesthetic. Galleries like the Jackson Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta, GA are the showcase for what is new, what is emotionally moving, what is important enough to be displayed, what commands big bucks, and yet is still purchasable. Both museums and galleries, whether virtual or brick and mortar locations like the Portland Museum of Art, train you to recognize excellence on a level you cannot easily find elsewhere. And, they train you for free.

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@estateguy shared not only this mason jar with the community, but his expertise about the piece as well.

The 4th Stop

The 4th place on the journey that you do not want to miss is that place where you can hang with experts and dealers you admire. Often, they are happy to share information with a kindred spirit, especially if you have clearly spent some time in the above 3 locations on the route to developing a collector’s Good Eye. It’s important to have done this because, typically, their time is valuable. A sincere, thoughtful question from a novice is a pleasure to answer, but thoughtless ones… not so much. Experts are generally busy folk.

That, truly, is the beauty of the Gemr community. There is an array of serious collectors – ones with massive collections, and ones with smaller, highly curated collections. There are a number of amazingly informed collectors, and some flat-out world-class experts in their fields. Comic book collectors could not do better than to spend time in the Comic Book Club with @jetpackcomics. Antiques collectors share club membership with author, researcher, and dealer/collector @estateguy, who has, he says, a “particular interest and knowledge in the fields of early American furniture and clocks,” and a lifetime accumulation of knowledge in many areas of collecting.

There are very few locations, geographically or virtually, where there is access to such a pool of experts. Just by being active on Gemr, identifying the serious collectors and experts, and listening to their interactions about their own, and others members’ collections, you can learn. Consider what background information experts use in their explanations and descriptions. Do they seem to have a larger understanding of the era, or a more technical or mechanical understanding? Add these to your list of things to research, or places to visit on your journey. Study their tagging and info cards; model your own after theirs. This will move you far and fast on the Good Eye road trip.

Paying attention to other collectors’ interactions with experts may highlight elements in a collectible you hadn’t even noticed. Camera and Photographic Equipment Club member, @davidsilver, is a remarkably knowledgeable, globally recognized expert in antique and vintage cameras. A recent comment he made, concerning a fellow gemr’s antique mystery camera, not only shed light on the camera’s maker, model and value, but also pointed out a missing part that no one else had mentioned. An expert’s eye is generally so finely tuned, they see what others miss. They see what ought to be, but isn’t. You can grow just by listening to what they say to others collectors. However, it is by sharing what you have learned that you retain the information. Experts never stop learning. They are sponges, as all collectors should be. And, because experts love what they collect, learning about it is not a chore. That is the leading thought and model we must follow.

The Destination

And so, you see, the route to the destination is learning. The homestretch is the process of critical thinking, using that knowledge. The doorway is the developed Good Eye that enables you to scout out, recognize, and keenly understand which collectible to buy. The warm, and wonderful “Welcome!” is the collection that you will have put together over the years, curating it yourself, with all that you have learned, traveling along the road to acquiring a seriously Good Eye.

Stay tuned for the continuation of Developing a Good Eye: Part 3!