Forthcoming will be a series of blogs on collecting, collectibles and collectors. I chose Part I to be about what people collect in the field of vintage, and antiques.

If it exists, it is collected by someone. In my long career in the antiques and auction business, I have seen the vast variety of items that people collect.

The reason people usually start collecting is, a connection. Not with the objects per say, but with memories. Sometimes people just plain collect because they realize something appeals to them, this has happened to me with fine art.

People don’t always collect just items, sometimes they collect themes. Here are just a few theme examples: Photography, Civil War & militaria, fine art paintings & sculpture, furniture, duck decoys, historical ephemera, antique toys, coins, beer cans, books. Animal themes collected include: cats, dogs, elephants, tigers, lions, hippopotamuses, squirrels, turtles, loons, ducks and owls. I have been in houses where there are 1,000s of these themed collectibles. The person, couple or family cherished the aspect of collecting, and buying examples, at auction, on vacation, or other various means. Their stories of their collecting experience was often very interesting and meant something to them.


A retired entomologist in Hawaii collected a vast number of antique medallions, all with assorted bugs, beetles and insects cast in them. Who would have ever thought I was involved in an auction with over 5,000 bug medallions! It was a memorable group of attendees at this auction. Yes, bug collectors swarmed in from everywhere and bidding was worldwide before the internet even existed.

On the dark side of collecting, there are people who collect shrunken heads. I saw one sell at an auction 25 years ago that sold for over $20,000. It seems to me this would be illegal in today’s world. There are also people who specifically collect post-mortem photography, which started early on in Daguerreotypes in the 1850s. There are collectors for the dark side of history as well, such as slave memorabilia, and Nazi memorabilia. As tough as it is to imagine collecting in these categories, they are chronicles of our history.


Button, button, who’s got the button?  For many years anytime that I put the words, ‘antique buttons’ in an auction ad., I would hear from a passionate collector, Diana Epstein of New York. She was repeatedly the top bidder on all the lots that went through my sales. When I was in California, I handled the estate of an author of a reference book on collecting antique and vintage buttons. The button people came from everywhere, some even flew in. These were one time attendees, I never saw them again. One suitcase full of buttons I removed from the estate brought over $16,000 at auction.


I have known a few doctors that collect early medical, such as Civil War field medical kits, these examples can demand a lot of money. I handled a doctor’s estate once with a substantial collection and almost all of it sold to doctors. He also had over 100 mortar & pestles dating back to ancient times through the Victorian era. A segment of his collection was bloodletting tools. In the days when bleeding people was a cure all for almost everything, there were a number of bloodletting tools in the 18th century including scarificators. One of the highlights of his collection believe it or not was an 18th century jar embossed: “Leeches”. These were often used in the medical field for centuries. This particular jar had a replaced lid, and still sold for over $7,000.


I had the pleasure of appraising TV mogul, Merv Griffin’s estate. Merv was a talented television host of the Merv Griffin Show, singer and noted for creating shows such as Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. Besides some amazing images of him with almost any celebrity you can imagine of the 1960s-70s, he was a collector of fine period furniture, art and ancient Roman glass.

The biggest collection I have ever seen amassed by one individual had over a dozen segments. Memorabilia included, Rock ‘n roll, movies, militaria and sports. He also collected mechanical banks, radios, walking sticks, historical ephemera, coins and more. The collection was housed in two states and the appraisal totaled nearly $10 million. This man was full of passion for what he collected, and loved to walk through it with anyone interested and tell stories of how he came about acquiring these rarities. Many collections of this volume eventually become all or part of a museum for all to enjoy.

I could continue to go on for pages on what people collect, as I said, if it was made, it is collected and the list is endless. The journey of collecting, and sharing is part of the puzzle that makes the whole experience fun and worthwhile.

by Martin Willis
Gemr Community Manager 

Written by Gemr
Gemr is the leading platform for collectors to discover, display, discuss, and buy & sell collectibles. Sometimes our team gets chummy and decides to write a blog together. Or maybe someone wants to keep their identity a secret. Pick which option you like best and we'll just say that's correct.