So you like vintage match books or American Art Pottery. Maybe your grandmother left you a Maxfield Parrish print or a French doll and decided you wanted to add to the few pieces to the ones you already have. You've developed an interest in some item and now you want to collect it.
Good! The first thing you should do as a new collector is get informed. Know what you're gathering and why. It's important to know what makes a piece valuable and collectible. There are books on nearly every collectible imaginable. A wealth of resources exist and many of them are free. Libraries, shows, collector groups, shops, dealers. There's no excuse to be uninformed. If you're reading this post, you have access to the singles greatest resource available to you, the internet. Google and EBay will answer 98 percent of your collecting questions. Get familiar with both.
Mistake : No Direction
The first mistake many new collectors tend to make is to buy anything that fits the criteria with no plan or direction. The initial excitement of finding a piece in a shop compels them to make a rash decisions. Emotionally based impulse purchases "Ohh!! I have one of those!"
Let's take Hummels for example. I've seen large collections of these. There are millions in existence and continued to be made to this day. Figurines, plates, postcards, plaques, Christmas collection, Limited Editions, ornaments, Collector clubs. It's a mind blowing list. A new collector could end up with a large variety of these things including common and even repaired pieces that will likely never show a return on their investment. When the shelves are full of dozens even hundreds of figurines, they realize the early part of what they own consist of common easy to find and hard to resell pieces that they paid too much for.
Specialize in a specific area. STUDY and LEARN what makes a piece more valuable than others. Know why a Crown mark Umbrella Boy Hummel with blue umbrella is much better than the Last Bee mark Umbrella Boy Hummel with the Brown umbrella. Don't buy everything that has the name of your collectible on it. Magazines, Hummel calendars, plates that rarely appreciate...yuck!
Collect the best you can afford. Resist the urge to buy low end common items. Pass on the repaired pieces. If you must have them, buy only if they are dirt cheap (10 to 15 percent of the value) Think of repaired chipped or cracked pieces as a windshield for a car. Would you buy a windshield for your car if it had a crack in it? Even at 80 percent off? There are some exceptions to the rule with damages. Some rare high end glass, some Flow Blue and Majolica and scarce high end pottery. Pieces that are used for parts. There are always buyers who don't mind some damage if the price is right. Think cheap. I'm talking about common mass produced items. Roseville, McCoy, Clocks, wristwatches, prints etc. Build a quality collection from the start and it will only appreciate and be easier to sell in the future.
Mistake: Keeping Everything
It is easy to love what you collect, but don't let it overwhelm you with clutter. Keeping doubles, common items, worthless beyond repair pieces, and dust catching entry level stuff for marginal sentimental reasons is not the best way to build a collection. It takes the room that a quality piece could fill and it ties up your cash. Volume is good thing if it is quality.
When I was 15, I took a course in black and white photography. I was impressed with one of the instructors ability to consistently produce perfect images. They were beautiful. His office walls were filled with incredible pictures, many with honorable mentions or awards from shows. His portfolio was page after page of perfection and professional quality photographs. He was very good. I asked him how long it took him to learn to do this.
"How many years did it take you to stop shooting bad pictures?"
"I still do it all the time" He quickly answered.
"These are all great though" I said.
He said something that stuck with me to this day.
"Never show average or bad pictures to anyone. EVER. Discard them immediately. Don't even keep them around. Throw them away. If all you keep are very best, your client will think that is all you can produce. The best."
Common sense right? As profoundly simple as that sounds, few people actually follow through with it. Fortunes and great names have been built on that very premise. Tiffany, Rolls Royce, Rolex, etc. you won't find a $99. diamond ring at Tiffany. You expect the best and that is all you will see there.
It can be applied in many areas of your life. Including your collection. Learn to cull. Don't fall in love with every piece of crap out there, and yes, there is a lot of crap to buy. Reject the inferior quality pieces and upgrade when you can. Sell off and trade up. You don't have to keep all of it JUST because it says "Roseville or Rookwood or Seth Thomas or Pez" on it, or what ever you may be collecting. Ford made the GT40 but they also made the Pinto. You get the idea. There's a finite amount of space for your collection. Fill it with quality even it it takes years to trade up. Keep only the best. Even if you're gathering common items, save the very best example of it. Crisp detail, rich or correct color, no damage. No apologies.
Finally, the main thing to remember is enjoy collecting. For some the hunt is the most rewarding part. That is what it is really all about if monetary return is not your priority. Buy smart, and buy what you like. Have FUN doing it. If you can do both, even better.