Adrenaline is a funny thing. We all have it, thrive on it, are defeated by it, and make a myriad of excellent and stupid decisions based upon it. What’s interesting are the unique codes it takes to get any one person’s adrenaline flowing. Some need thrilling speed, confrontation of their fears, seducing a friend’s loser cocker spaniel of a husband to prove that she might be richer but you’re thinner (that’s a Thanksgiving story I so wish I could share)—but me, I need an antique store. For the life of me I cannot understand why anyone cares to see a scary movie or ride a rollercoaster. Who gives a shit? I remember when I was 16, one of my friends was in my passenger seat. We were on a beautiful stretch of road that was completely empty. I had had my license for like three weeks and he said Floor it! I slowed down so that he could behold the full effect of my side-eye. Now why the fuck would I want to do that? I asked. To which he replied To see how fast it goes!. We were going to buy a boxwood wreath for his mom, a task I was not going to have marred by driving like white trash on a lovely November day. I totaled my car in an accident the next year and he didn’t, so this is not an Aren’t I Great? Story. It just goes to show how differently we all unlock adrenaline. He might speed for a thrill, I buy a boxwood wreath and 50 feet of boxwood garland and stop at a tag sale on my way home and buy two sets of china and 53 Baldwin brass candlesticks. Damn that was good.
His adrenaline rush might end with a speeding ticket and mine might end with a film crew and a therapist. That line between collecting and hoarding can be very tricky to discern. In this day and age of people registering for cash as wedding gifts instead of fucking china and crystal, there are a lot of opportunities to scoop up beautiful things at very low prices. That doesn’t mean you should buy all of them…
Just most of them.
It seems like common sense, and many people have their own methods and systems for collecting tabletop items. The bad news is that it is essential to be organized, the good news is that it’s easy.
A lot of people call this process editing but I prefer the colder auditing. Editing is subjective, auditing is (theoretically) streamlined. The first step is to assess what you already have. I had three sets of inherited china and didn’t use any of them. I believed I loved them because I loved the women they came from. Inherited china, silver, and stemware can be the hardest.
Question 1: When was the last time you used this?
Question 2: When do you next plan to use this?
Guess what? If the answers are Never/I don’t remember and I don’t know, you should donate it. Now sometimes things need time, I get it. But if you’re not enjoying using the pieces or displaying them as décor, you should pass them on.
I believe firmly in donating versus selling. More often than not selling old stuff is frustrating. You are at the mercy and memory of collectors, looking for that specific thing. Selling can be a long process, leaving plenty of time to reconsider. Not to mention you might get murdered by some craigslist weirdo. But mainly it’s because donating feels better. Why? You can pretend whatever the fuck you want. One of the harder collections for me to donate was a glass dessert set of my grandma’s. I remember it in her house, though I don’t remember using it. But I didn’t like the actual design. So I held onto it a while, thinking the time might come. A while became four years and I admitted it was time to let it go. I didn’t like the feeling of throwing my grandma’s stuff into the abyss and bad lighting of Goodwill. But then I thought of all the exciting finds I’ve been so happy to unearth at Goodwill. There are a lot of us out there with better taste than budgets, and it is wonderful to be able to find things for a steal. All the sudden, it felt less like a black hole and more like an opportunity for someone to really love my grandma’s dessert set. I allowed myself to imagine who might buy it and how they might use it and how pleased that might make my grandma. Better than sitting in my basement in the same box. Of course, maybe someone will buy it and use the teacups as measuring cups when making meth. I don’t know much about le cookery de meth so maybe that’s implausible. The beauty is that you can imagine it going wherever you want. It’s clean, immediate, and feels good.
So, yes, learning to audit and reduce your collections is important. Some people do this so they can live a little lighter. Less clutter, less to worry about, etc. I do it so I can buy more shit. I have tried so many times to be a minimalist but I’m just not. Why have one when you could have 25? I might be gayer than a daffodil but I still feel like I’d rather have a bunch of wives than just one. That was my big takeaway from Big Love. But because Utah doesn’t suit me and I would sooner die than have my harem wear weird ass WalMart nightgown looking contraptions, I’ll stay out of their way.
Polygamy aside, I don’t think one should force themselves to only have one set of dishes if they yearn for a little variety. Of course, I have some thoughts on collecting. Again, the big thing for me is that everything I own be put to use. I do not covet things, admire from behind glass, or wait for the perfect day to dawn to use them. Do you know how stupid it is to avoid using things because you’re worried if you use them, they’ll break. I’m sorry to tell you this but more likely than not if you don’t use them, your heirs will unceremoniously throw them away or get rid of them. I know I’d rather have people holding up my stuff saying remember when we used these for… instead of where the hell did this come from? I’ve never seen this! Have I made my case? Get out the good stuff.
If you need good stuff, here are some of my arbitrary rules for collecting.
-Know what you need, what you want, and the difference therein. For example, I fucking love bone plates. They are so cute! But it’s just not that often than I have guests gnawing on bones and needing a charming plate to set said bones on. So I might want bone plates, but do need salad plates
-Set a budget and stick to it. The most fun part of collecting vintage and antique is the hunt. Turning the corner in an antique store and your eyes catching inky blue porcelain amid a sea of ugly ass mugs. But as your heart begins to beat faster and you imagine these flow blue teacups adorning your Thanksgiving table, you must be careful not to let the thrill override your budget. The thrill of the hunt only stays fun if you get home and feel like you got a good deal. My strategy for this is to:
-Start with a set. This helps you establish a value for what you can and will pay per piece. So if that set of six bread plates was $20, you paid about $3.33 per plate, maybe you keep that value for bread plates or go to $5. and set your value for dinner plates at $7/each. Forgive me if you are in Australia, where I take it even cheap vintage bread plates are $10k each. Obviously you can set the budget wherever you want. I prefer to keep my plates under $10. It makes it easy for me to use and enjoy them freely without too much rage if one breaks. Remember, breaks will happen. The lower prices you find starting your collections, the higher priced items you can spring for when finishing. It’s all about average price per plate. My preference is to find plates as low as possible, so I can finish with more expensive and scarce platters. Also, when you have a set value in mind, you will negotiate much better with sellers.
|Bread plates are a great place to start|
-This fluctuates, but remember for the most part vintage china is always a buyer’s market. Sometimes some things are hotter than average, but generally, it is a small pool of us willing to buy. If someone has a ridiculous price on something, ask them to let you know if they have a time where they would accept your value. I have done this many times and have been surprised how often it works. It’s not aggressive and insulting as negotiating/haggling can be. It puts forth an offer with the understanding that it’s what you can afford, not that you think they are priced too high.
-Collecting tends to be a drought or a monsoon. Maybe you disagree, but I find my collections go long periods without additions and then sudden, rapid expansions. Take for instance butter knives. I have been looking for sets of adorable little butter knives for years. They’re always too few, too expensive, or too ugly. So imagine my surprise when I found two sets of six within four minutes a few weeks ago. I had a similar experience over the summer with flow blue and old blue transferware. I amassed large quantities of each for about $2/plate.
-Allow your tastes to change or become more focused. For instance, after the influx of new blue and white, I donated a large set of china I bought for Easter. In the five years since I bought that set, my taste had sharpened a bit and I knew more specifically what I wanted. While I still thought the set was pretty, I knew I’d rather have stronger color than a plate that reads ivory. Just because you loved it then doesn’t mean you love it now. Remember how happy you were to find it and pass it on.
|On their way to Goodwill|
-Think of each pattern’s versatility. Though I’ve yet to use all my patterns all at once, I try to have them all fit into the same family. This makes it fun to mix and match table settings depending on season. In my opinion, the very most versatile china is simple white with a gold band. It goes with absolutely everything, but is still more elegant than a normal white plate. From a simple summer lunch to an elegant New Year’s Eve dinner party, a white plate with a gold band works. Followed very closely by blue and white. The first pattern I ever collected was the ubiquitous but always lovely Blue Willow. Blue and white makes all food look beautiful and it has such presence. I adore blue and white with orange at Thanksgiving, cranberry at Christmas, pastel pink and yellow at Easter, and emerald green on my birthday in May. It alllll works. And both gold-rimmed and blue and white play so well with other patterns. But maybe in your house the go-tos are different?