Minto Thorsen

<p>Minto is an Antiques & Vintage Specialist, with an international interior design & photography background. A seasoned traveller and “accidental collector” of antique kilims & textiles, 19th/early 20thC jewelry, art & British Colonial furniture. It has become evident that she also has a taste for the decidedly odd, including medical/science displays, artifacts, horns, & old silver.</p>

Artist: Geraldine Cario, Photographer: Nicolas Millet, via Cote Maison
Wall of Traces, Collection As Art, Collected Memories

A New Generation of Collectors

Some specialists say that if you collect a very diverse number of things, not settling on one or two genres, not buying an item for its elevated position within a collection, that you are not a “Collector.” I disagree. I think WE are a New Generation of Collectors, who buy collection-worthy items, in a great variety of genres, because we really really really appreciate quality & beauty, we appreciate history…we have the capacity to appreciate MANY things. AND… we are The Ones who want to live with only what we love, and we want to really LOVE what we live with, daily. No more, no less.

Via Tumblr
Individual Sets of Mismatched Antique Silverware, Tied With Ribbon
Via Apartment Therapy, Melanie Turner
Antique Headboard & Frame. Upcycled Antique Bedside Table.

The Art of Curating Your Life

It’s not the “art of tidying up,” (though that’s an awesome practice) or even “living tiny,” which is also awesome. It is The Art of Curating Your Life. Used to be, “curate”, that lofty word, meant you were in charge of, or organizing some exhibit or show at a gallery or museum. On 10/2/09, Tim Gough, a writer for the NewYork Times, defined it as a “fashionable code word among the aesthetically minded, who seem to paste it onto any activity that involves culling and selecting,” but that has become synonymous for “I have a discerning eye and great taste.”

Room styled by Barbara Westbrook. Via @HuffHarrington
Fabulous Antique Leather Wing Chair

Live With What You Love. Love What You Live With.

Credit: Silke Tamsma
Antique Bread and Utility Knives

Well, I’m ok with that, though at the time, I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. Because here is where we part ways: You get one (1, uno, un, yi) life (IMHO.) Why, for crying out loud, wouldn’t you want to thoroughly enjoy what you surround yourself with? The items in your home are what you see, and have to use, day in and day out. #LiveWithWhatYouLove, and #LoveWhatYouLiveWith. Choose what is beautiful, and what makes your heart happy. Curate, curate, curate!

To read more on collecting, antiques, vintage and collectibles, and for interior design inspiration, click here, and follow us on Pinterest and Instagram by clicking the buttons in the top right corner of the page!

The Antiques, Vintage & Collectibles Market Future: Is It Really Dying?

Wikipedia labels the years 2007–2012 “The Great Recession.”  It has been a period of general economic decline, observed all over the world, and affecting almost every market (including antiques & vintage). And, by July 2017, CNBC stated that 1 in 3 Americans had still not recovered from those years

For dealers, this complicates the questions swirling in the Antique and Vintage Marketplace: Is the antique and vintage industry dying, or aging out? Is there a future for A & V? Will the A & V market recover?  

There is no question that the A & V marketplace is changing. But consider this: The growth of the internet, as a secure shopping channel, has only developed since 1994. That means that anyone 21year old and younger, has lived their entire life shopping online.

This Nov 28, 2017 – Cyber Monday became the largest online shopping day in US history. Online transactions reached a record $6.59 billion, according to Adobe Insights, a 16.8 percent increase over last year. Mobile sales also, for the first time, reached $2 billion, over a 24-hour period.

The Antique and Vintage market is changing. It is metamorphosing, as are many markets, online, where millennials, and savvy collectors shop for everything from groceries to cars, art, and…antiques and vintage. And, as with the development of other new technologies, like automobiles and email, it changes the way people do business. We are in a period of transition.  Many dealers, many people, who didn’t grow up speaking computer, are resistant to this new wave of technological and business change. It is alarming to those who reject adapting.

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

The Analysts’ Take On The A & V Industry’s Future:

According to noted industry research analysts, IBIS World: “The Online Antiques and Collectibles Sales industry has continued to flourish over the five years to 2016, largely due to the growing ubiquity of online shopping. Antiques and collectibles are timeless yet discretionary items, making this industry highly sensitive to changes in disposable income.”

“In the coming years, the industry will attract a larger customer market as more households buy industry products electronically and consumers have more income to spend on luxuries. Positive income and consumer spending growth will drive demand for discretionary products. Rising consumer confidence will particularly benefit the industry’s long-term growth because it makes consumers more willing to splurge on discretionary antiques and collectibles.”

IBIS World  identifies 3 of the most critical success factors for an online antiques and collectibles business this way:

  1. Ensuring pricing policy is appropriate
  2. Having a diverse range of customers
  3. Ability to quickly adopt new technology

Another industry resource, Big Commerce, details three factors, very or extremely, influential in determining where Americans shop online: 

1.Price (87%), 2.Shipping Cost and Speed (80%) and, 3.Discount Offers (71%)

For more information on how Antique & Vintage dealers should approach these factors, read our Online Storefront Renovation Series.

Something Critical is Missing From The List:

Something spoken of by many experts, yet not in the lists above, is critically important, in our changing industry:  Online sales require that inventory be more highly curated. In other words, more strategically chosen, and presented. Many vintage, antique & collectible hunters will wander through dark and dusty brick and mortar thrift stores, knowing that 90% or more will be completely uninteresting to them, but persisting to find that one undiscovered treasure.

And, while marketplace shoppers are more likely than the average shopper to enjoy taking their time to find the right price (62% v. 54%), they are FAR LESS LIKELY to wade through 90 online pages of uninteresting inventory, to find something they love. In fact, they may not go through 9 pages of uncurated inventory.

“The most successful retailers are strategic and targeted in their efforts, both offline and on.” – Big Commerce

According to data analysts, Chartbeat, research shows that 55% of visitors will spend fewer than 15 seconds on a site, if their interested is not captured in that time. To peak interest that fast, and capture sales, online shoppers require that carefully chosen inventory be brought to life with more images (78%) and better product description than you would expect, in a traditional sales environment, and that the whole process be relatively easy, and quickly completed. 

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Albert Einstein

This difference in shopping behavior is profound enough that to be successful, online A & V businesses must adapt, in this way, as well. Having a diverse range of inventory may appeal to a wider range of customers, but that range still needs to be carefully chosen and displayed, or the customers is gone in an instant, and the sales opportunity is lost. It is not merely new technology that must be adapted to, but also new business practices in sourcing, selling, and appealing to online buying behaviors, that are proving to have resulted from this technological wave.

The Rest Of The Story:

Because art is often antique or vintage, is also considered timeless, and discretionary, the art market has long been a part of the broader antique, vintage, and collectibles market. An annual global report by the world’s leading art market analysts (The European Fine Art Fair’s (TEFAF), which is considered the bible of economic trends in the art and antiques world, showed a 7% drop in money spent on art globally, a 2% drop in the number of works sold in 2015, over 2014. But that was only a PART of the story. “Internet art sales actually rose during this same time. According to the 2015 TEFAF report, the online sector grew 7 percent in the past year to $4.7 billion…”

So, to summarize, NO. The antique, vintage and collectibles market is NOT DEAD, it is NOT DYING. It has an interesting, bright future to look forward to, and for which it must prepare. It is not “doom and gloom,” and “the sky is not falling.” It. Is. Changing. And we can adapt. It’s what we do.

Visit to shop for Antique & Vintage items!

They say that Wing Chairs are one of THE things you should always buy vintage or antique.

And, whether you buy seating online or at estate sales, these are the tips you need to get the best:

Credit: SouthernStyle
Deconstructed Wing Chair, with Exposed Frame

It’s All About Construction:

Forget about the color of the chair (currently,) look at the shape and and the construction. Imagine it in a wonderful fabric. Perhaps even a solid on the inside and a large scale print on the back.

Credit: Restoration Hardware
Deconstructed Wing Chair with Tufted Burlap, Vintage Style Only

Look Past the Obvious:

Sometimes first impressions aren’t the most important. Color and fabric can be distracting. Look past them because those can be changed. You should love the lines, the shape of the chair, or don’t buy it. The guts of a chair are difficult to ascertain for certain. Eight way hand tied coils may not be visible but the burlap webbing that is their base may be visible from the underside.

Credit: Washingtonian Furniture
Wing Back Parts

The Web is Your Secret Weapon:

When you cannot see the guts of the chair from the outside, you must use other means to assess the chair’s internal  quality. Look for a manufacturer’s mark, tag, stamp on the underside of the chair. Turn that puppy upside down. You HAVE to if you don’t want to buy blind. Who the manufacturer is can tell you a lot about the caliber of the materials & construction method used, under the surface. Google the maker before you buy.

Credit: Decsignco
Diagram of A Wing Back Chair’s Interior

Check Out Its Legs:

Look at the legs-are they solid wood or veneer? The best chairs are made of hardwoods like Mahogany, Oak, Maple, Ash and Alder. The legs are the most visible indicators of the caliber of wood likely used throughout. How are the legs attached? This is an indicator of general construction. They should not just be screwed on, which is a short cut and indicator of cheap construction. Legs should be doweled (preferably double doweled) and glued into blocks. Is the chair heavy? If so, that is another likely indicator that the manufacturers used better materials. The older the piece is, often, the more likely it’s well made (and by that I mean 45+years) But you can’t know that for sure if you don’t really examine it.

Credit: Decsignco
Wing Back Chairs, Internal Construction Possibilities

Is It Worth It?

One more thing: a well-made wing chair, with beautiful lines, is worth recovering. But you will need 6-7 yards of upholstery weight fabric, and at least another $700 or so for the upholsterer’s fees (more depending on the condition and materials you specify, for example, down cushions.) You may need to add delivery charges for both ways, unless you have a truck. Finding fabulous material for less, getting help with delivery, or “horse-trading”(still happens!) with a local upholsterer, or even learning to upholster on your own or in a class, can bring the total down substantially. You may very well end up spending as much as a new wing chair from a big box store, but in return, you’ll be getting an heirloom quality, custom, well-made chair that will last a lifetime, instead of a few years.

Credit: Atelier De La Marquise
Bare frame, 8 way hand tied springs on burlap webbing, prepped and ready for upholstery, finished and trimmed.

The Key:

When you add up the costs,  you must make sure that the wing chair has both the beautiful lines, and the caliber of basic construction to warrant the TOTAL cost. If you follow these tips, and find that vintage chair, looking at what it can become, you’ll very likely never regret your purchase. Recovering most modernly constructed chairs, is a waste of money. Buying any used chair, without considering the total cost before purchasing can lead to many moons, spent in the presence of someone else’s dastardly fabric choices. (You could, in fact, end up like me, with a beautifully-made chair, that has remained in its truly awful “original” celery green, cheap velvet for 12 long years. Fortunately (??) 12 yrs later, celery green is “in.” Eeek.) Ultimately, this is the key: Look for the things that really matter, if you want a great wing chair, one that’ll look and feel great for years.  Add up the total cost from the get go. And always, always buy fabulous wing chairs that are from the time when beautiful furniture was meant to last.

Credit: Minto Thorsen
My Renaissance Revival antique armchair, still dressed in the dreadful, cheap celery green velvet, it was wearing when I bought it, 12 years ago.

Click here to read more on becoming a savvy antique and vintage shopper!
For Sale on GoAntiques: Victorian Mahogany Wing Back
For Sale on GoAntiques: Early 1900s Wing Chair
For Sale on GoAntiques: 19th C Walnut Armchair
Italian Bergere Chairs, c.1950

Click here to read more on becoming a savvy antique and vintage shopper!

Winter Antiques Show 2017

Winter Antiques Show

Reflecting on the 2017 Show

Every January, some of the finest art and antiques dealers in the world exhibit their very best pieces to a knowledgeable crowd of collectors, museum curators and designers at America’s premier art and antiques fair, The Winter Antiques Show. Held in Manhattan, it is currently in its 63rd year and has certainly changed with the times.

When I first began attending the show about 20 years ago, it consisted primarily of American antiques dealers, and it was heavily weighted toward furniture. Through the years, it has evolved into a faire with a much more eclectic mix of art and antiques and a more diverse group of international dealers, who offer noteworthy examples of everything from antiquity through present day art.

Even if you weren’t shopping and left your credit cards and checkbook at home, strolling the aisles of this show would still be a treat for the eyes. Stunning, rare, and just-plain-cool artworks can be found in every booth. Every item has been carefully vetted for authenticity by a team of impartial experts. I have a particular interest in Americana, of which there is no shortage.

During my visit, I snapped photos of some objects that I thought were special. Pennsylvania dealer Kelly Kinzle offered a grouping of 6 paint-decorated drums from the 19th century. The bentwood bodies of these military drums were often decorated with patriotic scenes. Collectors love original, fancifully decorated examples. These could be purchased separately, or as an instant collection.

Decorated Drums at Winter Antiques Show

I found another wonderful painted piece in the Olde Hope Antiques booth. An eye-catching fire bucket, with a painted scene, was hung prominently at the booth entrance. Every home, during the early 19th century, contained multiple fire buckets, often elaborately decorated. These were used in bucket brigades, in the event of a fire, anywhere in the vicinity. The unique inscriptions and decoration, such as on this Salem, Massachusetts example, ensured that the buckets made their way back to their owners after the calamity.

Fire Bucket at Winter Antiques Show

I became a fast fan of Italian glass after seeing the colorful presentation in the Glass Past booth. On display were three mid 20th century glass objects, designed by Fulvio Bianconi. The colors and designs of the pieces they displayed were striking.

Glass Objects at Winter Antiques Show

I am already a fan of the steampunk look, so the beaver-pelt top hat in Tambaran Gallery’s booth caught my eye. In the 19th century, Native Americans often traded hand made crafts for new clothing, such as this top hat. They decorated the hats in their own aesthetic, often using beads, feathers, and other decorative elements. Decorated hats, such as this, were intended for their own use. Today, those that survive are prized by collectors.

This historic example has a marked steampunk feel, making it the perfect anchor for steampunk cosplay costumes, or any collection with a steampunk aesthetic.

Beaver-Pelt Top Hat at Winter Antiques Show

Davis Schorsch & Eileen Smiles displayed several great folk art pieces, including a 24” diameter burl bowl with a fine, old blue-painted surface. Made in the 18th, or early 19th century, this working bowl is in superb condition.

A burl is a rounded outgrowth of deformed wood that grows in a confused pattern, the grain swirling and running in all directions. The result is a very stable wood, resistant to splitting and thereby suitable for making large bowls. If made of straight grained wood, this bowl would almost certainly have cracked. The historic paint adds to the appeal.

Burl Bowl at Winter Antiques Show

Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts decorated their booth with the remarkable ironwork of the 20th century’s most well-known iron artisan, Samuel Yellin. His early twentieth century forged architectural pieces are highly decorative and sculptural.

Ironwork at Winter Antiques Show

If any antique buyers feared getting into a brawl with other show-goers over a rare find, this suit of armor from London dealer Peter Finer might help. Better yet, his elaborately engraved set of dueling pistols would be sure to thwart any potential trouble.

Armor at Winter Antiques Show

As recently as the early 20th century, proper gentlemen, operating under a strict code of rules, occasionally faced off in a duel with swords or dueling pistols just like these.  In fact, U. S. Vice President Aaron Burr killed former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in this way. U. S. President Andrew Jackson was himself shot in the chest during a duel, in which he killed Attorney Charles Dickinson. Even Abraham Lincoln, whilst still a legislator, met in order to duel with his State Auditor. Others intervened, averting the conflict. It seems clear that politicians seem to have favored this behavior.

Dueling, of course, is now illegal, but perhaps a 21st century revision in the law would…..oh never mind.

Dueling Pistols at Winter Antiques Show

Every year, the Winter Antiques Show includes an exhibit of items from a special collection or museum. This year, we were treated to a superb Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum collection, which featured a number of pieces. One of these was a highly creative handled basket, comprised of commercially produced bottle caps.

Made in Morganton, NC, about 1935, the form, color, and patina all combine to make an appealing, whimsical piece, comprised entirely of that which is ordinarily discarded.

Handled Basket at Winter Antiques Show

A circa 1825 toleware coffee pot with superb, original, painted decoration also caught my eye. For obvious reasons, this type of original paint rarely survives on a utilitarian object, such as a sheet iron coffee pot.

Toleware Coffee Pot at Winter Antiques Show

Finally, it was a pleasure to see, in person, the Museum’s iconic painted dressing table, made in Portsmouth, NH, about 1815-20. The colors of this paint-decorated piece are extraordinarily vivid, even after two hundred years. Painted Dressing Table at Winter Antiques Show

Between the quality and the variety of the items on display, the Winter Antiques Show offered just about everything a collector could want. Though these are all the pictures I have of the event, be sure to check out our Antiques & Vintage items, here on GoAntiques, if you’d like to see more museum-quality collectibles. I’m already looking forward to visiting the show next year, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to any serious antiques buyers, collectors, or those with a passion for the creme de la creme of antiques and art.

Click below to shop!

First thing’s first: if you’re seriously thinking of giving a fruitcake as a gift to someone this holiday season, we need to talk. And by talk, we mean you need to consider the following facts.

The Truth About Fruitcake:

    1. An average fruitcake is said to share the same density ratio as a mahogany tree stump.
    2. A pineapple fruitcake was brought on the Apollo 11 space mission.  However, even the intrepid Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin brought it back, uneaten. It is still on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
    3. Queen Victoria supposedly waited a year to eat her wedding fruitcake “to show restraint.” Or, perhaps, it was to put it off as long as possible.
    4. The word “fruitcake” has become an epithet in American vernacular English, ensuring its permanence in our culture all year long. We’d much rather be called a fruitcake than have to eat one.
    5. Truman Capote and his aunt spoke fondly of fruitcake, but with the clear message that alcohol was its best feature: “The taste of it brings screwed-up expressions and sour shudders. But by and by we begin to sing, the two of us singing different songs simultaneously.” (Fruitcake: Memories of Truman Capote and Sook.)
    6. It apparently has a shelf life longer than radioactive carbon 14. In fact, before the Christmas of 1985, Johnny Carson announced on The Tonight Show that “The worst Christmas gift in the world is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” If that is true, then it may be George Washington’s 222 year old fruitcake, which brings us to…
    7. A man named Russell Baker claimed he owned a fruitcake that a long-dead relative had baked in 1794. It was a Christmas gift for President George Washington. Washington allegedly sent it back. He included a note explaining that it was “unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter.” Considering his gift was the weight of an average 11 year old child, compacted to the size of a shoebox, we’re inclined to agree.
    8. No one wants to be the poor guy who gives the gift no one likes.
Pictured: That moment when someone is thoroughly saddened by your gift choice.

Fortunately, there’s no reason you have to be “that guy.” Instead, why not say “Happy Holidays” by giving a fun or unique antique, vintage or collectible? It says that you cared enough to think about what your recipient already collects. In fact, it’ll be an excellent reminder of what a great gift giver you are all year long!

107 Year Old FruitCake Found in Antarctica is ‘Almost Edible…’ And by that, one could assume, it’d be about as tasty as when it was first made, almost edible.  No surprise someone sent that thing to Antarctica, though. Photo: Antarctica Heritage Trust

To get you started on giving the perfect gift to kickstart a loved one’s collection, below are our 8 tips for finding amazing gifts. Yes, this is in fact where our list starts. You didn’t think we’d seriously just put up a blog about fruitcake facts, did you?

1. Diminish future gift dilemmas, knowing that you’ll be able to add to a collection over the years.

This means you won’t have to panic coming up with new gift ideas for a long time to come.

Signed 1950s Baseball with 20 Signatures

2. Remember that collectibles and antiques are often a great value.

Even in poor economic times, a good quality antique will hold up for years and usually retain its value. Even brand new collectibles can increase in value, especially if they have their original packaging, labeling, or remain undamaged.

Chinese Export Trunk with Bramah Lock Early 1800’s Camphor Wood/Leather

3. No matter who you are buying a gift for, buy to suit their interests.

Buy according to what you believe the recipient will like. It sounds uninspired, but our own tastes often override our choices.

If you are really hoping to start their collection, buy the kind of collectible that the recipient already shows an interest in. Furthermore, remember to use “collecting common sense” in evaluating whether the item is special enough to inspire “collecting.” Reproductions will not not hold value the way true antiques, in good condition, will. While elements such as condition are important, especially to a more seasoned collector, a piece that’s particularly unique and creative may prompt an intrigued, tickled response by the recipient.


Antique Boat Model “The President” Frigate 1800 Leather

4. There is something for everyone in the collecting community.You can buy a range of gifts, from Pop Culture collectibles and Vintage, to Antiques and the Otherworldly.

DAYAK WEDDING BASKET Container Woven Bakul Borneo Native Weaving Art Statue

Even if you don’t have a specific gift idea in mind when you start shopping, you’re likely to stumble upon an ideal gift sooner than later!

5. With such a wide array of different collectibles and antiques available, there is little fear of giving the same gift as anyone else.

Antique Chinese Carved Box c.1910

Truly vintage pieces are sure to retain their novelty, if nothing else. Also, older items made before the era of mass production will often boast an exceptional level of quality that is somewhat uncommon today. A genuine artisan’s craft is difficult to replicate!

6. If you buy vintage or an antique, your gift will help save the planet, and preserve history!

Vintage and antique gifts are the purest form of recycling, and your environmentally-conscious friends will appreciate your initiative.

Massive Stegodon Molar Fossil, Relic Borneo-Rare, yet natural collectibles are bound to spark conversation.

7. GoAntiques is open 24/7, so shopping here will save the hassle of queuing up, and hunting for parking.

In fact, you can happily shop in the middle of the night, in your underwear (when everyone else is exhausted from standing in lines all day), and no one will ever know. Unless you accidentally hit FaceTime, in which case it’s Your Bad.

Turkish Tribal Prayer Rug Vintage Hand Knotted Wool


8. You can spend as though “price is no object,” or your gift can seem as though there were no constraints.


Vintage, Never Worn Butler & Wilson Elephant Head Spray Brooch

Even if you’re trying to shop for a serious collector, there’s no need to fret. Think about what it is they already collect, or may be missing. Google what the “holy grails” are for that genre of collectible. If that is out of reach, try find something unusual or limited, perhaps from a convention or event they couldn’t attend. Consider giving them a display case-something that will enable them to better display what they have already collected.

Don’t forget that finding something that they don’t already have in their collection will always trump an items condition. Even you wind up buying a double of something already owned, you may be giving the seasoned collector something with which he can trade up as he refines his collection.

Civil War Era Album Filled with Mini Tin Types of Men Women & Children (including one of 3 Women Holding Hands)


There are as many types of collections as there are different kinds of people. All it takes is a little forethought, a few suggestions, and you’ll be able to find the best gift ever. You can easily discover wonderful, unusual gifts for every person on your gift list, whether they have a passion for antique radios, vintage books, or collectible watches. Curated, carefully chosen gifts become keepsakes that generally remain meaningful for years to come.

However, should that Gift Giving Day roll around and it is you who gets the dreaded fruitcake, here are 2 extra ideas to alleviate the letdown:

  1. Remember, you, yourself don’t have to eat that thing, because it’ll be fine until someone (somewhere) develops a taste for it…even 107 years from now.
  2. Fruitcake is a great excuse for a road trip. On Jan, 2018, take your fruitcake on a trip up to Manitou Springs, Colorado. There, people build catapults, pneumatic cannons, and all manner other fruitcake expulsion systems (launch speeds up to 200mph) to participate in getting rid of what no one wants to eat. Or, as Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, says, “You can always just throw it,” as clearly evidenced in this 2008 YouTube video 
  3. Launching an unwanted fruitcake, as far away as possible.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that giving a gift is not about the physical object; it’s about good time, spent with the people you love. A truly great present doesn’t have to be rare or expensive: it just has to be something chosen with special care and consideration. We hope that these tips will not only help you impress your friends and family, but they’ll help you create warm memories you’ll fondly look back on as well.

When all is said and done, the moral of the story is this: seriously, put away the fruitcake, you do not want to be that guy.

Looking for more vintage and antiques to pick up before the holidays? Shop with us at the GoAntiques Marketplace.

Good Eye – Part 3

Developing a Good Eye #3 Header Image

Developing a Good Eye, Part 3:

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

1: Learning To Discern

2: Working Through The When

The “Where”s- The Four Best Stops on a Collector’s Roadtrip

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 Hirsch, 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 that direct you, as well as markers on your journey to becoming expert. They are also food for conversation with other collectors along the way.

Developing a Good Eye #3 Image

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 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.

Brick Store Museum - Developing a Good Eye #3

Collectibles on display from a visit with Gemr member, 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.

Image - Developing a Good Eye #3

@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 a collecting community, like, a social platform of over 105k collectors. Gemr is home to an array of both 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.

This is Part 2 of an on-going series. Click here to see Part 1.

It doesn’t matter if you collect Fine Art or Funko Pops, the training method necessary to developing a good eye remains the same.

Whether you collect ephemera, antique furniture, or prehistoric animal parts, you can learn to be discerning. Using the five W and H questions before purchasing a new item will go far in improving your collection. The questions must be tailored to point you toward the elements you need to look for. However, even learning how to ask the question trains you. Learning to see past the obvious, you begin to analyze what you are seeing. Reading your collectible with a purpose, enables you to objectively determine if the item is a wise purchase.

The order in which you ask your 6 questions is not important. What is important is that you tailor each question to suit the genre of items you collect, and then internalize the questions so the asking becomes habitual. Finally, you must take the time to mentally answer those questions, and let the answers direct your buying.

Animation Cel from Gemr User Sullivanimation

“When?” obviously, is the time question that helps you place an item in its proper era. For Gemr user sullivananimation, this could be as simple as, “What year did Disney’s Fantasia hit theaters?” But if you collect the artwork that is part of the cartoon’s development, knowing the timeline of a cartoon movie’s production process is helpful. Storyboards, 2D and 3D modeling, sketchy “pencil tests,” and composited animation cels are sequential. They all speak to when, in the production process, an item was created. Sullivanimation’s Classic North American Animation collection includes elements from one franchise that spans over 60 years. Because Disney uses recurring characters, such as Mickey Mouse playing the role of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in both Fantasia (1940) and Fantasia 2000 (1997), knowing when changes occurred within Disney’s animation production process can actually tell you whether an animation cel of Mickey is from 1940 or 1997.

The “When” questions you ask should compel you to look for those elements that are both easy and more difficult to see. Analyzing a production process often yields time indicators, materials, colors, and techniques not often used in modern production. Depending on what it is you collect, that could mean the use of square nails, hand stitching, hand applied ornamentation, or decorating techniques that would likely be machine applied today.


Your type of collection determines the span of time within which you need to be able to differentiate. A collector of clocks will have 300 years to categorize, while a collector of Star Wars related items has no more than about 40 years. “When” questions should encourage your eye to notice indicators or discrepancies that reveal whether a piece is “period appropriate,” or accurate in style, technique, materials, or packaging for the time frame from which it (supposedly) hails.

It may be that your item has, or does not have features that are important in determining its age. Marble collectors who would buy this rare, $250 marble on eBay must also note what the marble does not include to determine its age and value. They must look for an indicator of how the marble was made. If there is no “pontil,” the attachment point of a handmade glass blown marble, the marble is almost certainly machine made. When no pontil is visible, but there are other antique qualities, such as the caliber of the glass and colors, or the presence of bubbles, the contradiction itself will enable the collector to place a marble’s age within an era.


In a Gemr blog detailing how to avoid buying bootleg WWE action figures, we are told that “the devil is in the details.” This slowing down and asking your eye to pick out whether your item is correct for the way items of its kind were being illustrated, painted (in the techniques of the day), depicted, carved, packaged, accessorized, clothed, or manufactured at that time, is the purpose for asking the “When?” of the five W and H questions. Preparing yourself with the timelines you need, teaching yourself to stop, ask, and answer even just this one question will improve your eye considerably.

Another When Question might be, “When was this item made, were many or only a few made?” Can it still be found in great quantity, or is it rare? Is it so fragile, or seemingly unimportant, like matchbooks, that few are likely to survive into the future, regardless of the number that currently exist? With many collectibles, their condition, visual appeal, and scarcity are important influences on value.

Some of these questions could be shoehorned into several of the other 5 Questions. The analysis of manufacturing techniques could be considered How, Where, or even What Questions. But, which category a question falls under is like the order in which you ask the question: It matters less than the asking and answering itself. The formulaic part of the five W and one H questions is only a mnemonic aid.  It’s like an anagram to help you remember, at that exciting moment of discovery, all the things to look for, and mentally process before you decide to buy. It is this process of thoughtful inquisition that is of value no matter what you collect.

This was part 2 of an on-going series. To see Part 3 click here.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Developing a Discerning Eye!


Learning To Discern

This is Part 1 of an ongoing series. 

Collectors with a “good eye” build killer collections. They know where to go, what to think about, what to pay, and when to pounce. They have learned how to assess each item they are considering for their collection. In fact, this ability to discern makes even the youngest of them seem seasoned and gifted.

Fortunately, having a good eye is not something you either have or don’t have at birth. It’s not like being born with perfect pitch. It’s not a gift of genetic coding that enables you to send a 15 lb shot put through the school’s back fence on your first try. It’s not like being born into the Rockefeller family, with such preposterous wealth that you can hire someone else’s good eye to build a collection of treasures for you. So, even if you think you’re the puny one at the waaaay back of the Innate Talents and Gifts Line, take heart, because with motivation and practice, you too can develop a good eye!


The Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English describes having a good eye as being “good at noticing a particular type of thing, especially something attractive, valuable, [or] of good quality.” Anyone willing to learn the intricate variations and differences between collectibles within a particular group can absolutely develop this talent. Anyone can learn to discern. The definition of discern is this: it is to perceive by sight and by the intellect. It is to distinguish mentally and recognize the difference between things. It is to become discriminating, in the best sense of the word. Those who take the time to learn to discern can develop an eye so good as to seem gifted.

The key to discerning is not that difficult. You must learn to distinguish between elements, not only looking at a potential treasure, but actually seeing it. This involves consciously asking yourself a specific set of questions and thinking through the answers. Interestingly enough, these core questions remain the same regardless of what it is you enjoy collecting. They are the “five W and H questions,” (who, what, when, where, why, how) and they are like secret weapons in a collector’s toolbox. The value in developing a good eye isn’t just the pride of doing something well, or even in attaining recognition of your skill. It is that, at the end of the day, you will wind up with a vastly better collection of the things you love.


Even though the core questioning method (five W and H questions) remains constant, each type of collection requires its own variation. For example, the elements on a timeline that a collector of Anime figures or Marvel action figures needs would be different than the timeline information that would be helpful to a collector of antique watches. The interconnectivity between each category of collectiblesthe culture of its eratechnological milestones, and even historical events is certain. Because of this, developing the question when, for your particular collection, will enable you to place a potential treasure more accurately in it’s time.

For example, if you were a collector of antique pocket watches, knowing something about metal working technology and historical events during the Victorian era and early 20th Century would be of great value. That watch collector would want to know that a white metal watch case could not possibly be older than 1895, when the invention of the oxyacetylene torch first made it possible to melt platinum for use in cast jewelry and watchmaking. Moreover, knowing there was no formula for white gold before 1912 would eliminate that as a possible material as well. Stopping long enough to think about a watch development timeline would reveal that the watch case could only be silver or a base metal. This bit of discernment might alter what price that collectors would pay, no matter how excited they might be at the moment.

 Seasoned members of  collecting hub’s Vintage Watch Club can date a watch just by looking at it.

Your eye is honed as you work through developing how to ask these questions. By answering these questions, you are developing a kind of conscious inquiry that enables you to zero in on what it is you actually see, recognize gems when you come across them, and pay no more than absolutely necessary (That quiet hyperventilation of discovery improves with practice…or so we are told.)

Developing your eye will give you the ability to further enhance your love of collecting, or perhaps turn your hobby into a serious collection.  It doesn’t need to begin at birth, and it grows with practice. So, take heart, it really doesn’t matter if you were born with a tin ear, a propensity to trip, or slow word processing. You can start now, at any age. In this series, you’ll learn how to give yourself the gift of having a good eye!

This was part 1 of an on-going series. To see Part 2, click here.