Why catalogue your collection? It’s rewarding, cheap, simple, and everyone can do it – yet not many collectors take this step.
Philip Moorhouse is proprietor of The Collecting Bug, a website where collectors can catalogue, share and manage their collections. As a member of the ESA, Philip has helped many collectors, including other ESA members, publish their collections online. You can see these collections at The Collecting Bug.
For most collectors it’s not one single reason, but usually a combination of objectives that prompt them to get started. Whilst every collection is different, having had the opportunity to help many collectors document a wide variety of collections, the same fundamental reasons come up time and time again, and here are the top six:
1. To enrich your own collecting experience
Ultimately, a good catalogue provides a better understanding of the content of your own collection. Particularly for those of us who collect under the broad term “ephemera”, this can be very helpful. I remember at one ESA fair I asked a visitor what they collected, and they replied “I don’t know, but I know it when I see it!” Cataloguing gives perspective both on what you have, why it is interesting, and how it fits within a larger theme. Another collector said “It helped me organise my thoughts.”
As we develop expertise in our special field, we are often able to see connections, link related items, solve puzzles and uncover fascinating stories from the past. We are temporary stewards of the things we collect, so it is important to pass on to future generations what we know. It is appropriate to record the significance and provenance of items we are privileged to own for a season.
3. Keeping track of your collection
As your collection grows, it becomes harder and harder to keep track of everything. You end up with duplicates, and boxes of unsorted, even forgotten, items. And then when you want to lay your hands on something, you can’t find it! When you do (eventually) locate it, you realise you have forgotten its details. Trying to keep everything in our memory becomes exhausting, and eventually, impossible.
4. Practical reasons
No doubt at some point you have wondered how you are going to dispose of your collection, or whether you will just leave a problem for somebody else. Without a catalogue, you and your heirs have no way of presenting your collection in a meaningful way to potential buyers, and no way of differentiating between items with significant monetary value and those without.
In several instances, I have been contacted by an elderly collector who no longer has the capacity to catalogue their collection, hoping a white knight will somehow appear on the horizon. It rarely happens. If you want to sell your collection, insure it, or just help those who will inherit it – you need a catalogue.
5. Having your whole collection accessible
Many collectors end up with a large part of their collection stored away. But imagine having your entire collection at your fingertips – everywhere, and all the time, even travelling overseas. These days, there are multiple ways you can catalogue your collection “in the cloud”.
Another benefit is being able to find items quickly. For example, type the term “Spanish Flu” in your catalogue, and you can instantly find that old document from 1918 that is suddenly relevant. You might even find a few extras you had forgotten about!
6. Sharing your collection with others
Whilst some collectors prefer to keep their collection private, many are delighted to share their collection – and their passion – with others. Your collection can be safely and anonymously published online, and shared with the world. If you have a specialised collection, you can connect with like-minded enthusiasts. If it is of general interest, you may be delighted reading visitor comments.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. We’ve had collectors use The Collecting Bug to organise their collection as they write a specialised book, or share with overseas collector’s clubs, or to organise their research. If you share your collection online, you may be surprised by the people who contact you: other collectors; people with further information; potential sellers and buyers.
One collector was amazed when an advertising agency contacted him out of the blue to urgently ask if they could hire a selection of his snowglobes they had discovered online, to use in an advertisement they were filming!
Here are a few of the collections available to explore at The Collecting Bug. Click here if you would like to explore them.
But if cataloguing is cheap and simple, then why do so few people catalogue their collections?
Some people don’t know how to get started, or fear making a mistake. For others, there are so many options and choices that it is easier to just put it off. But probably the biggest reason is one thing; it does take time and effort. However, once they get started, it is much less than they imagined! Cataloguing does not require large sums of money or special skills – anyone can do it – the only real requirement is enthusiasm.
As many people have already catalogued their collections, you can find a huge variety of approaches and resources for inspiration to get started. The good news is nothing digital is ever wasted; it is easy to start small and simple, learn as you go, and evolve and improve over time.
Cataloguing changes you from an accumulator to a collector, gives you focus and direction, enables you to access your entire collection and, if you wish, share it with others. Ready to give it a try?
In Part 2, we’ll look at how you can catalogue your collection.