New Hobby: Historical and Cultural Collections

There are limitless possibilities for collections these days, from the more ordinary items (think spoons, magnets, or bottle caps) to the bizarre – unidentified school lunches, toenail clippings, (okay, so that’s not true!) – use your own creativity. If you already have or want to create an area to use as a travel or world history room, the most important thing you will need to know is what to fill it with. History-related collections are a great choice. You can find all sorts of items related to history and world culture.

How to Get Started . . .

Pick a country, research what items they are most famous for, and start your collection. It’s especially important to know much this will cost you. If you want to collect priceless French sculptures, you may as well forget being able to afford any other collections for awhile. It may seem like slow going when you have the first and second pieces, but when you have ten or twenty, you’ve got a nice-sized collection.

Endless Possibilities

What kinds of history collections are there? One of the most obvious is a coin collection. From Roman and Greek pieces to early American buffalo nickels, there are literally endless choices. You could either have an eclectic coin collection with every sort of coin you can find, or a more rigid one, such as *only* Roman coins from between the years of 30 and 300 A.D. It’s important to know how to get your coins cleaned, and make sure you look for a reputable buyer who can assure you of their authenticity. Special display cases are a must. Depending on the amount of space you have, you might want to look for a hanging display. You could modify the case yourself, pasting a small piece of paper below each coin that explains what it is, where it is from, and where and when you received it.

Is there a particular time period you enjoy most? Collections could consist of memorabilia from this time period instead of being a certain kind of item (such as kepis, bullets, and old songbooks from the Civil War era). If you want to chop it off to one type of item, you could make a collection of bullets found on the battlefields (remember it’s also important to really check into the authenticity standards when you have a collection like this). There is no *right* kind of collection; it’s your own personal choice. All a collection is, truthfully, is a big lot of the same sort of items in one place. These “items” could be chinaware, China dolls, or Chinese lanterns. It’s up to you.

Perhaps you want to collect polystone or ceramic models of historical places. Try collecting models of castles or famous places like Stonehenge and the Tower of London, or figurines of famous soldiers. If you choose to pick a county and find out what items are most associated with that place, here are some ideas . . .

* Greece: Painted urns, statuary, Greek busts
* Germany: Beer steins, Hummel and Goebel figurines
* France: Artwork, Eiffel Tower memorabilia
* Africa: Masks, tribal statuary, wooden jewelry

Money Matters

Some of these collections are very expensive, to say the least. I was interested in collecting painted German steins at one time until I discovered that the least expensive collection pieces usually run anywhere from $60 and up. Greek and Roman busts usually don’t run below the $100 mark. If you have cash to spend, go for it, but if you’re planning to start more than one collection, you’ll have to take cost into consideration.

Collections like Eiffel Tower items are fairly inexpensive if you know where to look. At places like, with a main store located right in Paris, you can find everything from clothing to picture frames to home decor items. This is a more “lighthearted” collection. If you are a die-hard collector with only authenticated pieces, this may not be for you.

Many people collect artwork. This can either be an expensive venture or a more inexpensive one, depending on what you collect. If you’re looking for European art, museum reproductions, or artist originals, it will run you into the thousands, but if you’re only collecting, say, paintings with cats in them or pictures of countryside, it will be much less cash-burning. It’s all in the quality. If you are indeed trying to start a collection of portraits or paintings, you’ll have to make sure you have proper space available. It is a terrible thing to have twenty Van Gogh reproductions and then discover you don’t have the wall space to hang them all.

Everything Under the Sun

I myself enjoy collecting small figurines from literally any country in the world. I don’t have a regimented collection rule. Currently some of the items displayed in my travel room are a small replica of an Egyptian sarcophagus, folk dolls from Ecuador, an olive wood cross from the Holy Land, and a tiny bust of Queen Nefertiti, and so on. Collections are sometimes more fun if you aren’t structured, and just pick up a piece whenever you find it. My only rules are that I don’t collect too many pieces from the same country (that gets boring) and that the pieces aren’t so huge I can’t fit them on the shelves.

A Page in Time

Historical book collections are also a fabulous idea. You can choose any book from any time or place and set up a shelf; gradually, as you add to it more and more, it will become a great asset. There are many options here. You can look for historical fiction about many different time periods, non-fiction books such as war stories, biographies, and such, or actual old books from museums or libraries. This is another collection where the amount of money you spend depends on what you are looking for. Will your collection be wide (biographies of any famous general or travel books of every country in Europe) or will it be very structured (only books relating to the artillery of the Civil War)?

Taking Care of Your Collections

Once you’ve started your collection, it’s important to know how to take care of it. Dusting just isn’t enough. Find out how to clean and restore each piece if it begins to show its age. Cleaning wipes are great for figurines and busts, but they won’t work on other items. Your travel or world history room should be dusted often, and kept relatively safe from too much sunlight; constant light can fade old pieces. If you’re not sure how to clean your items, it’s important to ask. You could make a chart that tells you how to administer to each item. Don’t be ashamed if something *does* break; chances you are can replace it, or if not, get something even better. Each collection piece has a story . . . the story of its past, and the story of how you got it and how it is special to you.

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