Antiques and Collectibles

Some of the most interesting questions we get in the library are questions on antiques and collectibles. People often bring in "treasures" and are trying to find out something about the history of the item or its value.

We as librarians need to stress to our patrons that we are not experts on collectibles, but we are pretty good at helping people find written material about the subject.

However, people collect anything, and unfortunately the written literature does not even begin to cover all of the subjects patrons ask about. There is no substitute for having a good antique dealer help with these kinds of questions, so never hesitate to recommend that your patron check directly with a reputable dealer. Try to avoid being in the middle since the dealer will be able to do a better job by talking to the patron directly. You can help by knowing what dealers in your area specialize in different areas and then making referrals.

It is natural, though, for people to want to read as much as they can about what they have. Sometimes they are planning to sell an item, and want to see if prices have appeared in price guides. There is a lot of good information available and by working closely with your patron, and using the services of your reference center you can often do a good job with these questions.

What is an Antique? A Collectible?

The closest thing there is to an official definition of an "antique" is U.S. Customs law. It now defines an "Antique" as something which is 100 years old. There used to be a set date - 1830 - but this has changed. In practical use, however, the term can be much more loosely used, and you will sometimes see it used to refer to anything from fine art objects to modern comic books.

Another common term used is "collectibles" which is just what it says - anything which is collected, old or new. It is often used to refer to those popular nostalgia type items which are not old enough to be legally called "antiques" but are still sought after. These seem to make up the bulk of the questions we receive in the library, in contrast to questions about fine antiques and art objects. In addition, collectibles can be very new, in some cases dating almost from the present. Elvis Presley and John Lennon memorabilia are examples of this. For these reasons, "collectible" questions can be very hard to answer, since the literature does not keep up with the collecting trends. Some editors of antiques and collectibles price guides use the term "antiques" to refer to items that cost over $100, and "collectibles" to refer to items that generally priced under $100 and are mass produced. As you can see, there is no hard and fast difference between the two terms.

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This page was last updated on November 18, 2003.