Editor’s Note: Are your antiques and collectibles trapped in seclusion or piled up in the corner like junk mail? If you need help displaying your collection, send us your questions, and let our experts help resolve the problem.
Antiques and collectibles are interesting and, by extension, make their owners interesting—at least a little bit. If you have 1,000 antique saltcellars, I’d think you would want me to see them and hear how they came to live with you. Of course, if you really have 1,000 antique saltcellars you might want to consider opening a museum—but that’s the subject of a future article. Many collectors keep their wonderful acquisitions hidden away, relegated to living out their days in carpeted, beige boxes.
Are they self-conscious about their collectibles? Not really. In my experience, most people just don’t think about display. Or, once their collection grows to a certain size, it seems like a task too large to tackle.
Proper display requires a bit of knowledge about conservation and an eye for design. But it’s not difficult and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Protect What’s Fragile
Your first priority should be to protect your collectibles. Let’s say that your vintage baseball cards have been sitting in zip-lock bags imprisoned in a shoebox, starved for a little oxygen and indirect light. Baseball cards are printed on cardboard and susceptible to fading. If you choose to use them as part of your decoration, choose a display wall out of the direct sunlight and away from windows. Change the display every six months to hold your interest and keep you entertained and amused. Otherwise, they just become part of the woodwork.
Nor are baseball cards durable. You will need to encase them so admirers won’t touch or bend them. Talk to your local, knowledgeable framer about having a large acrylic display box (at least 4 feet by 6 feet) made with a removable back. If you are serious about preserving your baseball card collection, read Eric Brantner’s blogs about collecting and storing baseball cards.
Now that you’ve protected your cards, you can think about design and display. Choose a backing for the cards that complements the collection and doesn’t clash with your wall. And remember to make an impression. Display at least 100 cards in equally spaced rows to create a strong horizontal look.
Collectibles or Clutter?
Small collectibles quickly clutter without a little effort. Remember those antique saltcellars? Don’t scatter them on windowsills and the fireplace mantel. Think étagère! The French have a word for everything, and an étagère is nothing more than a tall, narrow shelving unit with glass shelves. Place four étagères in the corners of your living room.
Now go to your local big-box fix-it store, and purchase four small plug-in spotlights with dimmers. Place a light under each unit, and shine it up through the shelving. Not only have you displayed your collection, but you also have created what is called in the design business a “lightscape.”
These Four Walls
Ten years ago, you were fortunate to have found that standing map case, and you have filled those delightfully shallow drawers with antique black-and-white engravings. Perhaps you pull a few out once in awhile (without gloves, I’m just guessing) to admire, but then back into the drawer they go. And, curiously, your walls are bare.
Do some math. Your blank wall measures 15 feet long with a 12-foot ceiling height. Most of your prints measure 18 inches by 20 inches. Consider covering the entire wall with framed prints.
By that I mean artist frames that have a glass (always UV!) front and an acid-free backing that is held together with clips. Or, if your budget allows, mount them in simple, mass-produced black gallery frames.
Place the prints equally spaced on the wall from top to bottom. You can hang about 24 prints depending on the size of the print and the frame. The ultimate effect will be strongly architectural and regimented in feeling—a power wall—certainly not for the faint of heart or timid souls among us. Or, perhaps you have the opposite problem: no wall space—still you want to display your prints.
If you are the creative type, go for the unorthodox and the unexpected. Make or have made disposable place mats, wrapping paper, a screen or greeting cards from the images you love. Black and white can be stunning. Put your antiques and collectibles to work for you. You will be entertained, and they will be forever grateful to escape the dreaded confines of a storage box.
– Christopher Kent is a member of the WorthPoint board of advisers and director of evaluations for WorthPoint. He is also an antiques and collectibles generalist, fine-arts broker and president of CTK Design.