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Arts & antiques: Think through love collections

A vast collection of duck decoys becomes a late collector’s passion and his widow’s problem.
A vast collection of duck decoys becomes a late collector’s passion and his widow’s problem. Photo provided

Love is one of the most common reasons why we collect objects or hand down objects. Objects come with emotions. Most people will not part with a particular item or group of items if they were handed down or amassed by a loved one, family member or friend. I feel this way about my father’s nutcracker collection and my mother’s canister set. I wouldn’t part with them no matter what.

And when someone stops collecting or is no longer able to collect, sometimes the collection is handed down.

If you can retain a collection for the long term, historically, that collection will increase in value over time. So hold onto the collection if you can. And add to the collection when you can and start to familiarize yourself with the collection by learning about its history and market value.

For many, the love of collecting is not only commonplace but it is also comforting. At other times, a collection can be a burden and present new problems. When a collection comes to you from a deceased loved one, the situation may prove difficult. For instance, when Frank, a longtime collector of duck decoys, passed away, his collection became the property and project of his widow. Like most widows of collectors, Irene was happy that Frank enjoyed the process of collecting throughout their marriage. Now, with no children or interested relatives to take over the collection, Irene is left in a quandary.

She doesn’t want the duck decoys. Reason No. 1 is that she can’t bear to display the duck decoys as they prompt heartache. The emotional collection reminds Irene of Frank’s passing. Reason No. 2 is the overwhelming number of duck decoys now stacked in the basement. Also, the vast collection is unfamiliar to Irene, a non-collector. She can’t identify the decoys’ sculptors, she can’t identify the regional characteristics of each decoy, and she is uninformed and at the mercy of anyone with information about decoys and their market value.

She knows these buyers may take advantage of her. She realizes that auctions may not be the best place to sell the collection because Frank got many of his best decoy bargains by buying at auctions.

If a buyer at an auction is getting a bargain then the person selling the decoy at auction must have lost money on the transaction. Since Irene can’t tell one wooden duck from another, she begins to worry. She doesn’t like the idea of having strangers come into the house to make her an offer on the decoys. She doesn’t know what a good offer looks like, either. If someone wants to make a killing on this collection and buy it for a song, she is in a vulnerable position.

Now, Irene doesn’t know how or if she should get into the market, and she doesn’t want to keep the collection. Like many other families of collectors, Irene never thought she’d be left alone with this vast collection.

Tips for this common collecting problem include choosing one or two favorite items to keep as a remembrance in honor of Frank’s years of collecting, get an appraisal from an appraiser who does not have any financial interest in the collection. A trustworthy appraiser doesn’t want to buy or sell them. Be prepared to pay that appraiser for their expertise and time.

Ask the appraiser to tell you the retail value of the collection, not an auction value or insurance value of the collection. Take some time to consider the market information and then make a decision about how you will act. Don’t be hasty. Get information so you can make a good decision.

Lori Verderame is an antiques appraiser, nationally syndicated columnist and author, and award-winning TV personality with a doctorate in the field. She presents antique appraisal events, keynote speeches and lectures to worldwide audiences. Visit Follow her on DoctorLori or call 888-431-1010.