Monday, October 7, 2013

Organizing Your Collections

QUESTIONS: I love collecting things and have been doing it a long time. But I now find I really don’t know exactly what I have. Can you give me some advice on how to organize my collections?

ANSWERS: Collecting things can be addictive. And over time your collections may become so large that you lose sight of what you actually have. Organizing your collections is important if you’re to truly enjoy them.

Private collections often start with one or two items—perhaps a striking old photograph or an old vase. You treasure a few objects and know their every feature by heart. As the objects multiply, however, you’ll  forget where you found an object or what its history was. Cataloging of your collection can record those details, document the artifacts for insurance, and form a framework to keep similar objects together.

Collectors have a common need to know what they have and where they got it.

There are three ways to catalog your collections. All of them are rather simple. The first uses
standard 3 x 5 or 5 x 8-inch cards and a notebook, or logbook. Another uses a three-ring binder with dividers if you prefer to keep all the information under one cover. In either case, no special materials are needed; cards, notebooks, and binders are available at any office-supply or stationery store.

The third way is to create a computer database. You can begin by using the cards you prepared above, then transferring the information to a database later.

The first step in any classification system is a catalog number, which will appear on the artifact, in the logbook, and on every receipt, canceled check, photograph, or card that relates to it. The number is the essential link between your records and the item.

The objects in your collection should be numbered in sequence in the order in which you acquired them. Although simple numbers will serve, a three-part number is more useful because it includes the year the object was acquired and the source. Individual items purchased at the same time from the same source will thus each have this number.

It’s a good idea to record the numbers consecutively in the logbook as soon as you assign them. Include in the entry basic information about the source, a brief description of the object, and the price paid for it. That information, along with the receipt or canceled check, can be used to document a claim if a part or all of the collection should be damaged or destroyed. The log should be stored in a safe place and updated regularly.

Next Week: More on organizing your collections.

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