Curating Collections

Posted by Brette in Collecting | Home and Decorating

One part of the bookmark collection

Having a collection is not just about finding, buying, or creating stuff (the thrill of the hunt). It’s also about arranging, protecting, and thoughtfully caring for the collection. If something is important enough to spend your time seeking out and buying, then you have to be prepared to devote some time to caring for it and keeping it in good condition.


This is one job I have been trying to be better at. When my world traveler grandmother passed away at age 99, her home contained many fascinating treasures, but unfortunately we didn’t know where many of them actually came from. While I appreciate inheriting the collection of dolls she bought on her travels, I just wish I knew for certain where she bought each one. I’ve begun trying to label my own treasures, or to take photos and label those, so that there is some chance that they will be identifiable in the future. I wish I had done this when I started my bookmark collection. I have over 60 at this point on display in my office and while I can identify where most are from, there are some that I’m a bit hazy on at this point! I have the same problem with the sheep in my collection. Over the years, I’ve forgotten where some came from.

If you label your treasured items, include details such as when and where you bought them,

My smaller bakets

as well as any special information (such as “bought on our honeymoon” or information about special materials or craftmanship).

I got a P-Touch machine as a gift recently and will be using that to do some labeling.


I am embarrassed to admit that the doll collection sits in a cardboard box in a closet at our house. Someday I will buy a case and stands, after I have someone repair the costumes that are falling apart.

Having a collection is about preserving it and honestly, that can be awfully expensive. I have

My flock of sheep

antique glass that was my grandmother’s on shelves in our living room, but they get so dusty and I am afraid of breaking them. I would love to have glass shelves with glass doors and lighting to keep these in.

Protecting and displaying your collection doesn’t always have to be an expensive proposition however. Lucite boxes are inexpensive and can be bought at craft shops. Think creatively about how you could show off your collection. An inexpensive shelf or bookcase can be a designated area. A dab of museum gel will keep things in place on the shelf. A kitchen cupboard with the door removed provides a special niche for a display. You could designate a side table in a corner as a display area. Some collections work nicely gathered on the floor in front of a fireplace or in a corner. Others can be hung on a wall, or placed on each step of a staircase. I display my bookmarks on colored paper inside inexpensive frames with the glass removed.


Keeping your collection looking good means taking the time to keep it clean. This can be a challenge since it can mean a lot of dusting! Keeping your collection behind glass doors or in display cases can really cut down on cleaning time.

It’s also important to know how to properly care for your items. I have a sweet grass basket that was handmade in the Low Country of South Carolina. Every year, I soak it in water then let it dry in the sun, as I was directed by the shop owner.  Find out the proper way to care for your collection.

When you are cleaning breakables, I find that it is often easier to take them all off the shelf or out of the case and put them on a table and then clean them one by one. It seems that when you are reaching in past other items that you are most likely to knock something over or break it.


I am spatially challenged, so I have a hard time organizing things so that they look right.

Fall amber glass collection

Fortunately, my husband makes up for my deficits and between us we’re able to sort things out. It really makes a big difference how you arrange a grouping of items. One way and it just looks like a bunch of stuff. Another way and suddenly it looks like an interesting collection. These are some things to keep in mind:

  • What’s behind it. The background color of the wall, shelf, or case greatly impacts how your collection stands out. Aim for a contrast: light-colored items against a darker background or vice versa. I painted the inside of my living room shelves different colors to better show off my glass.
  • What’s under it. A table runner, artfully arranged piece of fabric, or metallic paper underneath it can all help to focus the eye on the collection as a group, and also to help it stand out. Stands, holders and other items that allow your collection to stand upright will make it more visible and visually pleasing.
  • Lighting. Almost everything looks better when lit. Cabinets with lights built in them are ideal. If not, try a stick-up battery-powered light for some quick illumination.
  • Keep it clean. Dusty collections look bedraggled. Keep it dusted and polished as much as possible.
  • Group like items together. Sometimes it’s best to organize your collection into types and display similar pieces together (for example, a group of round baskets put together within your larger basket collection makes for even more cohesiveness).
  • Organize by color. You may wish to group things by color for a high impact visual statement.
  • Pay attention to height. Taller items in the back, shorter in the front allow for maximum visibility.

Moving Collections

Teacup collection at Christmas

Sometimes you get tired of a collection, which can be hard to admit if you’ve spent years creating it. I have moments when I am ready to pack my teacups away and do something else with that wall in my dining room. I did decide to be done with glass fruit years ago, and although I have inherited a collection lace doilies those are packed away. If it no longer makes you happy, why are you looking at it?

I rotate some collections to keep things interesting. My grouping of pink glass comes out for Valentine’s Day. Blue pottery emerges for the summer.  And of course, holiday collections come and go with the calendar as well. If you look at something too long, it becomes stale. Moving things around keeps it fun and interesting.

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