A collectable or collectible is typically a manufactured item designed for people to collect. In this respect, they are distinguishable from other subjects of collections, which may also include natural objects (e.g., butterflies) and objects manufactured for purposes other than collecting (e.g., stamps). Some objects designed for other purposes, such as toys, become so popular among collectors that they are later marketed specifically to that audience. The high price for certain older Star Wars action figures is a good example of this phenomenon since the figures were originally intended to be purchased as toys rather than collectibles.
The hobby of collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever items are of interest to the individual collector. Some collectors are generalists, accumulating merchandise, or stamps from all countries of the world. Others focus on a subtopic within their area of interest, perhaps 19th century postage stamps, milk bottle labels from Sussex, or Mongolian harnesses and tack.
The items collectors collect may be antique, or simply collectible. Antiques are collectible items at least 100 years old; collectibles are less than antique, and may even be new. Collectors and dealers may use the word vintage to describe older collectibles. Most collectibles are man-made commercial items, but some private collectors collect natural objects such as birds' eggs, butterflies, rocks, and seashells.
Collectors' magazines are one of the most popular means to learn more about the field. Attending conventions and collectibles shows is another way for a collector to familiarize him or herself with the possibilities. These shows will often include seminars on a variety of subjects such as artists, companies, decorating with collectibles or how to insure a collection. For example, the NCC (National Council of 56 Clubs) has individual member clubs that host regional Gatherings each year for collectors of Department 56 lighted villages.
A collector may find and join a local club for people who collect plates or other limited edition items. Collector publications frequently list the location, date and time of club meetings as a service to new collectors. Collectors who have already narrowed their collecting horizons to the creations of a particular producer may want to join a club that focuses on this producer's work. A potential collector may wish to chat with collectors with similar interests in specialized forums via the Internet. Fellow collectors are usually very happy to share information with new collectors; this includes information about where they have been successful in acquiring their collectibles, where they have struggled and what they are looking for. Collectors' forums allow for an open exchange of information, sometimes with experts available to answer questions and offer guidance.
Typically, experts say that a collector should decide when she/he will "zero in" on a specific collecting area rather than buying appealing items of all types. Collecting is considered to be very personal. There are a number of ways in which a collector may locate and buy the limited edition collectibles he/she wishes to own. Giftware and limited edition retailers, direct mail or magazine ads, swap and sell programs, auctions, antiques shops, antiques malls - even house sales may be fertile fields for the collector. Another way to add to a collection is to watch local ads for auctions, antiques shops, flea markets, and household or estate sales.
Some experts contend that collecting should not begin as an investment, that a collector should enjoy him/herself and purchase items that appeal to them. On the other hand, there are those who believe that a collector can become a more intelligent consumer of limited edition items and begin to select items that have an "edge" in the race for market appreciation. In addition to buying for beauty or for what they personally like, collectors might utilize certain checklists and guides. These guides, such as Warner’s Blue Ribbon Book on Swarovski, The No. 1 Price Guide to M.I. Hummel, and the Collectibles Market Guide & Price Index, offer criteria that may be helpful in evaluating plates, figurines, bells, and many other collectibles categories. When making a purchase, it is advised that a collector keep certain key ideas in mind, such as a buyer’s checklist.
Collectibles experts tend to agree that a collector should begin keeping a record as soon as they start collecting. Record all details of purchase and price. Without this information, prospective buyers and insurance appraisers may not take the collector's word. It is also recommended to take a photograph or video of each item or groups of items where each may be easily identified. Records can be made in a format suitable for the collector, from a simple spiral notebook to a computer software program designed for collectibles. In addition to the information the collector records, it’s a good idea to keep all written material and certificates which have been received with the collectibles — receipts, flyers and stories, care and handling instructions, etc. They will help to document a collection for resale or replacement in the future. At least one website now exists where collectors can permanently register their collections in an online database with a photograph and description of each item. Having such a record of the collection stored separately is good insurance in case of a disaster such as fire and is an aid to law enforcement in thwarting thieves.