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If you've got it, flaunt it!
How to Display your Collectibles
by Jane Frank Director of Worlds of Wonder Gallery, Washington DC

The Artful Collector - Strange New Worlds  Issue 11 - December 1993

People will make of your possessions what you make of them. If you want your treasures to be regarded seriously, you must exhibit them properly. [...] keep two things in mind when displaying your collectibles:

bulletIf you revere your possessions, others will think of them of objects worthy of reverence
bulletIf you value your treasures as "a piece of history," you have a responsibility to protect them for future generations

The thoughtful collector views art, antiques, and collectibles as permanent expressions of time and place. The thoughtful collector helps others to see these treasures as they do. The thoughtful collector displays them to make subtleties easier to grasp and their best points seen to best advantage.

But even the thoughtful collector wants to show off!

It took a whole lot of work to hunt down, buy, and cart that stuff home! Get it out of the closet or off the floor and into a more suitable and more accessible context.

Before starting, consider the personal and practical matters of "the fine art of displaying." Some collectibles bring with them certain obligations regarding display. You must preserve certain collectibles as you found them to preserve their value. To display these special collectibles requires special treatment.

An extreme example of this is a U.S. Mint proof set. You must keep these coins sealed in their original case, permanently fixed in a display to prevent handling. Other collectibles allow you to make the displaying decisions. Each category has its own special possibilities.

Personal Matters


Displaying collectibles can be expensive. It may cost you more to frame a print than you originally paid for the item. If price is no object, custom designed display cases, museum quality glass, and custom leather protective slip cases for books will add to the beauty of your display. Collectors with a modest budget, however, are better advised to spend their hard-earned money on the collectible, not the exhibit of it. But, if you would be unhappy keeping items in your closet, then display costs should be factored into your purchase price.

Privacy (Exposure)

Many collectors enjoy having their collections seen by everyone who enters their home. They relish having their treasures clearly visible and readily accessible. Other collectors prefer to keep their collections out of traffic areas and in private places. They store their prize collectibles well out of sight and sunlight or arrayed in ‘hidden’ displays. This keeps the pieces protected and away from prying eyes and prying fingers.


Some collectors enjoy living amid the clutter of collectibles. If breakage, damage, theft, and loss is not a consideration and you enjoy the day-to-day, intimate companionship that direct access to your collection brings, then you will enjoy grouping common collectibles in decorative ways wherever there’s room in your house. The thought of closing off cherished items in glass cases may seem cold and distancing to you. If you collect functional items, you might even use them in everyday activities such as driving restored antique cars and keeping time by a 17th century clock. Remember, however, that usage invites disaster, no matter how careful you might be. Collectors vary widely in their tolerance for living with their collectibles. Some own them, some are owned by them.

Practical Matters
(Care and Feeding of Collectibles)

Does it have to be enclosed or in a covered display?

Common sense dictates that fragile or very valuable items should be put in protected places. I take a very conservative view. Unless you must handle or touch an object, don’t! That’s the first rule of collecting that all museums follow. The less a collectible comes into contact with human hands, the better.

I recommend that you display your collection in a way that eliminates any need for touching, dusting, or moving the items. Dirt, greasy fingerprints, and dust are difficult to remove from delicate objects.

No matter how pretty or decorative, never leave valuable collectibles out in the open. The display should be covered or sealed against the elements and against prying hands. For me, this means no table top arrangements, no top-of-the-mantel or piano displays, and no coffee-table assortments for cats or wayward guests to sweep away. Place larger objects away from traffic areas and out of reach. If possible, use heavy-duty shelving, pedestals, or special wall alcoves. Place stationary objects where they cannot be tripped over, kicked, or toppled.

Why put collectible plates on easily tipped plate stands? Why put fragile blown eggs on tiny egg stands? Why invite disaster? If you must handle valuable objects, why not use gloves? [Available online: Size Medium - 12 Pairs (24 Gloves) 100% Cotton Lisle Gloves - Premium Weight Unless your fingerprints are collectible, nothing at all should mark your interest.

What about conservation/preservation issues?

Conservation is always an issue for serious collectors. To extend the longevity of your collection and avoid deterioration, be aware of the damaging effects of sunlight, heat, air, moisture, plastic, glue, and acidic papers.

Sunlight, both direct and indirect, and fluorescent lighting are rich in ultraviolet rays. These are harmful to paper, certain inks, and some colors. If possible, artwork and collectibles should be displayed in rooms without windows or in rooms with weak daylight. Use only incandescent lighting. Glass or plexiglass helps to block ultraviolet light; but make sure the surface of the framed object does not come in contact with the glass. Plexiglass should not be used with chalk, pastels, or charcoal drawings; plastic creates static electricity that can cause chalk to migrate to the plastic.

Paintings in oil and some acrylics do not require framing under glass; you may, however, wish to use glass to protect the surface and keep the work "clean," especially if your environment is dirty. Wood-burning fireplaces are terrible; they should be banned from homes with valuable collectibles. Quite apart from the danger of fire, the soot and airborne particles destroy the surfaces of paintings and other collectibles. Humidifiers help. Strict temperature controls also help.

Because paper is acidic by nature, preserving paper products presents a special challenge. Experts recommend that paper collectibles be de-acidified before storage to prevent deterioration and discoloration. Even a small amount of unprocessed wood pulp in mounting or backing boards may contain acids that "burn" paper; this causes your paper collectible to turn brown or brittle, or even to disintegrate when removed from the frame or protective sleeve.

Not all acid free papers are truly acid free. I recommend rag conservation board with pH factors of 7.5 to 8.3 for matting and backing paper items. Even the hinges suspending a limited edition print should be acid free. Store books, magazines, and comics in acid-free cases and cartons, in acid-free mylar sleeves. Never use ordinary polypropylene, polyethylene, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bags. Chemicals present in plastic migrate into the paper, as do the acids in cardboard. Glues present their own problems, none of them pretty.

Document repair tape, backing boards, photograph albums, mounting corners, every item that comes into contact or is wrapped with paper items should be acid free. Deacidification baths and sprays are also available. Check with a conservator before attempting wholesale deacidifying procedures on your own.


Insurance rates are high on scheduled collectibles. Nevertheless, if you feel you have taken reasonable steps to protect your collectibles, and you have reason to feel they are worthy of protection, then they are worth insuring. Several companies specialize in insuring collections. Books, however, and other paper collectibles are often treated separately, with different and higher premiums attached. Paper items are much more difficult to preserve, and more liable to be damaged by handling, humidity, dryness, temperature changes, acidity, insects, fire, pollutants, and water.

Displaying Paintings and Two-Dimensional Artworks

Plan to use area lighting for effect as opposed to general room lighting. Low-voltage or halogen spotlights for short periods can be very effective.

Arrange paintings without glass together. Glassed paintings have different lighting demands and effects. Plus, arranging similar items together makes for a more cohesive display. If glare is a problem, either rearrange or reframe with high grade, non-reflective glass.

Try for thematic displays, either by subject matter, artists, decade, or author. No rule states that paintings must hang on a wall without visual competition. Be creative! If Barnes (of the infamous Barnes Collection) could hang them three deep, so can you. You can place two- and three-dimensional works together on a wall. Look for unusual places to display art: inside closet doors, bathrooms (only those without showers), spaces above doorways, and soffits above cabinetry.

Artwork does not have to be hung on a wire. Place paintings on a shelf, leaning against a wall. Show prints flat on a table. Small works can be shown in photo albums, or mounted in fancy photograph picture frames that can sit on a table top. Paintings on stretched canvas can be left unframed for effect.

Antique frames and unusual mattes can dramatically alter the aesthetic value of artwork. Theatrical mouldings, double and triple mattes (with sueded or metallic finishes, or colored cores) can greatly add to the beauty of paintings -- and their cost.

Displaying Sculptures and Three-Dimensional Artworks

You can commission special trays to accommodate rare and fragile collectibles. These may be stand-alone pieces of furniture or additions to existing drawers, armoires, chests, and other furniture. Some collectibles naturally lend themselves to covered displays: stamps, coins, jewelry, small jades, miniatures, gems, and minerals. Consider this for any small object that cannot easily be arrayed on a wall, should not be handled, readily gathers dust, or is fragile.

Hidden panels in walls and furniture can house very special collections. Sometimes you might want specially fitted, intricate locking mechanisms, hidden doors, and false walls to keep the collection out of sight. Such devices are often constructed to house rare stamp and coin collections. All these efforts, of course, are merely to discourage casual viewing, while still allowing the collector to show off his treasures. These precautions do not prevent theft. Extremely valuable collections are rarely kept at home; they are usually stored in a safe deposit box.

Down-lighted pedestals can be very effective for sculptures. But mirrors can be better and work very well if the sculpture is on a revolving base. Some pedestals have interior lighting. These are especially effective for showing off glass items.

Standing wall units and glassed curio cabinets are great for small statues and figurines. Glass doors are a must to prevent dust and casual breakage from pets and accidental movement. Glass shelving allows the item to be seen from below (good for seeking maker’s marks, signatures, etc.). Mirrored back walls are excellent for seeing the entire piece without handling it. These units are best with fitted interior lighting and moveable shelves. Similar cases are available as free-hanging wall cases. These often have shelves or small compartments to display several small items. Old chests of drawers too damaged for use can also be used in this way, if the drawers are not too deep. You can retrofit the chest with compartments covered with felt or velvet, add a plexiglass door, and hang on the wall.

Finally . . .

Most collectors would resist living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, even if a small kitchen and bath were to be attached to the main entry and a rollaway bed setup nearby. Living with collectibles is different than viewing collectibles in a public place.

In the final analysis, you must judge how to balance the need to enjoy your collection and the need to preserve it. These two needs are not necessarily opposed. However, quite often "showing off" your collectibles requires thought so that displaying their beauty does not come at the expense of their longevity. l


How do YOU live with your collection? How do you display it? The Artful Collector wants to know! Direct your replies Strange New Worlds. We want to hear the creative ways you've conquered the problem of display and would like to highlight photos of some of your unique solutions.


(Jane Frank has been collecting science fiction art for over twenty years. Her collection has been featured in newspaper articles and Smithsonian Institution tours and has been displayed in traveling exhibitions. Jane is Director of Worlds of Wonder gallery. Worlds of Wonder has available the works of more than twenty-five of science fiction's leading artists.)

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In this issue:
We don't get no respect
History of Comics Industry
Elfquest, Indy Success Story
The Comics / SF Connection
Star Trek Comics
Comics by Star Trek Actors
Displaying your collectibles
Star Wars Models
Kids and the Fan Parent
Reviews : Alien Nation books
Review: History of SF Comics

SNW Issue 14
SNW Issue 13
SNW Issue 12
SNW Issue 11
SNW Issue 10
SNW Issue 09
SNW Issue 08
SNW Issue 04

Issue 11 ã 1993 by Strange New Worlds. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior express written consent of the Publisher. All rights reserved. All materials are believed accurate, but we cannot assume responsibility for their accuracy or application. We do not endorse any products or services advertised in this publication.

STAR TREK TM & ã Paramount Pictures.

STAR WARS is a registered trademark of LucasFilms, Ltd. (LFL)

Strange New Worlds Issue #11
Issue #11
plus shipping
28 pages
two-color cover, black-and-white interior

To order by PayPal:

Articles by Jane Frank written for Strange New Worlds:

bulletHow to be a Sucker - why you paid too much, and how to avoid doing it again
bulletNegotiating the Rocky Waters of Collecting - learn how to bargain for price with dealers
bulletPossession Obsession - The Case Against Hoarding - are you building a collection or just a pack rat?
bulletTake the Diagnostic Test: Are You a Pack Rat?
bulletIs It Advertising or Is it Art? - You know what you like, but do you know what to call it? N.C. Wyeth and Rockwell were once scorned as "commercial" illustrators, but now their art is highly collectible.
bulletCollectibles as Gifts - the do's and dont's of giving collectibles
bulletHow to display your science fiction collectibles

Fantasy and Science Fiction Art Books by Jane Frank:
bulletThe Frank CollectionA legendary SF&F art collection, containing the largest assortment of fantastic art in the world — includes the most celebrated names in the field: Earl Bergey, John Berkey, Chesley Bonestell, Margaret Brundage, Frank Frazetta, H.R. Giger, Frank R. Paul, J.K. Potter, Boris Vallejo, and many others. 112 pages (all in color). Hardcover.
bulletThe Art of Richard Powers"I think Richard Powers was one of the most original artists to enter the science fiction field, which he shook up considerably ... I am happy to see this collection of Richard Powers's outstanding work." — Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Hardcover, 128 pages (all in color)
bulletGreat Fantasy Art Themes from the Frank Collect 128 pages (all in color), hardcover. Available in May, 2003. Order now and save.



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