Last Minute Gifts for the Collector -and for Kid Collectors too!

What to do about your spouse or child who insist on bringing home every what'zits he or she can lay hands on? And what to do in the weeks before the holidays? Put yourself into the mind of the collector and use a little imagination and you can pull off a terrific gift for next to nothing.

When I was just starting out this business I did research by talking to collectors and hobbyists of every stripe. One stripe was people –women- that collect rubber stamps. They use them to make pretty things on paper. (Can’t say I understand the appeal, but I’d have to say the same thing about many things folks collect.) At one point I found myself in a nice little shop chatting with a couple of charming women who told me about one of their best customer. This woman had 20,000 assorted stamps in her collection. She saved them in used pizza boxes. (I’ll let you do the math your-own-self, but that makes for a lot of pizza anyway you divide it.)

The reason this comes to mind, however, is that shortly thereafter I found myself in a packaging and shipping store. They sold pizza boxes for a less then a buck apiece. Brand new boxes with no printing, no garlic smell, and no cheese stuck to the underside of the lid. I’ve ordered more ‘n a few pizzas in my day, and thoroughly enjoyed every one, but this is an expensive dang way to get boxes.

Imagine this. When this woman was starting her collection and had stamps scattered on every available horizontal surface in the house. Suppose she had a man in her life that loved her, but was the least little bit tired of the stamps ever-which-a-where. Now let us suppose a little more and imagine that this guy bought her a bundle of 50 boxes for 16" pizzas. Suppose he wrapped them up and gave them to her as a big-ole gift. Would have cost him just a little over $30 and made for about 90* square feet of storage. 90 square feet is a small room or a real big walk-in closet.

Helping the Kids with their Collecting Hobby:

We teacher-types do all sorts of things to get our students motivated / prepared / willing / awake enough etc. to learn. Collecting is a wonderful –pain-free way to do this.

Consider, for example, stamp collecting and geography. A child who has somehow gotten a stamp from Timbuktu** just has to wonder where Timbuktu is. If there a gazetteer and a big map of the world somewhere in the home, education HAS to follow. One small word of caution though, there is a fine line between helping a child learn and irritating the little dear beyond all tolerance. You don’t need to be an expert in a given subject or collectable to teach your kids. Let them follow their own interests.

Much of the following provide an opportunity to spend quality time with your kids -even your spouse who is --when all is said and done-- a oversize kid about his or her collection. A little learning, and little organizing, tidying-up, & putting safely away are all good for all concerned.

From a customer who says it so much better then I do.....

My true reason for e-mailing is your page about kids and collecting.  You have a link about getting interested in kids collections.  My 10 yr old son has a Pokemon collection which I have diligently donated to, and attempted to help him keep organized because I do recognize that as a “collection”.  But then I happened on the “last minute ideas for collectors” –you mentioned getting a screw/nail sorter for kids who collect rocks.  My 8 year old is constantly picking up rocks everywhere we go, and I am constantly throwing them away, telling him that it is not really a collection and truthfully, it is annoying to see all these rocks everywhere.  I can’t believe how selfish I have been, and never even realized that this should be something that I should help him take an interest in.  That one paragraph about this organizer was like a light bulb just went off in my head.  Santa will be bringing him a box organizer at Christmas with a note in it so he understands what it is for.  This probably sounds silly to you, to be writing about this, but this is huge for me.

Thanks for opening my eyes.  We have so precious few years to spend quality time with our kids, when they WANT to spend time with us enjoying life and I have been passing it by, but I won’t any longer!!!

Thanks again.


I take up the subject of Children and Collecting in more detail. Add a little more about learning too!


21 Last-minute Christmas Ideas for the Collector

The following list goes from inexpensive to more expensive. But even the most expensive is not all that expensive. At the Packaging Outlet you might find that a given item costs as little as 20¢ , but you need to buy a bundle of 100. The place I go will sell you just a few –but at a higher price. Notice that I also list the type of store. Here again, the packaging outlet has much to offer, but such are harder to find then the grocery / drug store. Might be worth the effort though, depending on the collector in your life.

Bin Boxes:        $0.20 - 0.45        Packaging Outlet

Truly ugly, but they are truly handy and serve many organizational purposes. Until they wear out –but they are so cheap, who cares?




Magazine Organizers:     

$0.45 / each in bundle          Packaging Outlet

$2.50 / pack of 3                 Office Supply Store

These are also ugly the way they come from the store, but have such potential. Have a look at my article on Faux-Finishing to see what I’m talking about.


Plastic pencil boxes:        $1.69 – 2.69       Grocery / Drug Store

Now this is just silly isn’t it? But wait a minute. Imagine a stack of them, with tissue paper inserts, and tasteful stick on labels, and you have professional homes for matchbox cars, small action figures, or maybe even nice COLLECTABLE pens and pencils.


Little paper tags on string:      $1.98       Office Supply Store

What we are trying to do here is make a pile of stuff into a collection. For some things, all this needs is a little tag with details and notes.




Mailing Tubes:        $1.50 – 2.50       Packaging Outlet

A collection of posters or a collection of sticks? Or cut them into short lengths, glue them together and make a cheap rack for your wine collection.


Composition Book      $2.45     Office Supply Store

This sort of gift is perhaps more for a child then a grown up, but the idea is the same.  If your kid is growing mature enough in his or her collecting to begin logging things, a composition book is compact and inspiring.  On the other hand, if your collector is more mature, a bound ledger book or extra-nice loose leaf notebook might be the perfect gift.  (There are also specific software applications designed for cataloging various collections.  Has to be ordered in advance though, and I'm trying to stick to the last-minute gift limitation.)


Banker’s Boxes:         $2.50 each                   Office Supply Store

                                    $1.50 / -in bundles      Packaging Outlet

Noting more then fancy cardboard boxes with separate lids. They stack and have a place for a label. For the larger collection of larger things they might well be an appreciated gift for your collector. And here again, if the clutter is tidied up, so much the better. (If you don’t need a lot of them, it may be more convenient to find them and the office supply store.)


Home-made quake wax:                $3.00        Home-Improvement Store

There is this stuff called microcrystalline wax. It’s used to stick dishes and whatnot to shelves and make them earth-quake-proof. Great stuff, but expensive. If you are not so particular, melt a couple of brand-new wax toilet flanges (from the Home Store -and get the kind w/out neoprene collar) on the stove and pour it into a big glass jar. It’s tan color instead of white, but it works just as well.


Pencil Boxes –for grown-ups       $3.00 -$21.00       Office Supply Store

I’m not sure where something ceases being a ‘pencil-box’ and becomes a ‘desk-organizer,’ but they have lots of little divisions, and are often stack-able too. More expensive then the plastic ones for kids, but for the right collection and the right collector, they would be perfect.


Screw sorting boxes.    $3.95 – $9.99    Home-Improvement Store

Do you have a rock collector in your world? These are the perfect things and a stack of them would make a scholarly collection out of what used to be a pile of rocks. Keep gritty-bits out of the carpet too.





Permanent Markers       $3.99 / set of 5         Office Supply Store

I'd be hesitant to draw or write all over a Rembrandt, but you can damn-sure-bet'cha there is a carefully written label somewhere on the painting in the National Gallery.  For certain items, a small note in permanent ink -in fine point and fussy handwriting- is essential. 


Collapsible mail boxes        $5.00 - 9.00        Office Supply Store

Kind of old fashioned looking, but this is not necessarily a bad thing for a collection of historic significance. They stack when they are full of stuff and collapse when they are empty.



Document / diploma frames:       $5.00 - $20.00       Office Supply Store

Clearly not for a collection of empty beer bottles, but what about a collection of beer coasters, arrow heads, feathers, etc.?  Some of them have -or can be modified to have- a little depth for things that are thicker then a single sheet of paper.





Avery Labels:       $5.95        Office Supply Store

I’d be a little hesitant about sticking these labels directly on something delicate and valuable. They never come off, but if they were to be stuck to the protective cover, it would serve. Begin with your word-procession software’s ability to make cool labels in every possible typeface and color. Add the sorting and database functions of your computer, and the largest most disorganized pile of stuff can become a perfectly organized and labeled collection.


Sheet protectors:       $6.00 / pack        Office Supply Store

Even something as prosaic as a sheet protectors –and they come is many MANY configurations- could make an otherwise uninteresting pile of something into a Collection with a capitol C!


Toolbox:       $9.95 & up       Home-Improvement Store

Some collections -and some hobbies too for that matter, require specialized tools and supplies.   Perhaps a compact and portable box to contain all the paraphernalia would delight the heart of your collector -and hint that while you may not understand the compulsion- you support the collection.  And while you are about it -you might consider combining a tool box with some ......



Steel wool, paint thinner, & paste-wax.        $10 – 20        Home-Improvement Store etc.

If you collect valuable antiques, you know that scraping an old finish off something and sloping a brand new space-age top-coat of some sort will DESTROY the value of the antique. On the other hand, steel wool, paint thinner and a little elbow grease will change a grungie old what’sits, into a beautiful collectable. Add a little paste wax –and more elbow grease and if will look even better and feel good to the fingers too. In keeping with my advice from last month that suggests that the best gifts have the most forethought, assemble an entire kit. Buy the following:


Rubber-Maid boxes:        $4.00 and up        Grocery / Drug Store

Boxes for a collection of larger items. Not all that attractive, but they are strong and stack.


Label maker:        $29.00 - $200.00        Office Supply Store

At one end of the price spectrum there are the ones that make emboss letters on strips of stick-on plastic, and then there are the fancy ones that has a small keyboard and makes any-dang-label-you'd-ever-want.


Literature Organizers:        $54.00        Office Supply Store

The ones I found in the office supply store had 21 slots -7 rows of three little cubbyholes, each sized to hold a ream of paper. Stood about 2 feet high and a little more in width. It wouldn’t actually display things all that well, but would sort and protect them quite nicely.






Cardboard Boxes:     $?$?$$?       Packaging Outlet

Not for nothing did I start this article with the story about the woman and the pizza boxes. I would like to sell you beautiful hardwood cases, but cardboard has its place. If you can’t think of anything else for the serious collector, drop by a packaging-supply store and have a look at the cardboard boxes they have on hand. Depending on the size, they come in bundles of 20 to 100 boxes that cost between 25¢ and $2.00 each.

Don’t dismiss this idea too quickly. We are not just talking about ugly cardboard boxes with the flaps that fold down and tape together. These are boxes that are meant to be tossed as soon as they are in your home and the what'zits is unpacked. There are boxes with handles and lids –think of banker’s boxes, at the large end of the size continuum. There are nice little compact boxes that have integral lids and dust flaps at the other end.

Somewhere in the middle there are pizza boxes and flat boxes with lids for drawings and posters etc. Depending on the size, nature, (and state of disorganization of the collection), 20 good sized cartons might be just the ticket to get it all sorted out and safely tucked away. For smaller or fragile items, separate boxs might serve.


In Closing:

Be sure to check out Gift Giving for the Collector in your Life.  This article suggests gifts that are both apt as well as provide the opportunity for some quality time. Consider buying tape, labels and cushioning materials. Bubble wrap is good stuff –if unattractive. Tissue paper or even old-fashioned excelsior may be perfectly in keeping with antique collectibles. These items are available at the packaging store in reasonable and useful quantities. There may be a problem with acid for very valuable delicate collectibles. (Check out Archival Materials.) Acid free tissue paper is available, but not so easy to find. I have no idea of how harmful excelsior might be to certain materials, and even plastic bubble-wrap has a down-side. This is a complicated issue that I address (as well as a ham-fisted cabinet maker may) in PRESERVATION and A Visit to the Fabric Store.


*For the mathematically inclined here, if we assume a single rubber stamp is 2 inches on a side, she would have needed 313 pizza boxes to get the job done. I suspect a body could eat a pizza a day –or even one every two days –cold pizza being a good thing in it’s own way- but it seems clear that this person would not be a small person. The area of 20,000 rubber stamps you ask? A paltry 555 square feet.   I have lived –and lived well- in apartments smaller then this.

**Occurred to me I didn’t know where Timbuktu was myself. Nor was I even sure it was a real place. Turns out that it is real and historically important. (This WILL be on Friday’s test, so pay attention.)

Timbuktu, also spelled TOMBOUCTOU, is a city in the West African nation of Mali. It is historically important as a post on the trans-Saharan caravan route. It is located on the southern edge of the Sahara, about 8 mi. (13 km) north of the Niger River. Timbuktu was a center for the expansion of Islam, an intellectual and spiritual capital at the end of the Mandingo Askia dynasty (1493-1591) and home to a prestigious Koranic university. Three great mosques built at that time, using traditional techniques, still remain.


 ©  Bill Harvey  December 2005