Displaying Your Treasures

Displaying Antiques and Collectibles

Displaying Antiques and CollectiblesCollecting antiques and collectibles is one thing, displaying them is quite another. Some items lend themselves to small tabletop or wall displays while others, like furniture, for instance, are so large that they require an entire house. How much space you have for display will ultimately dictate what sort of antiques, and how many of them, you can acquire that will fit into the space you have.

It goes without saying that if you live in a small apartment or even a condominium, you won’t have the space to display too many large items. You probably wouldn’t be collecting grandfather clocks, for example, or even clocks in general because all those chimes going off will eventually drive you insane.

So before you begin collecting, or even if you’ve started, take stock of the space you have available. Purchasing antiques and then packing them in boxes to store away doesn’t enable you to enjoy the objects in your collections. And isn’t that why you bought them?

To begin, look for underused spaces, such as the landing of a staircase, the top of a wardrobe or bookcase—even the interior of a defunct fireplace, or underneath a side table. All can provide an excellent display space for a grouping of collectibles.

Work antiques and collectibles into your home’s decor. Furnish entire rooms with your treasures. Think of your home as your own personal museum.


Antique furniture is probably the largest type of item you’ll collect. Because of its varied sizes, pieces of furniture can’t just be on display. Most need to be used for the same or a similar purpose as originally designed. But some, like an old hoosier or armoire, can be used as a media center.

Group your antique furniture by style or color. Try not to mix dark and light-toned pieces together in the same room. Obviously, it would be hard to group pieces by type.
Can you imagine a roomful of chairs? The same goes for clocks. You wouldn’t place all your clocks in the same room but would spread them out in all the rooms of your house.

Miscellaneous Objects

Displaying Antiques and CollectiblesYou can display sturdier accessories, such as antique books, boxes, old games, toys, and such that can withstand the occasional bump or tumble out in more visible areas, but avoid placing them in high-traffic spots.

For example, antique toys and antique clothing may not have a direct connection with one another, but if the toys and clothes are from the same era, you can paint a picture of life from that era. That picture can be further enhanced by including other antiques of the same era in your display, including dishes, jewelry, tools, or figurines.

A high shelf can work well enough for moderately fragile items that you want to keep away from kids and pets, especially if these shelves are kept in an area that sees very little foot traffic.

Ceramics and Glassware

Displaying Antiques and CollectiblesUnlike many other antiques, ceramics and glassware break. For this reason, you’ve got to display and protect them at the same time. Curio and china cabinets are the ideal display vehicle. The hoosier mentioned above also provides a good display space for kitchen dishes and utensil collections.

With a little creativity, you can convert a small closet into a built in display area by using an old wooden storm door with glass windows replacing the closet door. Use a string of 100 small white holiday lights inside to illuminate your collection.

You can also look for old display cases that can be repurposed to hold a collection of breakable items or build a custom rack to hold dishes. Search for sets of old stairs or shelves at an architectural salvage shop. And keep your eye out on items put out for the trashman in your neighborhood. You never know what you’ll find.

Small Items

Displaying Antiques and CollectiblesWhen displaying small items, it’s a good idea to group like ones together. Eclectic objects can be arranged together if you coordinate their shape and color. If you have multiple antique collections, consider arranging them in separate areas based on their nature and original use. The items in any one area don’t need to be the same, but they should be related.

Consider a curiosity cabinet with cubbyholes for small items. Keep your eye peeled for unusual old cabinets and shelves that can be used to display these items. Make note of displays in antiques malls and coops. A little creativity can go a long way.

Pile up tins or boxes. Or assemble a display of small objects on a tray and place it on a coffee table for an interactive conversation starter.


Frame ephemera with personal meaning, such as old maps, airline ticket folders, letters, and such. More than any other collectibles, paper items need to be protected. You might also consider displaying your paper items in plastic sleeves in a loose-leaf binder so that you and your guests can browse your collection without touching the items. This is a great way to share a postcard collection.

Displaying Antiques and Collectibles

Cleaning and Protecting Your Treasures

Display your collections so that others can appreciate them as much as you do, but protect them, too. Keep fragile items safe. Antiques that can easily be damaged when knocked or handled should be kept in a protected area, but there are still ways to protect these collections while also keeping them on display. Curio cabinets and similar glass display cases are probably the safest and most traditional option.

You’ll need to periodically clean the items in your collection. Make sure that you clean each item in a way that will minimize the risk of damaging it. Hard surfaces can be cleaned with a dust rag. Soft surfaces, like quilts and other fabrics, can be cleaned with a low-powered vacuum. Display intricate or delicate items in under or behind glass so that you don’t have to clean them as often.

Try not to display any antique in a manner that stresses the material of which it’s made.
If you notice some wear and tear on an item you’ve had on display for a while, change the display or put the item in storage.

Keep items away from direct sunlight. Many antiques can fade or dry out when placed in direct sunlight for extended periods. Ideally, you should display your antiques in an area with relatively low amounts of light. This is especially important when dealing with fabrics that have been dyed, as well as paintings and prints.

Article By Bob Brooke

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