Antique collecting has a venerable history dating from the preservation of valued religious objects in antiquity. By the 16th cent. English and European private collections of rarities flourished. But it was the 18th cent., with its development of the art and science of archaeology, that produced the impetus for public and private collecting in earnest.
In the United States collectors, seriously active since the 18th cent., first concentrated on old books, manuscripts, the possessions and mementos of famous people, and classical antiquities. State historical societies encouraged the growing interest in colonial history and its artifacts. In the late 1850s an association was founded to restore and preserve Mount Vernon, the first of the country's many house museums. Finely crafted household articles such as pewterware and furniture claimed collectors' attention with the opening of the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia, in which reconstructed colonial rooms were exhibited.
During the 20th cent. many sorts of objects in addition to paintings, books, and furniture attracted the collector's attention. Specialty collections grew in such items as quilts, bedspreads, jewelry, glass, coins, postage stamps, china, porcelain, silver and other metalcraft, needlework (including needlepoint, embroidery samplers, lace, and hooked rugs), bottles, stoneware, pill boxes, scrimshaw (expertly carved teeth and bones of sperm whale and walrus tusks), snuffboxes, fans, watches, clocks, periodicals, badges, daguerreotypes, postcards, photographs, toys, posters, military and political souvenirs, objects reminiscent of many forms of public transport (including railroad and ship bells, whistles, lamps, and models), buttons, and many varieties of folk art and memorabilia symbolic of the recent past.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.