These days, those bitten by the gardening bug are collecting more than just heritage seeds and species hostas. It seems as though anything used in the garden—the rustier the better—has achieved collectible status. From hand tools with turned wooden handles worn smooth by use to French garden chairs with wrought-iron scroll work, garden collectibles are the new must-haves attracting designers and gardeners alike.
Warning: Collecting these items for recreation can induce competitiveness and slight obsessiveness (Gardeners? Obsessed?), creating a “serious” collector for whom the hunt becomes the fun and the score becomes “an investment” (the latter, most likely the plea to a spouse when stakes get high).
Garden accoutrement are everywhere: open-air flea markets, antique malls, antique stores, estate sales, garage sales and online auctions. And proprietors of garden decor shops are increasingly mixing antique gardenalia with their new product lines, offering unique and unexpected finds.
Who knows which garden items from our era will achieve collectible status? It likely won't be the SpongeBob Squarepants sprinkler—although in its original packaging, you never know!
Is it a collectible?
The bottom line for most of us is, if a piece speaks to us, then it's a collectible. But if you're still not sure whether you should pick up that patinated pot or weathered watering can, here are a few tips from Marni Andrews, feature writer and former publisher of Antiques! magazine.
- Antique statues, seats, urns and fountains are perennially popular and have the strongest value because they're functional and available. There tends to be a balance between supply and demand with these particular items, allowing for some appreciation in value, especially for better quality pieces, although custom-made or limited-quantity products are generally worth more than large-production-run pieces. For example, mid- to late-19th-century cast-iron urns made by Coalbrookdale (in England), and J.L. Mott & Co. and Kramer Brothers (both U.S.-based) sell for $1,000 to $2,000 a pair.
- Categories growing in popularity include gardening tools, watering cans, sprinklers, lawn mowers, and flowerpots, preferably pre-1940.
- Clean-lined pieces such as those of English Regency or Art Deco style are most in demand now.
- Original, unrepaired surfaces are preferable.
- Repairs to cast iron are usually easy to detect. Original surfaces have a patina of wear that's virtually impossible to fake. Never sandblast, strip or repaint cast iron if value is a consideration.
- Where antique cast iron is concerned, look for sharp, clear casting marks (where the surface touched the mould) for pre-20th-century pieces.
- Check old foundry catalogues for pictures and prices. Generally, what a piece originally sold for has a bearing on its current price, as its general value ratio will hold.
- Don't leave urns full of soil through the winter; moisture in the soil will freeze during a cold snap, which could crack the piece.
- Don't leave fountains and sprinklers full of water through the winter.