If you talk to most collectors, they'll tell you they just happened into their hobby, something along the lines of "My mom gave me five snow domes, and it just snowballed from there."
But once you've decided to collect a particular item, how do you know where to find it?
You have five options: garage sales, auctions, antique and collectible malls and shops, collectors swap meets and collectors shows.
Garage sales are the most time-consuming, because usually you have to go to a lot of them to you find exactly what you want. But that's where you'll also get the best bargains, because the people setting the prices often don't know current asking prices. Also, people having garage sales are willing to deal; if they weren't eager to sell stuff, they wouldn't be going through the trouble of having a garage sale.
You can often find collectibles at auctions. Many auction companies get collectibles when they buy estates; they in turn sell them at auctions.
At the South Coast Auction, held weekly in Santa Ana, a $100 refundable deposit in cash is required to bid. Shoppers can call the company or go there to look at the merchandise to see what--if any--collectibles are available that week.
"We have antiques every week, and many times have whole collections left over from estates," says Marilyn Stith of South Coast Auction.
Antique and collectible malls and shops are where most novice collectors look.
The larger antique malls in the county include Sleepy Hollow Antique Mall in Garden Grove, Old Chicago Antique Mall in Buena Park and Lincoln Antique Mall in Anaheim.
Jodi Johnston, supervisor at Old Chicago Antique Mall, says the fact that such shops are open daily and offer a wide spectrum of collectible items is what makes them so popular.
"With 150 dealers, you are going to find at least a piece of something you are looking for, whether it's glass, furniture or whatever, whereas at a garage sale it's just one person's personal items," she says. It might be cheaper at a garage sale, she says, "but you aren't going to get the variety."
Many antique malls and stores also offer free search services and verbal appraisals.
Collectors swap meets, as opposed to regular swap meets, offer used items. The prices are about the same as those at an antique mall or shop, but the advantage is that the dealer is there and can be bargained with. (At antique malls, the dealers rent booths and are seldom there; however, there is usually a phone number at the booth should you want to ask them questions about items.)
Many of the county's community colleges have these swap meets two or four times a year; check with them for the next sale date. There also is a monthly swap meet at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.
Collectors shows are usually genre-specific: toys, dolls, Disneyana or military memorabilia. Because the sellers are familiar with the going price of items, you aren't going to get a great deal as you might at a garage sale. But these shows are the least time-consuming for collectors because they can expect to see lots of the specific items they covet.
The monthly Collectors Magazine, available free at many antique malls and shops, has more information about these shows, as well as about other collectible-related goings-on in the county.
* South Coast Auction, 2202 S. Main St., Santa Ana. (714) 957-8133. Auctions are held every Wednesday at 6 p.m.
* Old Chicago Antique Mall, 8960 Knott Ave., Buena Park. (714) 527-0275. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
* Sleepy Hollow Antique Mall, 12965 Main St., Garden Grove. (714) 539-9187. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
* Lincoln Antique Mall, 1811 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim. (714) 778-2522. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.