For all those on your list who don't already possess the natural inclination to collect, things are about to change. The truth is, collectors are the easiest people to shop for. Aunt Betty, for example, collects horrible, kitschy cute salt-and-pepper shakers—from the ceramic princess and the frog to Raggedy Ann and Andy or Betty Boop. Anything goes. The beauty of it is that when I see a salt-and-pepper set she doesn't have, even in May, I buy it without a second thought. The same goes for a friend who collects armadillos. Anything with an armadillo motif, any armadillo ornament, stuffed animal, magnet, or trinket makes her happy.
While inflicting a collection on your friends and loved ones may require some planning, I guarantee that it will save you time in the long run—and most folks will be thrilled by your creative gift. Plus, once they've got a collection going, they'll be easy to shop for forever. You no longer have to think of things that are unique, just things that in sheer numbers become interesting and meaningful. Gifting in multiples allows you to opt for cheaper gifts that take on significance because they are presented as a "collection." Anything given in armloads—I'd say four as a rule, though depending on the item, you can get by with two—is suddenly cooler than it was standing alone.
You can gift multiples in two ways. First, it can mean items linked by a common motif: anything to do with Scottish terriers, the Titanic, Elvis Presley, or Hello Kitty. Second, the inflicted collection can consist of variations on one type of item (choose something with huge kitsch potential): paperweights, lava lamps, lunch boxes, coasters, comic books, teapots, vases, bathtub toys, maps, magnets, whatever.
Stores like Urban Outfitters (401 Broadway E, 322-1800; 1513 Fifth, 381-3777) and Anthropologie (1513 Fifth, 381-3777; University Village, 985-2101) might prove fruitful as you gather ideas, and you can usually find one or two gifts fairly cheap that will be easy to supplement elsewhere with less commercial, funkier counterparts. Anthropologie's paperweights range in price up to $20, for example; or start someone's collection of mismatched napkin rings (99 cents to $6). Collection gifts can make many statements. They can be of super-lowbrow quality or high-end gifts that are made all the more special in quadruplicate. The beauty of all this is that otherwise crummy gifts, given in numbers and under the guise of "collectible," can seem better than they really are; just think quantity—and adherence to theme—over quality, and you're on the right track. This is your chance to be as crafty, cutting, affectionate, or as funny as you want, without banking on one single item.
A nice collectible gift says you care, a sentiment that the recipient will truly appreciate. Go for the tasteful yet unique classic: a charm bracelet with a few starter charms already on it. At silverunlimited.com you'll find bracelets for $13.95; charms run $5.70-$12. Nordstrom sells charm bracelets and charms for similar prices, and jewelry stores have more expensive versions. Charms can be found almost anywhere, from touristy shops to antique stores. They run about $7 for new ones to $20 for rare antique ones. The Pioneer Square Mall (602 First, 624-1164), with quite a few antique dealers operating under one roof, also sells a great selection of charms.
Another great place to poke around is Archie McPhee's(2428 NW Market, 297-0240). Here you'll find all kinds of cheesy stuff that will get you going in the right direction for a more humorous, wacky gift. Start a nun collection for a recovering Catholic; get "Nunzilla" ($6.95, set of two), a "Catholic School Snack Box" ($7.95), two "Squeak Nuns" ($7.50), and the beloved "Nun Punching Puppet" ($9.50). Hawaiian theme stuff, like the "Easter Island God" ($15.95) and "Wiggly Hula Girl" and her male counterpart ($8.95 each), are also abundant. You can even get a real ukulele ($19.95).
A few important hints as you get ready to inflict a collection: Whatever you do, try to avoid the clich頣ollectible—stamps, coins, baseball cards—unless your recipient already has a collection or has demonstrated a yearning to take up one of these pursuits. "Real" collectible items can be expensive, and as gifts they bear a far less personal touch. Also, avoid perishable stuff. You want this collection to last forever, which means no food, no candles, no soaps. Try to vary the types, age, size, and even the quality of the assorted gifts you give within the chosen theme. If you're starting a paperweight collection, start by buying a brand new one, but then branch out to secondhand stores and find a few funky retro versions. You can beef up a "collection" of one or two quality paperweights with a few cheap joke ones.
And so begins a lifetime passion. A collection says a lot about a person—and you can say a lot to the person as you inflict one on them. Whether it panders to the ego, points to the intellect, or subtly suggests the recipient's slavish adherence to the latest fad, the collection portrays taste and character. Be careful not to offend, and pick a collection that you and the giftee will enjoy adding to together down the road. Have fun!
Anna Fahey is a contributing writer to Seattle Weekly.