Pick up a postcard on a trip or a bug in your backyard and you may start a hobby to last a lifetime

YOU don't have to be rich to start a collection. You don't even need an allowance. All you need is a love of adventure and a little curiosity.

It could begin without any planning at all. Walking along a beach one day, you pick up an unusual shell or a mermaid's tear, one of those bits of sea-worn glass that the waves wash up. Soon you find another. Then another. Before you know it, you're reading books on tides and ocean ecology and you've got a jar filled with colorful beach treasures.

Of course, shells and sea glass may not be your idea of treasure. That's OK. Collections can be made of almost anything.

The mayor of New York City, David Dinkins, collects jackets. Pop star Michael Jackson collects exotic animals. And the Queen of England collects postage stamps.

Although some collections start by chance, some are acquired out of a passion for knowledge. The famous magician, Harry Houdini, collected over 3,000 books and papers on the subject of magic. But most collections, often the best-loved collections, are accumulated just for the fun of it.

What should you collect? Whatever you enjoy. Do you like the colors and textures of stones? You'll probably find the start of a rock and mineral collection in your own backyard. A summer trip is a good time to begin collecting travel-related items like postcards, menus, maps, or giveaway soaps from airlines and hotels. This year, 1992, is an especially good time to start a collection of buttons and pins.

A presidential election will be held in November. Political buttons, along with posters and bumper stickers, are given away free by campaign workers before elections. Look for them near shopping malls and supermarkets. You also can request a button by calling a candidate's local campaign headquarters.

This summer, Olympic Games were held in Spain. The American companies that sponsored the US Olympic teams made special promotional pins, which you can request by writing a letter. You'll find the sponsor's addresses on their products or at your local library.

After you decide what to collect, you will want to think about specializing. The best collectors aim for quality, not quantity.

If you're collecting baseball cards, you may choose to specialize in only one team or one player. If you're a rock hound, as rock collectors are called, you can narrow your specimens down to the very best of each kind of rock and mineral. If you collect insects, you may want to follow the example of an Englishman named N. C. Rothschild who concentrated on fleas.

Mr. Rothschild gathered fleas from all over the world. He asked explorers to bring him specimens from their travels. Eventually his collection included thousands of fleas, all preserved, stored in small bottles, and marked with their place of origin. (You might check with your parents before starting a flea collection.)

How do you store and display what you've collected? That depends on what you collect. Any sort of paper object - valentines, cereal boxes - and of course comic books and baseball cards, should be stored in special, acid-free slipcovers available at hobby stores and by mail order from companies listed in collectors' magazines.

A collection of buttons and pins can be worn on a cap, a scarf, a jacket, or displayed on a cloth banner in your room. Serious collectors sometimes keep their best pins and buttons inside a glass frame. Egg cartons and boxes with corrugated bottoms, the kind in which fruit is shipped, make good containers for rocks, shells, and other small objects.

If you're collecting toys, dolls or action figures it's best to keep them in their original packaging. The packaging adds value and keeps the toy in "mint" or "factory perfect" condition.

If your collection is just for fun, you don't need to worry about the condition of your collectibles. But if you hope to profit from your hobby, you'll want to learn how collectibles are rated.

Collectibles that are bought and sold are ranked by a rating system. The best examples are called "mint," or "factory perfect." The least valuable examples are ranked "poor."

A collector's club is a good place to become familiar with rating systems and other aspects of collecting. Club members are usually happy to share information and meet others who enjoy their hobby. Your library should have a listing of clubs in your area, as well as books and magazines on collecting.

Whatever you choose to collect, whether it's rocks or rock- star autographs, you'll probably find yourself exploring new terrain. Collections are like journeys; they often lead you places you've never been before. And your journey could last a lifetime. Maybe longer.

When archaeologists opened the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen, they discovered he'd been buried for more than 3,000 years ... with his collection of walking sticks. `Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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