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Make sure you keep it a hobby; not an obsession. If it takes over your life then it is no longer a hobby, more than a passion, and will lead to total unfulfillment and financial ruin.

Decide what you want to collect; either a general study of smaller pieces that are easy to display and store; or specialise in one area; for example lighthouses; or up market museum standard high quality pieces. There is plenty of room for all types of collectors.

Stick to your budget and what you can afford. If you cannot afford it then do not buy it. The hobby is not worth getting into debt. The real test when contemplating an extra expensive buy is to ask your self ‘Can I live without this item in my collection?’, and if you do buy it then the second test comes two months later. If you are still pleased with your purchase then you probably made the right decision.

Remember your budget if you buy at an auction or over the Internet on eBay. You can easily get carried away with the ‘thrill of the chase’ and end up legally committed to complete the transaction. As a buyer on eBay then generally there are no extra costs other than the postage of sending the item to you; but at an auction there may be a buyer’s commission, usually 12½% on the purchase price payable to the auction house. Make sure you ask in advance.

Always examine your intended purchase carefully before committing yourself. At an auction or in an antique shop, car boot sale, second hand shop, junk shop, charity shop etc you buy ‘as seen’, i.e. if it has a chip or slight damage then you are deemed to have been aware of it and will have to live with the fact. On eBay you must rely on the description given by the seller and whatever legal redress you may have if later it turns out not to be described correctly.

Do not reject an item just because it is not 100% perfect and bear in mind that serpentine is a soft stone which can easily be chipped, clipped, scratched or broken. If it was a small popular souvenir piece then it is unlikely to be undamaged if it has spent a life time on top of the television or on a coffee table with small children running about. Large quality items that were expensive to buy when new will normally remain as new throughout their life and emerge unscathed.

If an item is slightly damaged but nevertheless unusual and attractive then the damage is, in my experience, unlikely to affect the sale price. If, on the other hand, it has been broken in half and crudely repaired, then I would expect a significant reduction in price.

When you examine an object then not only use your eyes but also run your fingertips over it. Your fingers are normally very sensitive and you will be able to feel any repairs long before you see them. Do not panic if it has been roughly repaired as depending on the price you intend to pay, then the repair can be tidied up and the item can still be an admirable piece in your collection.

If you are not sure that the piece you are buying is serpentine as opposed to marble, onyx or soap stone, then with the permission of the vendor, place a drop of your saliva on the rough base which cannot be seen and rub your finger in it. Serpentine should feel soapy to the touch.

When you bring your purchase home; if you feel it needs cleaning then do not use any kitchen washing liquids or powders you have. They may remove the natural shine to the stone or remove any lettering such as a place name. If you must wash it then use plain water. If the residue of glue that tends to be left when all modern price labels are pulled off will not rub away, then you can use acetone, as found in nail polish remover, to get it off; but I would only resort to that in extreme cases.

If you have bought a table lamp or a lighthouse that has an electric bulb and intend to use it for the purpose intended and not just as a ornament, then I would recommend that you get it rewired. If the bulb holder is replaced with a modern brass one then you will need a three core cable so that the earth can be properly wired