“When we are collecting books, we are collecting happiness.”― Vincent Starrett
Losing interest in proceedings my mind wandered and was ignited by the idea of collecting. Curiously, this had no remote link to the lecture I was in.
Intrigued, I began following thought webs as they spun in seemingly random patterns. My mind’s eye posed snapshots; images of rooms full of collectables, articles I’d read and interviews I’d seen with crafty and committed collectors.
I wondered, with the astounding diversity of collections, what compels us to collect things― stamps, coins, teapots, snow globes, dolls, Elvis memorabilia, matchboxes? Is curiosity, interest or habit the driver? When did it all begin?
For a short time as a child I collected stamps. I was introduced to it by my father. While it wasn’t something I chose on my own my interest was definitely piqued by his old album of small pieces of paper from all over the world. I remember receiving bags of mixed, used stamps every few months, some still attached to envelopes, from a club I joined. I would spend hours gently removing the torn envelopes, arrange the stamps by country, date, cost. In retrospect, it was a relaxing pursuit. I could do with some of the calm it bought me, now.
Some stamps were beautifully decorative, others simple and plain. The shapes too were a source of interest, for among the small and large squares and rectangles of all sizes were triangular stamps. There was a fascination too in wondering who had purchased that stamp, who had received a missive with the stamp glued to the envelope. Of particular interest too was looking for the first edition stamps and envelopes printed in Australia. My father would take me to the post office to purchase these beautiful mint condition treasures. It was nice to share an interest together. Why it lapsed I don’t know. Age, school, lack of real drive and passion. Perhaps a combination.
I haven’t collected anything since, though I do love teapots and sweet antique tea cups and I have several of each but I wouldn’t class it as a collection, merely an interesting display in a cabinet. I do have a habit of picking up shells on the beach and random seed pods and dead leaves that interest me. I have a few glass vases and pottery bowls filled with these treasures. Maybe they are collections after all? I wonder?
I have seen incredible collections compiled by people who have dedicated their lives to sourcing different versions of a single item. I love the look of a collection. I admire the dedication and the single-minded focus. I’m lazy. I don’t have the dedication to follow through as some do.
Collecting has a history. The Egyptians collected books at the Library of Alexandria. The Medici family, had the first private art collection. Of course our museums and art galleries are collection houses.
A Preston and Child crime novel introduced me to the idea of a “cabinet of curiosities” which was common among scholars, with the means and opportunity to acquire unusual items, from the 16th century onwards. Some of these collections were quite hideous indeed.
In time, with advances and improvements in the general standard of living and the emergence of leisure, more and more people had the means and opportunity to begin collections. But the question remains — why do we collect?
It’s at the core of the human psyche and there are several reasons collecting is a hobby pursued by many. As you might suspect, collecting often goes hand-in-hand with an interest in the objects collected and what they represent. For my friend, blue and white porcelain antiques reflect an interest in an age where delicate, beautiful objects of quality were produced. There is an enchantment that emanates from a room of blue and white antiques.
Collecting is relaxing. Tending to a collection is meditative. It can take the collector away from the stresses of life and provide a meaningful and satisfying pastime. I’ve visited a few model train expos and it is evident too that the social connections forged through a shared interest can be strong.
Then we go to the other end of the spectrum where compulsion is the motivator. I’ve often thought of myself as obsessive and so have tried mightily to avoid or give up habits that see my compulsions escalate. I know for sure if I’d not found Pinterest my love of tea cups and teapots would drive me, and my husband, to distraction and financial ruin. Pinterest allows me to collect without financial outlay, without having to worry about space, or breakages or dust.
A little tidbit that captured my attention is the link to our past. As hunters and gatherers we were primed to collect food and supplies for survival. Interestingly too, collecting is linked to memory and the making of meaning. The human brain, adept at cataloging and organising information, associates meaning with objects.
My reverie into collecting was refreshed when, delighted, I came across the tribute (below) to collectors everywhere at the Swell Sculpture Festival. Do you have a collection? I would be interested to know what drives your passion.