What Do You Collect?

A recent conversation with old friends and new led to an entertaining discussion of odd objects kept around one’s home – everything from helmets and hats to gnomes and birds.

Display of Copper Pots and PansTo be clear – that would be porcelain, wood, metal and other fabricated gnomes and birds…

One of my favorite types of collections are those to be found in kitchens – worn cooking utensils, copper pots and pans that are both displayed and occasionally used, and of course, interesting plates, goblets, or other objects that are both functional and beautiful.

I wonder if the act of collecting is a facet of human behavior that comforts us on some level we rarely articulate. Psychologically speaking, most of us are more at ease around what is familiar, even if we also enjoy our adventures away.

Visually, the repetition of objects can be soothing and pleasing. Some of us like things neatly aligned and spaced in certain ways; others prefer an abundance of items that somehow form a cohesive whole – perhaps a collection of black and white photographs hung salon-style or a display case filled with silver spoons collected as souvenirs.

What people choose to collect fascinates me. Some of it may be purely for fun, while we may also pursue our collections in a laser-focused fashion. Certainly, our collections reflect who we are – at least at a point in time.

Collections Touching Childhood

There are those who collect shells or rocks, and they are reminders of vacations and moments we cherish.

Wind-up toy robotsThere are those who collect stamps or coins or vintage baskets, antique quilts picked up at flea markets or bought at auction, and these collectors are invested in the research and rarity of their finds, as well as the objects themselves.

There are those who collect milk glass or political pins, or as so many did when I was a child, baseball cards! History is a facet of the delight in these collections, though by no means the only pleasure to be had.

This article at The Times offers us a glimpse into Dr. Ruth’s living space, as she discusses her favorite objects. I confess that when I saw her doll house (I have one that is similar), I thought back to the hours of my childhood spent arranging tiny furnishings in miniature rooms.

No doubt I still have a few pint-size settees and diminutive dishes tucked away, probably in the attic.

Whether it’s tin toys from mid-century or earlier, or antiques that draw us to their craftsmanship and their patina, perhaps the invocation of pleasant memories (or significant ones) is part of the appeal.

High End Collections: Wine Cellar, Anyone?

I have known serious collectors of wine, and on occasion, been privileged to taste a fine bottle from a wine cellar, along with an elaborate explanation to go with the experience of tasting it. While that’s certainly a high-end passion, it’s lovely to be on the receiving end, don’t you think?

Wine CellarI’ve always enjoyed entering the interiors of those who are lovers of books; I’ve known individuals who adore rare books, especially first editions, and often in a particular genre. I’ve known others who collect poetry or art references, and I admit that I cherish the encyclopedia-like texts on old glass and china that were once part of my mother’s extensive library.

For those who collect art as I have in the past, the pursuit is a significant element of the pleasure. Naturally, there can be high ticket purchases for collectors with bank — recall those multimillion dollar figures at recent modern art auctions? — although for many of us, value is derived from the stories in the images, knowledge of the artists themselves, and our search for the latest acquisition. These aspects of our treasure are at least as important as the aesthetics and the market value.

Our collections represent our journeys — fueled by curiosity, amusement, personal interests and possibly habit — as well as personal taste. My grandfather was a musician; he collected instruments.

  • Do you collect?
  • What do you collect?
  • Do others of your friends or family enjoy collecting?
  • Do you know the difference between collecting and hoarding?

Collecting or Hoarding?

Beautiful Old Kitchen Collections DisplayedWhile my sons like to tease me that I’m a hoarder — and yes, there are too many objects of all sorts in my little home — there are clear distinctions between collecting and hoarding.

When you enter a collector’s home, you can still find your way to an inviting chair or sofa, not to mention a table at which to sit and eat. Sure, you may be sharing a meal with a stack of books or other cherished objets, but there’s no question of navigating my space and you will not be seated next to gnomes!

My affinity for chairs is an example of one of my collections. Not only do I have small scale models of mid-century modern classics, but there are antique child’s chairs and an abundance of others. One of my favorites dates to 1800 with a slatted back and rush seat, and I used to display it on the wall as art.

One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure

Of course, just as we say that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, for those who like their spaces utterly uncluttered, any sort of collection other than a carefully curated display is considered disarray.

As much as I enjoy entering a tidy house, I feel less at ease in one that tells no stories from its family photos or personal collections. I find pristine environments beautiful to look at, serene to experience for a brief amount of time, and then… I want out!

Neutral Living Room with Touches of WarmthI gravitate toward environments that are inviting, drawing their warmth from textures, a variety of objects, art and books, or other personal collections.

There’s no question that my living space tells my stories – perhaps more than I would like at times. I also wouldn’t say no to telling my tales in neater fashion. But I’ll take a touch of chaos, mess, personality and reality over the impeccable façade, as pretty as I may find it.


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  1. says

    My really serious collections all go with Christmas and have developed over 29 years…snowmen, Santas, and trees fill my house right now. Other than that I have this thing for random plates…I would rather serv e a mismatched setting of pottery than an matched…go figure. It is more fun and creative that way! I would love to hear what others collect…good idea for a post!

  2. says

    Collecting? I have been weaning myself off of this for the last year. As I have posted, I have less than half the stuff of a year ago, in half the space. I now have relatively small samples of things that have meaning and/or connect with my past. Three or four individual train items, not six boxes of trains. A few bound 19th century copies of Atlantic Monthly, Scribners, Punch — not a bookcase full. A few antique electronic items from 1920’s-50’s, not two hundred pounds of electronics. And so on, and so on. Kept some things that had been in family for generations and were either smallish (arrowheads picked up from a family farm in the 1800’s) or furniture that is usable (my bureau). Kept some propaganda posters that my father snuck out of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, both for educational purposes and the family story. Kept a few of my own signs from the Cold War. Two or three antique tools from among a large set.

    Sold a few items at a modest price and managed to find a home for most of the other stuff . Took pictures of everything. If these things help my memories, I can review them anytime I wish. But out of sight is out of mind, and I find that I don’t miss or wish. Good. Life is too short to be minding all this stuff.

  3. batticus says

    I go with mainly early edition science/technical books (always carry my trusty first edition publisher guide in the car), 50s/60s/70s sheet music, and coins (since I was a child). My fascination is that it is basically an infinitely long process of learning to collect well, you really have to specialize and know what you are looking for; I particularly enjoy the pawn/collecting shows where they explain the analysis of items and their value, the Antiques Roadshow from the UK being one of the earliest shows of this genre.

  4. lunaboogie says

    Here I am, far away from home, and poking into New England antique stores nearly every day. My daughter and I have a doll house. It is a simple wood structure with 4 rooms and filled with wood furniture (that a dear artist friend has decorated with bees and vines and roses via wood burning), a Limoges china tea set from my childhood and small antique spoils from many travels. For Christmas we have a tree, decorated with charms as ornaments. We even have stocking charms for the fireplace and a painted iron train that circles the tree.

    This trip I found a small green iron sleigh. I can’t wait to fill it with miniature wrapped presents and set it beside the tree. The sleigh was only $2.50! Such a better deal than full size antiques, for sure.

    • D. A. Wolf says

      Glassware. How lovely, Barbara. I find I’m crazy about books, too. Art books and poetry are irresistible. (You’ll notice that even my holiday decorating incorporates them. Then again, they’re everywhere! They’re an essential part of life, I find.)


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