Who is a Collector?

RHYS BOWEN: Reading last week’s post on how we all have too much stuff around us, I started to look around me as I decorate for Christmas.






Like Lucy, I have two homes. I live in Northern California during the summer and in the winter I move to a second home in Arizona (to escape those harsh California winters!)  The two houses are very different. Our house in Marin is quite big and is furnished with antique furniture inherited from John’s family. Lots of stuff: collection of paperweights on a Georgian card table. My collection of tiny boxes in a glass topped table. John’s Chinese plates around all the walls.  And in the corner cabinet my collection of national and antique dolls.

We have more collections stacked away in boxes. I used to collect elephants, ranging from a half inch ivory one to a fifteen inch ebony one, heavy enough to kill someone. There is a collection of miniature houses, books full of old postcards. Lots and lots of things that need dusting.

On the other hand my new house is very modern: gray and white everything. Very high ceiling in the main room. I have furnished it simply. We have a few Native American pots on display but apart from that NO STUFF at all. The only things here are ones we actually need and want.  I love the simplicity of it. It’s super easy to clean.

The one problem is my husband: he loves to go to estate sales, browse weird thrift shops and come back with a treasure. I agree that sometimes he strikes gold. One of the Native American pots is from a famed Acoma potter! But mostly it’s stuff we don’t need (and I don’t want).

Which makes me wonder why humans are compelled to collect things that are not essential to their survival. I collected all through my youth: those national dolls in costume my father and aunt brought back on their trips to Europe. I saved all my birthday and Christmas cards. I started a museum on the top floor landing of our big country house. I even collected cheese labels (you know, those little wedges of cheese. There were lots at one time) I didn’t play with the dolls. I certainly didn’t drool over the cheese labels. And now, in that house full of stuff, how often do I admire the paperweights or boxes or take out the dolls? I don’t.

Yet I know some passionate collectors. As we know from our reading, acquiring a new item for a collection has been a motive to kill before now. My friend’s husband flew to Budapest for lunch and to buy a stamp for his collection. No. I’d never do that. The older I get the more I think that they are just THINGS and I could live without them. This was brought home to me during a recent fire in the next valley. If it had spread up our side of the hill, we’d have had to evacuate. When I thought what to take with me I couldn’t come up with much beside photo albums, my jewelry case, and computers. If the rest burned I’d be sorry, but not devastated.

So are there any passionate collectors among us?  Do you actually enjoy and play with your collections?

LUCY BURDETTE: It’s a little hard this time of year because most of our holiday decorations are in Connecticut. We don’t have a real Christmas tree in Key West because they’re so expensive and usually dropping needles by the time they get here. But I do miss unwrapping those ornaments from earlier days--especially when our son sent us a photo of his gorgeous tree. Other than that, for me it’s mostly books. I like to buy and read paper copies and unless I really don’t like something, I have a hard time giving them up. Our neighbor collects old coins and old books. He will fly all over to bid on coins. I have to admit that I don’t have that gene at all!

JENN McKINLAY: I collect nothing. Nothing. I hate clutter because both of my parents were clutterbugs and it drove me crazy growing up with so much stuff. I recycle/regift everything I possibly can. Sadly, I married a clutterbug. Of course, I did. I have learned to just donate his “treasures” and then I tell him it’s “in storage”. Sorry not sorry.

HALLIE EPHRON: I’ve gotten the plots for several novels out of my husband’s “collections,” so I really shouldn’t complain. But I confess, now I’m unleashed and about to turn 1-800-GOTJUNK loose on what’s in the garage. It’ll be a start. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Nope. Nothing. I mean, I have a lot of pencils, but I don’t “collect” them. Have I EVER collected anything? When I was maybe 8, I collected horses. Ceramic, plastic, wooden, whatever. Records, do records count? Beatle magazines? (Which my mother THREW AWAY, grr.) But as an adult, no. Jonathan’s father collected stamps, and they are beautiful--I have framed some of them as art.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've never been a serious collector of anything, not stamps or coins or comics. But I have been on periodic binges for things that I really liked. London Transport posters (until we ran out of wall space.) English Dunoon mugs. Vintage quilts. Teapots (ditto the space issue.) Lately, I've bought gorgeous ceramics made by a young potter friend, but there is only room for so many pretty bowls… But my very favorite current binge is these sparkly Russian fountain pens--and they are both useful and tax deductible! (Office supplies, yes!)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I wouldn’t say I’m a collector - it’s more that things come into my hands and I DO NOT let them go. For instance, china. There’s the Spode from Ross’s grandparents. The Royal Dalton my parents brought home from the UK for my wedding present. The American ironstone I picked up for everyday at a yard sale. Eight gazillion pieces of Mandarin Rose from the turn of the last century that came to me because a friend couldn’t take them to her retirement home in Hawai’i, and her adult kids didn’t want it. And then just last year, clearing my dad’s house, I packed up my mother’s 1960s china she got when we were stationed in Germany. I was going to take it to Goodwill, I swear I was! Yet somehow, it’s sitting, still boxed, in my parlour.





So I’m not a collector; I just seem to be running Mrs. Hugo-Vidal’s Home for Indigent Porcelain.

RHYS: So we are a remarkably uncollectorish lot, aren't we? Who collects stuff (apart from books. We're all guilty of that, aren't we? Who is a passionate collector?