They say that
glassworkers finished with
berry bowls, toothpick holders,
celery vases and
Give Us This Day bread platters
would gather the scraps,
spin leftover colors together.
For their wives:
pin trays, miniature hats
and speckled baskets
for what-not shelves.
like rainbow icicles.
For their children–the best:
held round by reflections,
sparkling red, green, blue, yellow,
casting light and shadow at once.
Now collectible, $75 apiece.
Eleanor Risteen Gordon
Some of us seem to be born with an instinct for collecting things. In Chapter 9 of my book, The Meaning of Everyday Occupation, I briefly describe my collection of antique sewing items with family origins–darning egg, scissors, tatting shuttle, hairpin lace frame, pincushions–that I keep in the guest bedroom of our house. The short paragraph in the book is, in fact, only the beginning of the story. After starting two decades ago with items that were my grandmother’s, I went on to gradually accrue a much larger collection of antique sewing paraphernalia: tape measures (28 of them!), sewing kits (37), needle books (48), pin holders (15), button cards (14), and spool thread holders (5), plus 1 child’s sewing machine. To this day, I comb through antique shops, drawn like a magnet to the display cases that contain small objects–looking and looking for another sewing kit, another pin card, another button card to add to my collection. The sense of delight that comes when finding a unique and rare tape measure–complete with advertising (Borden’s Milk?), in very good condition, at a reasonable price, and different from any of the 27 tape measures I already have–is, on the one hand, quite ridiculous, but is also, on the other hand, decidedly exciting and a lift to my spirit.
Why is it that people collect things and display them in their homes? Manroe (1992) says that people collect things they love–either for their intrinsic aesthetic appeal or for the memorable associations embedded in them; “. . . living with collectibles can supply a deeply satisfying feeling that’s simply unattainable in an austerely decorated home” (p.8).
As a child, I had collections of rocks (in a shoe box), seashells (in another shoe box), and postage stamps. As a young teenager, I had a burgeoning collection of pictures of Marlon Brando, the movie star, displayed on my dresser. When I think about collections pursued by other members of my family and various friends, more examples readily come to mind: German porcelain trinket boxes; Horatio Alger books; wooden hangers (with advertising on them); milk bottles; old medicine bottles; Staffordshire pottery animals; shaving mugs; bakelite bracelets and brooches; kitchen granite ware; corkscrews; hats in hat boxes; old laundry objects (a scrubbing board; Fels Naptha soap; a bluing bottle); costume jewelry in the shape of bugs.
Manroe says that collections are of two kinds: those that contain items primarily for their intrinsic aesthetic properties and those that contain items for the meaningful associations they engender. The bakelite bracelets would probably be primarily aesthetic in their appeal as would the very early edition of the Horatio Alger book with its cover jacket in mint condition. But not necessarily only aesthetic. For example, the bakelite collection may have gotten started with the receipt of a beloved aunt’s bakelite bracelet, and once the new wearer’s interest was piqued, she was off and running to start a collection. The origin of my sewing collection is assuredly associative as I started by putting together the sewing and handwork items of my grandmother. Yet the collection has many aesthetic components to it as well, in the items themselves but also in the way I put them on display or arrange them neatly in drawers. And where, in this scheme of things, would pictures of Marlon Brando fit?
So, to some extent, the passion felt by collectors for the items in their collections remains a mystery. As luck would have it, as I began to gather my thoughts for this posting, the New York Times magazine section from Sunday, January 1, 2012, contained an article about one particular collectible item. Snow globes are glass paperweights that you can turn upside down and the figures inside are suddenly part of a snowy wintry scene. In the article, the origin of the snow globe was briefly traced and a few historical specifics were described. Tacked on at the bottom of the page was a human interest story about a snow globe collector–a TV personality, Corbin Bernsen. As Bernsen traveled around the country while filming for “L.A.Law”, somebody gave him a snow globe as a gift. By the end of his time with “L.A.Law”, he had been given about 20 snow globes. Corbin Bernsen got hooked. He now has “about 8,000″(!) snow globes, and “a room dedicated for them that’s pretty impressive.” The most expensive snow globe in his collection cost $600; he dug deep in his pockets for that one because it is “a one-of-a-kind skull and crossbones” snow globe.
So there you have it! If any of you blog readers are collectors, and you are willing to share your experiences on the blog, please do! Just (1) click on the gray (or blue) “comma” to the right of the title at the top of this posting, or (2) click on the reply link at the end of this posting, or (3) scroll back up to the beginning of this posting and click on the CONTACT tab under the photo to send comments directly and only to me.
Remember: End-of-day glass, “Now collectible, $75 apiece.”
Manroe, D.O. (1992). Designing with Collectibles. New York: Simon & Schuster.