Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Collecting Ourselves

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I was cleaning up Youngest's room for an overnight guest (for values of cleaning up - for a kid who has a sizable part of her belongings and wardrobe at boarding school, she manages to leave HEAPS of belongings behind) and wound up straightening several of her dolls that had fallen over. Youngest has been collecting dolls for many years now; the core of her collection were the dolls I had managed to hold on to from childhood on.

When I was a girl, we moved constantly, both in the US and overseas. In addition, my parents traveled a lot, separately and together. Wherever they went, they found me dolls in traditional dress: dolls from Morocco and Switzerland, Viet Nam and Germany, Scotland and Thailand. I didn't play with them, of course; they sat on a shelf and I rearranged them whenever I got  new doll, based on some metric I can't recall. Alphabetical by county of origin, maybe?

Whether they can play with them or not, children LOVE collecting.  My late father-in-law had an enormous stamp collection when he was young. My husband Ross collected W. Britain toy soldiers and used to stage massive battles between British Napoleonic regiments and Spartan phalanxes. In my teens and early twenties, I assembled an enviably large collection of tacky snow globes. Alas, when we moved into our current home, I realized tacky plastic snow globes weren't quite the decorating touch I was looking for in an 1820 farmhouse. They're all upstairs in the attic now. I told the Smithie she could have them when she moved into her first apartment, but she seemed strangely uninterested.

For the past fifteen years, my collecting obsession has been china and glassware. I have Spode that was Ross's grandmother's, Royal Doulton that was a wedding gift from my parents, a huge set of American ironstone that I got at auction and 19th century Canton Famille Rose that was given to me by a dear friend who had to seriously downsize. (Because she was moving to her house in Hawai'i. Not a bad trade!) Glassware I've picked up everywhere from Goodwill to estate sales to factory stores.

Reds, what did you collect when you were girls, and do you have any collections as adults?

RHYS BOWEN: I also have a big collection of dolls in national costumes from around the world. My father used to bring them back from business trips and my aunt was a great traveler who brought me a doll from every country she visited. I have a whole china cabinet full of them and pause to admire them sometimes.

As an adult I've had several collections: I collected elephants for many years until everyone gave me an elephant for every occasion and elephants threatened to take over my life. I've collected glass paperweights, but put them away one Christmas and have never brought them out again. I collect tiny boxes that live in a glass topped table. I still enjoy those. But when we bought a condo for the winter in Arizona I wanted it completely minimalist and simple, and actually I enjoy it that way so much that I've put away most of my ornaments from the house in California.

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm not an organized collector, unless you count--books! When I was deep into golf, I probably bought every golf novel and book on golf psychology that I could get my hands on. Now it's foodie books--I love foodie memoir and foodie novels. And of course I have all the books my friends have written--how can I purge those, especially if they are signed? I've been trying to cull out some of them, asking myself honestly, will you ever read this? Or will you ever read this again?? But it's very hard...

HALLIE EPHRON: I am so not a collector. Never was, even as a child. I remember one of my sisters collected dead bees. Back then she did things just to be annoying. The bad news is that I’m married to a man who collects. Stamps. Books. Postcards. The silver lining of this is that he keeps our photo albums up to date.

The one thing I have saved are all cartoon cards he’s drawn for me over the years for my birthday, Christmas, New Year, Valentines Day, and wedding Anniversary. This one’s from Valentine’s Day back when we lived in NYC with cats in about 1970.

JULIA: Hallie, that's a collection that's truly priceless!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, Rhys, I had a doll collection from everywhere my parents traveled, too! Japan, Hong Kong, South America, etc., etc. Like Julia, I must have had some system for arranging them, but have no idea now what it was. And I'm ashamed to say that I have no idea what happened to them. Culled in some move or other. But I can safely say that my daughter would NOT have wanted them--she's very minimalist in her taste.

As for something I actually enjoyed, I collected rocks. I had visions of being a gemologist, I suppose, or a geologist. I poured over guides to rocks and minerals and had special box for my rocks. Of course I liked the sparkly ones but that didn't translate into sparkly jewelry as an adult. A good thing, probably.

Nowadays the most organized thing I have is teapots. But I use the same one every day (Emma Bridgewater) and the other are mostly for decoration in my kitchen. I'm feeling a huge urge to declutter...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I know you all think I collect black shoes, and black business suits, but that is all part of the job. So it doesn't count.
When I was a teenager, I collected Beatles stuff, but when I went away to college, my mother threw it away.
Not really Hank's, Her's are much neater. And cooler.
Thinking about this is so fascinating, because I don't really collect anything now. Unless you count glossy shopping bags, which I don't collect as much as accumulate. I do have a fabulous collection of name tags from various conferences and events, which I hang over the back of my chair in my writing office.  It is quite amazing, and quite a work of art. It also changes the balance so much that it makes my chair follow over backwards.
Luckily, only when I am not in it.

JULIA: It seems like an essential component of everyone's decorating is that there has to be a bit of a challenge to it. Only gifts, or never buying full price, or only when traveling or at conferences. How about you, dear Readers? What did - or do - you collect?


  1. Books were the mainstay of my childhood collecting days (although I do still have my Shirely Temple doll). For many years now, I have collected Precious Moments, particularly angels . . . both of the girls collect them as well, and the youngest daughter also has a small doll collection.
    Of course, the collection of books regularly threatens to take over the house . . . .

  2. I have for years collected vintage linens and turkey platters, both for sentimental reasons involving grandmas.

    Now I find myself collecting goofy/odd/artsy things I can photograph for my blog. This is the ONLY reason I own a gnome.

  3. As a child, I collected teddy bears (especially the Gund style bears). My aunt bought me a Madam Alexander doll every year. Both collections are on shelves in my bedroom.

    My material grandmother collected china tea cups (I bought her one from Russia when I went on a trip to Toronto in high school) and bells. When she died, my sister got the bells, I got the tea cups.

    I don't collect anything now. I just forced myself through a book purge (my husband was quite impressed) because when the books are literally falling on the floor, you have to do something. My children are also not collectors (unless you count dirty laundry for my son). My daughter has a series of china figurines, one for each year of her life, but that's about it.

    Years ago, I took the advice from some organizational show to heart: If you love something, you'll find a way to use/display it. If you can't do that, out it goes!

  4. I am not a collector. If I were, it would be something that didn't require dusting (concert t-shirts? vintage clothing?). However, like Hallie, I live with collectors. My daughter collected Breyer Horses, and now that she's at college I have the whole herd (hundreds of 'em) collecting dust on basement bookshelves. They stand on the top of the shelves and overlook my husband's collection of books: military history, equipment and biography (with an emphasis on the Civil War); politics (some signed first editions); and works on spying/intelligence. He also has a small collection of aviation art which I have added to on occasion for birthdays. The only caveat is that most of it stays in the basement, too.

  5. Ramona, I believe you about the gnome.

  6. I have treasured items--but no big collections, except--stories and family lore. Genealogy satisfies my collecting urge.

  7. I have a collection of manual typewriters. They are oh so beautiful, but oh so heavy, and my spouse wonders about the wisdom of moving them next time around.

    She shares Julia's love of china and glassware. Her collection is lovely and has family significance, but I wonder about the wisdom of moving all of those place settings and goblets next time around.

    It seems we will be having a classic give-and-take discussion some day.

  8. Hank, I also cannot bear to part with my hundreds of name badges from various speaking/teaching gigs. Must be a Libra thing, eh?

    Aside from the usual collection of books (especially the signed ones, which get their own spot), I have collected scarves since 1966. Everyone knows I'm a scarf person, and I've been given some exquisitely lovely ones, in addition to those I've bought myself, from all over the world. The only place I've been that I don't have a scarf from is Australia. On my first trip to London I was treated to tea at Liberty, and my friends helped me pick out a scarf there. (One of the least expensive they had, because, you know, my heart!) And my lovely stepsister brought back a fabulous silk Burberry from her UK honeymoon when she married the Welshman.

    They don't take up much room, but when you have hundreds it gets a leetle more difficult to store them.

    My sister also collects elephants, Rhys, after living in Kuwait for a few years. The trunk should always be held up, for good luck, she says.

  9. I also have a collection of international dolls. Am hoping for a granddaughter sometime this century...

    In high school I collected sugar packets. That might win the prize for ridiculous. Now I have a fabulous collection garden statuary. A gargoyle. A big metal tipping crane. Cats. Three dancing frogs. But my favorite is (and you have to know I have a long-dusty PhD in linguistics for this to make sense) ... Gnome Chomsky! He's even holding books.

  10. OMG, Edith! Gnome Chomsky! Love it!

  11. Edith, I collected cheese labels when I was a child, you know from those little wedge of cheese? It was a limited collection because how many brands were there?

  12. I guess that books are my main collection items and have been for quite a while. I especially love my signed copies, and I enjoy different cover versions of classic novels, such as Jane Eyre, too. Like you, Rhys, I used to collect elephant items, but I also became inundated with elephant item gifts. Ramona, I love gnomes and have several, but mine are reading gnomes, which I don't come across often, so my little collection isn't in danger of getting out of hand. I do also have a gnome in my alma mater dress, University of Kentucky, but it's the one exception to the reading ones.

    And, now, I want to congratulate Hallie on her Mary Higgins Clark Award nomination in the Edgar Awards! Woohoo! Well deserved!!!

  13. Hallie! Congratulations on your Mary Higgins Clark Award Nomination !!!!!! Well deserved, my friend.


    oh yes.

    I do tend to collect.

    And it's a very unorganized collection.

    I had a collection of dolls growing up but it wasn't my idea. I never, truthfully, "got" dolls. So I sold them several years ago and the buyer was ecstatic that they were as good as new and still in the original boxes.

    Teddy bears - I have quite a collection of teddy bears, but most of them now live in storage for a couple of reasons. Have you noticed how your collection can grow when frieds/family notice you have something? Say - like "a" teddy bear? Next thing you know you're receiving teddy bears for Christmas, for birthdays - and often they're not really bears you'd buy on your own? Well, that.

    White ironstone pitchers. Not as much as I once did. Used to be you could pick them up very reasonably priced. That was before Martha Stewart and Country Living Magazine started showing them placed on top of everything from kitchen tables to toilet tanks.

    Oh, lots of stuff. And Don Barley is just as bad. Our house is a junk shop, what can I say?!

    And that's without all the books . . .

  14. Yay Hallie! and LOL on the gnomes, which had not occurred to me:).

    I used to collect stuffed cats, most of them covered with rabbit fur. While I was in grad school in Gainesville FL, we had a problem with roaches. One day I noticed they'd eaten all the fur, leaving a collection of bald cats.

    Would you have kept them? I wanted to for sentimental reasons, but it was too silly...

  15. Everyone's collections are making me laugh. Sugar packets on the labels on soft cheese wedges are in strong competition with bald cats and a thundering herd of dusty Breyers horses. Laura, you'll find out exactly how much they mean to your daughter when she finally moves into her own house and you tell her to come and pick 'em up. I was amazed how much precious childhood bric-a-brac became disposable tat when my parents got ready to move and I had to start storing the stuff.I've observed that

    Brenda, I've observed that, except in rare cases where a couple collects together, one spouse's treasure is always a space-hogging, unnecessary burden to the other. I grudgingly let Ross keep tote bag after tote bag of ephemera in the attic. He has threatened divorce if I bring any more cut crystal goblets into the house.

  16. That's so funny, Laura -- I collected Breyer horse statues in a major way when I was a girl! I had two tall bookshelves in my bedroom lined with them (and books too, of course). They're still in a box somewhere, and I sometimes wonder if they're worth anything ...

    I collected stamps also. My grandfather was one of those kinda-professional stamp collectors who specialized in the British Empire. Alas, during the depression he had to sell off most of his rare stamps. I loved the pen-pal stamp collecting letters we'd send each other. I still have those letters in my original stamp-collecting-supply shoe box.

    I have an old coin and paper money collection too. I still keep money from the countries I visit. (Too bad Europe is mostly boring that way now.)

    I don't collect anything actively anymore--except if you count keeping sentimental items like my childhood collections, scrapbooks, etcetera!

  17. True confession time. Books in every room and hallway in the house with the exception of bathrooms (and they have magazines), small creamers/pitchers from hotel gift shops, flea markets, thrift stores,teapots that I actually use, multiple complete sets of China,tiny boxes from around the world,old corning ware,tea cups,Hummel figures,handmade miniature garden houses and.....gnomes. Honestly.....an intervention might be called for :). Fortunately, we don't appear to be hoarders since this house has an amazing amount of cabinets and storage space!

  18. Teapots and books. I have Polish teapots, and Russian teapots, and Delft and Royal Doulton, etc, etc. I've picked them up on trips and been given them as gifts. And books, books, and more books. My youngest daughter recently took my Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books from my childhood (oh so many years ago). My husband suggested the other day that we should donate some books to the annual book sale here in Cheyenne and I told him that he could donate any of HIS books that he wants but he'd better keep his mitts off mine.

  19. Books (of course), storytelling props, t-shirts from many events . . . and do UFO's (unfinished fabric objects) count? I have many of those, despite plans to finish all. Also, two older computers, no longer in use; there were two others, but they were given away at the last move.

    I'm impressed with the many doll collections. I have some for small visitors to play with, a Susan B. Anthony soft doll, and and elegant one from Japan my late MIL brought us, but nothing like a collection. My childhood dolls stayed behind for my little sister and then her daughter.

  20. Books, cats (living and representational) and angels. Always. As a teen, Beatles stuff, I mean everything. At one time teapots, but they took up too much room when we moved to a house that had kitchen cabinets right to the ceiling so they are packed in a box now. Christmas ornaments and my husband collects Christmas houses. Been two years now since we put any out, but I still add to the collection every year. Considering depression era glass (purple and cobalt blue only) and china patterns. Who wouldn't love a set of Wedgwood Sun these days.

    When I traveled a lot I collected folk dolls. I still have some, but others deteriorated with time, many were stuffed with hay or other organic material. My antique Seminole coconut husk doll is the pride of my collection.

  21. I don't collect anything now, other than books. And that doesn't count. I do like to get some kind of souvenir doodads when I travel. But I'm sticking to things I can wear or use. I still have my postcard collection from childhood. I'll save cards people send me but I don't buy them myself. I also collected little hotel soaps when I was a kid. Dad would bring them home when he was on a business trip and I'd keep them in a drawer in the bathroom. I hope he wasn't trying to tell me something. . .

  22. My father brought me a huge teddy bear from Belgium after WWII. On the same trip he brought back two carved wooden dolls, a boy and a girl with beautiful clothing. They could be "walked" or posed in a number of different positions. Also he brought me a hand painted box from Russia to store my pennies in. Lots of little toys and containers from other trips. When I was a teenager he started bringing me sweaters from the northern countries and sandals from South America. He did quite a lot of traveling to different African counties where he bought statues and hand-carved boxes from the middle east, and India.

    Sorry to be so late. This was a wonderful blog.

  23. On my own, though, I collect old china and silver, just when I happen to see it or find my way to an antique store in Porter Square. If it's still there. The store. Not the square. They wouldn't dare.

  24. I still have my baby bracelet from Salem Hospital in Massachusetts. My last name, Harrington, is spelled out with white beads. Too late, I have a question for my parents. The round beads are blue. All the other girls had pink.

  25. What a fun post! I collect arts & crafts supplies. (No, wait, I believe "hoard" is the right word.) I actually do collect PEZ dispensers. I used to have an impressive display above my desk, but at the moment they're congregating in a box in my basement.