Monday, December 6, 2021

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?





70 comments:

  1. I collect Precious Moments figurines . . . angels . . . space stuff . . .

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  2. Not a real collector of anything except books...14000+ and counting. About half of those books are ebooks so who knows how long I will "own" them. When I was travelling for work, I started two traditions with my research teams. I bought a stuffed toy animal that was native to the region/country. The 30+ stuffed toys are now in a tote bag in my closet. I also bought local artisan chocolate but these were consumed by us within a few days.

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    1. And as Gigi says below, to qualify as a collection, I use Book Collectorz software as my system to catalog my mystery book collection.
      https://www.collectorz.com/book/book-collector

      BTW, Collectorz also has similar software to catalog your extensive collection of movies, music, comics and games.
      https://www.collectorz.com/

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  3. I collect stuff, but I'm not sure where I'd fall on the passionate scale of collecting. I collect things I like but not EVERYTHING that is branded with whatever thing I happen to collect.

    I am a big fan of Firefly / Serenity but despite all the things I have, there's so much that I haven't bought and I've met others who have WAY more stuff than I do. I collect music, but there's others out there who have so much more than I do that I look completely amateurish by comparison.

    And yes, like I'm sure all of us, I collect books. But again, I'm not sure how passionate I'd be seen by other collector's. I do love my signed copies though!

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  4. Rhys, I cannot believe that so many of your collected items are the same type as mine. As a child I had a wonderful collection of foreign dolls brought back from all over by my aunts and uncles. They were poorly stored and suffered for that. I only have a few of them now. They are not on display.

    I also have several elephants that my step-mother collected all over the world. She had hundreds and all the children and grandchildren grow have some of them. I was with her and actually helped her bargain for the first one, jade. Gorgeous. She was engaged to my dad and set to marry him in the fall. It was the summer before my 21st birthday and I was touring Europe with her and my stepsister. She bought several elephants that summer.

    I have small boxes all over the house. Those are on display. My mother collected antique figurines which are mostly in cabinets. I don't have a good place to display them.

    My husband doesn't collect anything and is not a fan of antiques. Some things are on display but honestly, I should start to give it away. The kids won't want it.

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    1. Do you display your elephants, Judy? I have no room for mine

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    2. Yes, I only have about 8 of her elephants altogether so, there is room for them. They remind me of the playful side of her personality. Good memories.

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  5. Autocorrect, gr-r. The grandchildren NOW have some of the elephants.

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  6. We have boxes of china packed away, not collected but inherited. I doubt I'll ever see any of those pieces again. And then there's the sterling. Also coming from dead people. That I do use, or did, back when we invited people to dinner, pre-pandemic. But we don't so much collect anything as fail to get rid of stuff. Like decades of tax returns in the attic! Does that qualify as a collection?

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    1. Yeah, no. Decades of tax returns are not a collection just junk! Are you afraid the IRS is coming to do a deep audit some day, lol?

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    2. Lol. Not likely But the accountant I had for thirty years is now doing 5-7 for fraud. Her Ponzi scheme collapsed.

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    3. Judy, that was pretty much my reaction.

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    4. Ann, we also have family silver hidden away in green bags and nobody wants it!
      I’m also wondering about your health and how you are ferling

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    5. ANN; Whoa, I was just kidding about the IRS but like Judy, I am going to say OMG!

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    6. Yikes, Ann!! Too much excitement for tax returns.

      You only need to keep seven years of records, max. Shred the rest. I use paper mulch in the garden, by the way.

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    7. Seven years for the IRS but the FBI can be a different beast.

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    8. Rhys, thank you. I am fine now

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  7. Hallie, be very careful with GOTJUNK. My sister called them, they gave her one price over the phone, and when they showed up, the final price was twice what they quoted.

    I still have my stuffed bear collection. And a collection of original Madame Alexander dolls (although I need a doll hospital - over 40 years all the elastic has frayed and the arms/legs have fallen off). I have my grandmother's collection of tea cups and saucers.

    But I'm not adding to these collections. They are as big as they'll ever get.

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    1. Thanks for the warning, Liz - How DO you avoid that happening (Hank?)

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    2. Oh, a stuffed bear collection! How lovely. Do you display them? I have my original teddy bear

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  8. I have my daughters' 14 inch storybook Madame Alexander dolls (Anne of GG, Laura Ingalls, etc) but nothing else. Every year I pull out only one of the ten boxes of ornaments plus the stockings. It's time to clean out the inventory.

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    1. I went through ornaments some years ago when my kids forbade me to climb into the attic So I just have one box of favorites

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  9. Vintage typewriters are my weakness. They weigh a ton, and take up space, but are so evocative, no?

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    1. Oh, Brenda - Vintage typewriters! The only thing worse would be collecting doorstops. I DO love them. So I get it - someone just gave me some notecards with photos of vintage typewriters. I saved THEM (the cards) ... they meet my "saving criteria": small and flat.

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    2. Brenda, I have a vintage Underwood, a gift from a friend. It is so cool and SO HEAVY. One is enough.

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  10. My collecting is very small. I think moving around together with a boarding school education plus the fact that we always lived in given accommodation until my parents bought a retirement home in Cornwall didn’t offer me much opportunity. My love was and is books. In this group none of us ‘collects’ books do we. But Victor collects clocks and for a time he collected those display plates from Bradford. I love our tall case clock which he built and n the ‘80’s, the wooden wheel click he restored from a bag of pieces; clocks from his parents, my grandfather’s carriage clock. The Atmos clock which was Victors gift from IBM for 25 years service. I don’t think companies do that any more do they? But I am still trying to declutter. I swear it’s a life long job.

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  11. What to do with our collection of jigsaw puzzles? Some of them date back to World War I and they got Jerry and me through the months of covid lockdown. I thought about having a jigsaw puzzle swap meet - leave a puzzle, take a puzzle home.

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    1. Oh, man! If you find a good way to move some of those puzzles along, please share. There are some I really enjoyed, but many I know I'll never work again. Craig's List? The local memory care center? I'm open to ideas.

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    2. Hallie, if I remember correctly, our library system takes puzzles for their book sales. A senior center is another option.

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    3. Hallie, you could have a Little Free Puzzle Library!

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    4. Our county library book store takes puzzles to sell, they’re always happy to have them. They must, of course, not be missing pieces.

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    5. Have you thought about framing the completed puzzles? My mother had some antique wooden puzzles that graced our living room growing up.... I have a few still, but they’re really fun.

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  12. I think, to be a true collector, you have to have a system, a goal, some definition of your collected items beyond "Oooo! Shiny!" So, while I have a lot of stuff, I seem to be an accumulator, more than a collector. That said, I have accumulated a lot of contemporary art glass paperweights, a fair number of stuffed animals and old quilts, and a whole bunch of those "office supplies" Debs mentioned. So easy to add to the collection; so difficult to deaccession items once they are in.

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  13. Uhoh. Does the 500+ piece Fontini crèche count? Collected for years and displayed all during the season, it is now packed carefully away. Wonder what it’s worth on eBay?

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    1. So envious! They had a similar one in church yesterday

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  14. I am admittedly a "material girl". I love pattern, design, what things tell about the people who made them, used them, owned them. I have vainly tried to declutter, but the main offender in my house is my husband, who approaches flea markets like a big game hunter, calling his friends to boast about his finds. For a thought provoking book I recommend Susan Stewart's 1993 book: On Longing: Narrative of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.

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  15. I have a collector's heart and Marie Kondo's need for uncluttered. I have collected Madam Alexander dolls - Little Women especially - tea pots - cottage tea pots - mugs - and china. All of them in their time and place and all of them have been donated as my interest waned. I do have a few pots - just try and separate me from my Brown Betty - but those are not collected, they are "in service." My angel and cat figurines have lasted. They decorate my bookshelves - we've excluded books - right? My one lifelong collection - fountain pens and inks. I'm in serious need of a pen hospital for some of them, but I'll part with my husband before I toss a pen.

    Speaking of husband's mine is a collector of everything - and a saver. Good thing we have a basement and some spare rooms he's been able to take over.

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    1. Kate, I have Jo, tucked away in a box somewhere. I think.

      And a pen hospital, yes. We used to have a pen shop in Dallas but it is no more, and I have some pens I love that I cannot fix!

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  16. Collections - my family will tell you I have too many, especially after moving me twice in three years. Madame Alexander dolls, Boyd's bears, teacups and saucers. I have my grandmother's Noritake china and the some of the pink crystal Mom bought to use with it. Silver spoons fill two large glass front wall cabinets. I don't consider the yarn and crochet hooks collections but tools of the "trade." I have few collections.

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    1. Oh, I’d forgotten silver spoons. I have my mom’s collection from all over the world

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  17. I admit to being a bit of a magpie, attracted to things pretty and bright. Donald and I have lived most of our lives collecting things - antique locks and keys for him, a LOT of different things for me. old white ironstone, pretty porcelain, hand thrown pottery, jewelry jewelry jewelry. And we both inherited that collecting gene from our parents. Now, however, After spending our lives enjoying hunting and gathering, we are beginning to part with things. If someone is here visiting and admires something, they may find it tucked into their purse when they return home. And we have opened a booth at a local antique mall from which I just received a $500 check covering the month's profit. Pennies for Paris - yay!

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    1. What a lovely idea to give away treasures, Kay! I may follow suit

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    2. I have been giving pieces of jewelry that were my m-i-l's, my grandmother's and my mother's to my daughter, my d-i-l and my neice. The items are really nice and things that I did wear, but it is special for them to have them now, during a time of their lives when they can enjoy them.

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  18. I had a postcard collection, saving every postcard I received from around the world, but it's somewhere in the basement. Like you, Rhys, I have a collections of dolls from many countries, started when my grandmother would travel and bring them home. They are in a glass-fronted cabinet, but I don't take them out.

    So, no, I don't collect anything these days. (Rhys, I'm in the Alexander Valley - Geyserville - with my SF family. I waved vaguely to you as we drove through Marin yesterday!)

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  19. You drove right past, Edith. I’m just off the 101. I would have waved back. And I love the Alexander Valley!

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    1. You drove past me too, Edith. I'm in Santa Rosa. Enjoy your visit.

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  20. Looks like we have plenty of company, Rhys!

    I used to collect fans, little boxes, baskets, and shells. Almost none of that stuff survived our recent move. There is just no room for it. When we dismantled the old house I found boxes of amazing Inuit and other Native carvings, mostly soapstone. We inherited an old china cabinet that was not in super good shape, so I cleaned it up and ordered glass shelves for it. Now the carvings live there, where they can be seen and admired.

    I still collect scarves, which I like to find on trips. I have a couple hundred, dating back to high school in the 1960s. And I still collect fabric, although have not sewn much with it now for a few years. I have truly lovely silks, wools, linens, cashmere, etc. Not very practical any more, alas. And of course, books. Some would also say I collect plants, both indoors and out.

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  21. It goes without saying that I collect books! They’re in bookshelves, on tables, and other surfaces as well. It’s time for me to get rid of some of them, and I’m already on the verge of tears! I haven’t recently checked to see how many are on my Kindle. A week or so before Thanksgiving I told myself I must not buy additional books, either print books or books for the Kindle, until the new year.

    I used to collect shells, Angel figurines, nativity sets(from around the world), and other items, but I had to stop because I simply don’t have the room. Last week I started seriously decluttering and purging, and it feels good!

    DebRo

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  22. I collect ornaments and Disney pins. The ornaments and books are taking over the condo. I need to cut back, but I don't want to, especially the time it would take to do that.

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  23. This one hurts. My mom was a collector (and collected for me). The antiques looked great in our large 1920s house, but a lot got purged in our 2019 move to a smaller high-rise condo. Unfortunately I keep finding containers of items that I didn’t get rid of then because they are valuable, but I haven’t found the bandwidth to deal with since. So let me know if you have an interest in Roseville art pottery or hair receivers - I can make your day!

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  24. I wonder if there's a gender specific tendency to collecting because it does seem as if more men are keepers of stuff while women are the thrower outers.

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    1. Jenn, I would have thought the opposite. All the dolls, china, paperweights, ornamental boxes and figurines, antiques mentioned here today, for example.

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  25. Tea pots and boxes for me. I never meant to be a collector but one day I just noticed that I had a bunch of 2-cup, classically styled or well designed teapots. Seems I like them. The boxes started with family stuff -- old tin storage boxes from my great-great grandfather's mercantile on the western frontier, my grandfather's cigar humidors and the awesome mahogany storage box for his early engineering tools, a cherry wood mahjongg set, leather bound keepsake boxes and the like. My husband kinda' gets the teapots but can't really get his head around having quite so many. As a keeper of anything cardboard that enters the house, he contributes in his own way to the accumulation of boxes. We will be downsizing soon. It will be hard to pare these bits out of the stuff.

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  26. "So I’m not a collector; I just seem to be running Mrs. Hugo-Vidal’s Home for Indigent Porcelain" One of the best lines I've read in a long time!

    When we got a second house (in Maine) I warned my husband that if he tried to fill it with "things" like our house in FL, I was going to put a choke chain collar on him and pull it tight!

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    1. This is a great quote. I shall keep it close.

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  27. I collected post cards when I was a kid. Once in a blue moon I'll buy one and add to it. Any collection bug I once had has died. We used to buy "souvenirs" like crazy on trips. If I buy anything now it is something I can use. Tea towels are perfect. We have so much stuff now it's not funny. My son doesn't want any of it. Except maybe my music collection, the little rat!

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  28. I love pencils and, therefore, have many of them -- coloured, plain, different softness/hardness. But I use them, so I don't think that counts as a collection, does it?

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  29. Julia, I sympathize. When I lived in a 12-room farmhouse (in Washington County, NY), every branch of my family thought I was the perfect repository for unwanted china, desks, and rocking chairs. When I downsized to six smaller rooms, I sold most of the desks. The rocking chairs make splendid baby gifts. And each set of china spends two months in the kitchen. This week Blue Ridge Apples yield to Lenox Holiday.

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    1. Connie, I'm happy to say I've been cleaning all day and I AM getting rid of some of my, let's call it serviceware. No china, but I'm packing up lots of glassware, platters and accessories I don't think I'll ever use again, and I plan to donate the lot tomorrow. I don't know why I insist on haning on to stuff when it feels SO good to let it go!

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  30. Hmm. Books (wait, can’t mention them), so three rooms of bookshelves full (oops), we’ll, let’s see.

    Years ago I had a friend whose mother was antiques dealer. To her went the family silver (Versailles), the 12 place set of Blue Willow, my mothers friends of 14 place plus serving of china with small yellow flower borders on cream china, my mother’s collection of royal Scandinavian spoons and the silver tea set. In exchange I got enough to put a down payment on a nice 1,200 sq. foot condo. That equity turned into a house purchase, then another… if I had kept those things they’d be boxed and I’d be renting.

    There is one thing I used to actively collect, and still own: brass HO scale locomotives. I have about thirty, in a pair of wall display cases. Though they are all operational, I don’t have a setup to run them, but often admire them. I also have about a dozen Robert Bateman prints, framed and on walls, along with some original children’s book illustrations and some original oils. So maybe you could say I collect art, but really, I just occasionally buy something - not often any more - I like.

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  31. Julia, I love your definition of non-definition of a collector. And, that's a lot of china. I have two sets I never use, the one I got when I married and one from my mother's things. I declined my mother-in-law's.

    I'm rather an eclectic collector, I guess. I used to collect Christmas ornaments, but my tree runneth over, so I rarely add to it now. I have more than a few elephant figurines, but not a large collection. Same with goats. I have a few select goat pieces, one from the Wild Side Gallery in Key West (which I just found out has sadly closed). The Wild Side had such unique works of art and knew all the history behind the artists. My small goat costs $180, but it's worth it. Oh, and I did collect Bonnie Lynn snowmen. I have probably 20, but they haven't been made for some time, and they only occasionally show up on E-bay.

    Most of what might be called collecting has to do with books and book related items. I have a large print I had framed of the major pilgrims from The Canterbury Tales, I have multiple publications of the Tales, and I just recently acquired a Rye Pottery figurine of the Nun from the Tales (Rye Pottery is in Sussex and been in operations since 1793, https://www.ryepottery.co.uk/). Oh, and I just bought, off Etsy, a map of the Canterbury Tales journey. I also like to collect hardbacks (and mostly first editions) of my favorite authors.

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  32. OOOH,this makes me want to use my china!

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  33. As a child, I collected plastic horses. I collected Marvel comics until I realized I had no time to reread them. Same reason I donate most of my books to the library. I treasure things made by relatives and things from my vacations but don't need any more Knick knacks. As long as I have my house, I can enjoy them but if I ever have to move into a retirement home, they'll have to go.

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  34. Deborah...where do I find those pens? I have a friend who is a nut for fountain pens & he would love those!

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