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What do you collect?


Gregory Bickford has a passion for Georgian furniture, English silver and Russian porcelain. While Claudia Chan Shaw has an impressive collection of wind-up tin toys and Japanese robots.


Gregory and Claudia’s collecting tastes are worlds apart, but they share an appetite for the history and stories behind treasured possessions.


Collecting can start by accident. You may not have intended to start a collection, but one day you realise that you have three of something. That’s the beginning of a collection.


Collectors are a fascinating lot. They gather an amazing array of objects, from glass eyes, paper serviettes and sugar sachets, rolling pins, floaty pens, ATM slips from famous places, Rolls-Royces, air-sickness bags, Art Deco radios, snow domes, Barbie dolls, ties, protest badges, vintage clothing, Star Wars figures, musical instruments, blue plastic objects, red stuff, orange stuff or jewellery made from teeth!


But why do we collect? I believe the world is made up of collectors and non-collectors. Some people need to collect, others do not. The collector makes the decisions - should they specialise, or are they going for quality or quantity. For some there is great satisfaction in arranging, rearranging, collating, cataloguing, displaying and establishing order. One person’s definition of what is precious will be different to another’s. There is no right and wrong.


Collecting can create an association to the past and give comfort in reconnecting with the familiar. Some people collect for investment, others because it’s fun. Some love the social interaction: they blog, attend swap meets and exchange information with kindred spirits. For some it’s a solitary experience where the collection is purely for their own enjoyment. For others, it’s a means to preserve the past and they are merely custodians of these objects for the time being. And for some people, collecting is all about the journey, the quest, the never-ending search for the Holy Grail.


Who knows for certain what really motivates collectors? What, for example, drove Frank Stoeber, a farmer from Kansas, to collect twine? After almost eight years he had produced a ball 3.3 metres in diameter, comprising 488 kilometres of string.


What we do know is that humans have been collecting since time began. Perhaps the world’s oldest museum was built by a Babylonian princess 2500 years ago – long before the cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammer.


Sometimes our collections take over the spare room or the garage and we joke “maybe I’m a bit of a hoarder”. Does that sound like you? But there’s a big difference between collecting and compulsive hoarding.


More on the difference between hoarding and collecting next time!

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