ssembling a collection can be a continuing pleasure – whether it is rare antiques, needlework tools, stamps or telephone cards. Antiques dealer and life long collector Nelly Thorn shares the pleasures of collecting memorabilia.
As a young child I loved the approach of the cooler weather and the sight of the first autumn leaves. Autumn leaves fascinated me and I enthusiastically collected them and arranged them in groups depending on the various colours. This instinct to collect things that please the eye is not uncommon in small children. In summer, children comb our beaches and rocky pools searching for shells and smooth pebbles. Hot days are filled with the drumming of cicadas and little hands have always found and kept the cicadas’ empty shells.
As children grow up this collecting instinct continues whether it be posters of pop stars that cover their bedroom walls or football cards. The phone card has caused a phenomenal escalation of interest in collecting among teenagers. There are now fairs in England devoted entirely to the sale and exchange of phone cards and although most of the stalls at these fairs are for amateur collectors, some are run by dealers who are making a living from phone cards. To some of us, who are only now getting used to using these plastic cards, the idea of them being a trading item is incredible.
The reason some of us gravitate to collecting items that are antiques seems to be either an intuitive instinct or a chance event.
Because of my interest as a child in embroidery, sewing and knitting it is not at all strange that I would develop an interest in thimbles and needlework tools. But, sometimes antique collecting begins purely because of circumstances. Some years ago a young man sprained his ankle while on a skiing trip. Hobbling around with great difficulty he was pleased to be given an old,very utilitarian walking stick.
He quickly became dependent on this aid but was aware how incongruous it would look when he had to attend a forthcoming formal dinner. The next step, of course, was a hunt through antique dealers in Sydney until he found a very smart walking stick with a superb silver handle. Not only did he receive sympathetic attention at the dinner but the silver handled walking stick was the conversation piece of the night.
The following week this young man received phone calls from friends who had also attended the dinner. Some said, “I’ve found a walking stick at home and I’ll drop it over to you so you can give it a useful home.” Others said, “I saw a nice walking stick in an antique shop you should buy.” You’ve guessed it … he was hooked and now has a fascinating collection of walking sticks that fortunately he has never again had to put to practical use.
When collecting antiques are we trying to recall and relive in some way the quieter more placid lifestyle that is sadly lost today? When I’ve collected lovely handmade pincushions and needle books with their decoration of ribbons and beads, am I envisaging the social scene of the ladies who made these treasures more than 100 years ago?
Antique collecting is not new. The Wallace Collection housed in London was a family’s collection that was assembled in the first half of the 1800s. Gowns from centuries ago are available today for us to see in museums purely because of collectors years ago.
People often gravitate to collecting specific antique objects because they relate to their occupation. Numerous doctors and dentists collect early medical and dental instruments, photographers hunt for early cameras and hat blocks fascinate the few remaining milliners. The wine industry has many employees who collect and study anything relating to the grape from wine labels to corkscrews.
Many people vehemently deny they are collectors. A lady may insist that she has numerous jugs because she likes jugs and finds them useful. She denies she is a collector, but once someone has gathered together a group of a particular item they fall into that category. Some people collect things that are practical and useful. It may be cups and saucers or spoons and forks or even furniture, but what they collect has to fit in with their lifestyle. Not for them the delicate Queen Anne chair that is only to be looked at and never to be used. These practical collectorsnever understand anyone collecting rare books that have to be handled with white gloves.
Over the past few years an interest in decorative antiques has escalated. These are the antiques favoured by interior decorators to give a final touch to a home that already has antique furniture.
Decorative antiques are what gives a home its warmth, and textiles such as embroideries, cushions, tapestries and rugs are wonderful for this purpose.
A kitchen decorated with antique kitchenware fascinates any visitor. A collection of rolling pins on a wall, old scaleson the bench to hold vegetables and an old wicker basket for oranges and lemons adds an incredible amount of atmosphere. Serious antique collectors, regardless of what they collect, find it most rewarding to delve into the history of their particular subject. This expands their knowledge and adds to the interest of the hunt for the elusive items.
These days a tremendous array of specialist books are available on any subject for the interested collector and if an avid antique collector has some reference material it will aid them in their fascinating search.