The Blue Stocking Society


Living with Collections

Living with Collections


On my daughter’s eighteenth birthday she received a beautiful tea set from an older relative.  Before the wrapping paper was even torn away, she was promptly told not to use the gift. A family heirloom, the giver had never used it. I guess this gift giving relative would fit into the category of a ‘real collector’ as defined by cultural historian Philipp Blom. Real collectors have objects that are taken out of use, ‘removed from circulation’ and shed their original function. These curatorial collectors often don’t live surrounded by their collection items. They are safeguarded in archival storage and safe deposit boxes. This is also the role museums play with collections. Items cease to be used and become story tellers of history; the people who created them, used them and society at the time.

I, on the other hand, am not a purist. I love to collect a few different things, (vintage trophies, books with pretty bindings and blue and white china are things that always catch my eye). I collect for the excitement of the hunt. The sense of anticipation, the possibilities of what I might find when I go to an auction, a flea market or vintage store is all part of the joy of collecting for me. I then use those items and when they are not in use, most of them are on display.

As a trained conservator I know how to care for collection items. This knowledge often comes into conflict with my need to decorate my surroundings with the things I love. I acknowledge that whilst I do let my training guide decisions, some of the choices for my finds regarding display and usage do not always ensure longevity. But I don’t live in a museum, nor do I want to. The items I collect to decorate the house are not museum-calibre pieces, so I am free to use them as I wish. The vintage Russian film posters are hung on the wall, I use the blue and white china that is on display and the trophies are often roped in as an unusual vase for roses. I love the way the pieces can communicate my personal style and aesthetic.

One of my favourite coffee table books is aptly called Collected: Living with the Things You Love. Written by stylists Fritz Karch and Rebecca Robertson, it covers everything from the principles of the hunt to the inventive ways people display their various collections. There are some beautiful photos showing a wide variety of unexpected collections, everything from balls of string from around the world, dice to toasters and family trees. I have pored over the pictures showing the collections in their owners’ homes and how it has informed their décor.

Have we used the tea set handed down to my daughter? Yes, we have. Do we use it often? No. It requires careful handling and handwashing and we do want it to last. But I do believe it should be enjoyed, which it has been. Our kitchen also has a few glass fronted cabinets and it sits there on display. When my daughter moves out one day I guess she will make her own choices regarding it. But I hope she uses it.

What do you collect? Do you use them? How do you like to display them? Or are they packed away? I would love to hear about your collections!