Living in ground zero of the U.S. coronavirus infection made me think twice before posting a blog on something frivolous. Then I decided that people might benefit from a short break from newspaper and TV news that focuses almost exclusively on the illness. Plus, I have a cold and don’t want to be reminded in every email I now receive from the city, county, state, my medical provider and church that age sixty is the number one risk factor. Here goes.
A recent visit to Seattle’s Burke Museum, with a mission to care for and share collections, inspired me to think about the role collections play in our ordinary lives. Many museums, including the world-renowned British Museum, started with someone’s collections. They’re just lucky the early collectors didn’t have access to troll dolls, back scratchers, umbrella sleeves, Star Wars memorabilia or coke cans.
Starting with the legendary Noah, people have been collectors. Most of us began as children and usually grew out of the collecting bug or out of collecting bugs. As a child, I bought spoons at gift shops when we went on road trips. Either the road trips ended or little spoons lost their charm, because my collection ended at three or four spoons.
People are more likely to start a collection if they have two of the same items, which is frightening when I consider the pairs of things I now own, besides shoes and reading glasses: combs, broken pencils, Spanish dictionaries, and gardening gloves to name a few.
Psychologists say we collect for fun, prestige and nostalgia. Recently someone bought the car driven in a chase scene by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt, providing that buyer with $3.4 million of all three things. The list of nostalgia picks includes: matchboxes, erasers, miniature chairs and napkins.
For a while, my husband and I collected Mexican masks. We still have two we display. The rest are in a bin in the garage. We also have a box of my husband’s grandmother’s shell collection. My grandfather gave me his stamps, which sit in the box they came in. My husband reminded me that years ago, after three or four trips to Copenhagen we acquired a collection of Royal Dutch Christmas plates. For the first time in many years, we found these in a box in a closet. Boxes of things in someone’s garage are examples of what happens to collections after the collectors have died. Their kids and grandkids get them and store them in their garages. Generations later, garages are too full to house cars.
Also, younger generations often inherit china and silverware, knickknacks and unidentified photos of their ancestors’ friends. Something to think about before one starts a collection or draws up a will. The trick is to get rid of stuff while you can, a challenge most of us can’t face.