Are You a Collector?

I’ll admit it, I am. And I can attest that in my case collecting was not a learned behavior. My dad is decidedly not a collector and my mother only bought “collectible” plates churned out by Bradford Exchange and Franklin Mint later in life. (She had been seduced by their pitch that at some future date these plates would be worth a lot. After her death in 2001 my dad couldn’t even give these away. Most ended up at thrift stores. )

But once a collector like me gets smitten by something, she/he wants more of it. More pocket watches, more Victorian fans, more Chinese snuff bottles.

Photo courtesy of Christies.

It’s hard to explain to non-collectors. If you have one lovely Murano glass bowl, why do you want another one they ask. And another? And another?

It is a conundrum has no answer for:

Most people have a collection of some kind at some point in their lives. Indeed, historical studies show that acquiring and retaining objects, even when they are not necessary for survival, is not only nearly universal, but also has been part of human behavior since the earliest human societies. Yet despite the ubiquitous nature of this trait, very little is known about what drives humans to collect.

Right now I’m not actively collecting anything, but when I do buy something for myself it’s because I appreciate its aesthetic, creativity, uniqueness and/or history. There is something about it that captivates and charms me. A certain je ne sais quoi. I’m guessing it’s the same for you.

Which leads me to one of my favorite collections–my vintage sterling silver charm bracelets. For decades now I’ve adored the tiny, intricate details on vintage charms and love wearing them. I have been known to heap on five to seven when heading out on the town.

A few weeks ago, feeling the need to glam it up a little while sheltering at home, I piled on a bunch. And they did lift my spirits.

A writer at Heritage Auctions posited an idea about collecting I hadn’t thought of before which seems particularly apt during this pandemic:

…things make you feel safe. Though the world outside is a dangerous and continually changing place, you can still sit safely in your home or apartment surrounded by your collections.

Of course we all know there is no real security in things. Where I live in California we are one wild fire or earthquake away from loss and yet while we own our bits and bobs they do bring a bit of joy and comfort.

Looking back I realize that most of my early collections were started by other people. Once one person gives you a decorative box, others assume you collect them and give them to you too and then it seems you are collecting boxes!

My grandmother gave me this paper mache box in my teens and I think it launched my box collection though I don’t have many now.

Also in my teens I inherited several antique sterling silver souvenir spoons from two great aunts and later in life I found myself adding to the collection. I mean honestly spoons! Why would I want to collect spoons?! And yet I did quite happily for decades. I was (and am) intrigued by the amazing details of these small items.

These antique demi spoons are only four inches tall.

While I have sold off part of my collection, there are some that I plan on always keeping. Just because.

And it got me thinking about why humans collect the things we do.

It is amazing the things people collect—teeth and toupees, skulls and chamber pots, trolley-car transfers, hair and fans and kites and forceps, dogs and coins, canes, canaries, facts data on Siamese twins or the Dionne quintuplets, Presley stuff and Beatles stuff and buttons and bones, hat pins and forged signatures and first editions—and how devoted their proprietorship is.

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “An Accidental Autobiography”

There really is no rhyme or reason. My brother Dan has a small clock collection. My step-mother loves dolls. My friend Ann has amazing vintage hats. (You’ll want to check out her blog.)

Ann in one of her fun hats.

Perhaps that’s the neat bit…we are all so fabulously different. But there’s one thing I am sure of…if a collection no longer gives you pleasure, it’s time to let it go. Life is too short to be cluttered up with stuff we don’t care about.

Would love to hear what collections rock your world.

Wishing you health and happiness,



  1. I just started reading your latest post and immediately thought of this book (in my wishlist):
    To Have And To Hold: An Intimate History Of Collectors and Collecting by Blom, Philipp
    (now back to reading)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. currently collecting old silver, antique pocket watches, some antique paintings, old books, selected vintage costume jewellery, i love quality paper and wiring instruments, a few selected vintage costumes, antique fabrics… I’m sure there’s something else that I can’t recollect right now 😉
    Hence I’m letting some other pieces go! I get to keep some if I pass some other on
    thanks for sharing your collections – lovely spoons. I wasn’t aware you also collected pocket watches!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gabriella, love your list!!! Old silver is one of my favs. (I really should do a post on my fav trophies and cigarette cases.) I also collect big vintage crosses to wear, usually in sterling silver with gems, but my last purchase was a Victorian coral one set in brass. Always get complements on those. – Karen

      P.S. I don’t collect pocket watches. Mostly buy them to resell, but I do think they are fabulous. I particularly love ones with great graphic numbers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good morning Karen,
        I would really love to see your silver trophies 🙂 maybe a flash post soon ?
        I don’t wear jewellery much, though I like a quality one. I don’t think I own crosses, but I agree they can be really nice.
        I misunderstood about the watches – I thought that you collected them and sold a few that you wanted to part with.
        I just remembered that I also collect vintage crafting supplies – old buttons, old thread spools & co. The logo on one of my Etsy shops is actually made from the photo of a large old spool from London.
        Have a lovely weekend! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a serious collection of gallery-quality Oaxacan animal carvings. At one point I had 75 but consigned about a third of them. Recently I started a small collection of vintage Howard Pierce ceramic animals, which will probably top out at around 15. I just really love the shape of animals! I do envy your collection of garnet jewelry; I gave away some pieces as gifts and don’t have occasion to wear what I kept, yet I hold onto my little dragon hoard all the same!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lisa, I’ll bet your display of Oaxacan animals looks rather magical! I still treasure my garnet jewelry, though every now and then I sell a piece. Would love to have a reason to wear some of it!

      All the best, Karen


  4. You are so smart to collect small things that don’t create clutter! I’ve collected too many things that are now taking up too much space. Time to start weeding them out! When I was much younger, I started collecting antique postcards, not taking up much space at all: I should have left it at that. Since then I’ve collected decorative tins, picnic baskets, baskets shaped like animals, old baskets in general, Mexican pottery (especially Tonala and Talavera), Japanese ceramics and lacquerware, Kokeshi dolls, Khokhloma, Olinala, Thai, and Kashmiri lacquerware, lots and lots of dishes!: Depression glass, EAPG glass, transferware, hand-painted china, teacups and saucers (including orphan teacups and saucers), cut glass stemware. Also beaded purses, silk scarves, embroidered handkerchiefs, handmade fabrics, folk art, “thrift store” art (some professionally done finds, some just delightfully odd), and of course books. Marie Kondo, as we know, said to say goodbye to anything that doesn’t spark joy. My problem, as with so many collectors, is that it all sparks joy!


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