“My decrepit doll collection is very polarizing; people either love it or hate it. I think they are beautiful.”
Before I was old enough to actually collect things I made lists, which if you think about it, is also a sort of collection: lists of famous people, lists of girls names, lists of the villains on the Batman TV show. I even made visual lists—drawings—of girls’ hairstyles with my babysitter from upstairs, Lee Bergman (could anyone have doubted my sexuality)? This was the late-1960s when girls’ hairstyles were doing lots of different things with wigs, falls, and pieces, so it was actually one of the last great eras to be a kid devoted to memorializing female hairstyles. After that, everything got so bone straight. And what’s fun about drawing a Vidal Sassoon five point cut after the first time? By 1979, when every woman in America got the same perm, the joy was completely gone.
“It’s hard to explain the impulse to collect things. I only know that I’ve had it since I was very young.”
The English die-cast toy maker Lesney provided me with my first real collection: Matchbox cars. I’ve bought many of the original cars of my childhood again. I still appreciate how well made they were. They held such an attraction for me at such a young age that I retain a clear sense memory of the taste of the cars’ metal axels.
I am definitely not a hoarder, because I am capable of throwing things out when pressed. Sometimes I even get tired of an old collection and move on to something else. I’m definitely acquisitive—that’s the word I would use. I have a small collection of 19th-century diaries which I display next to photographs of the period. The diaries, which I’ve read from in their entirety, are repetitive accounts of the hardship of agrarian life (“Pa went to Poughkeepsie to sell the cow…raining again.”) When you read them you realize how much easier life is today and they provide the extra fun of inserting your own family into the narrative. Though short lived, the thought of my own dad going to Poughkeepsie to sell a cow does produce respite from boredom.
I’m sure there is a psychological explanation for my need to acquire and group things, but rather than speculate I would prefer to just say that I appreciate beauty, especially in objects. Caring about things is a nice counter-balance to caring about people and in my experience provides a more predictable outcome. I think it’s nice to cultivate an interest in both people and objects, but I’m really turned off by people who collect people. Maybe that’s why I have such a love/hate relationship with social media. I’m perplexed when someone I barely know or remember asks to be my friend on Facebook without any pretense of interest in how I am or what my life is like. I find this most vexing. I have never felt conflict of this sort toward a button (or, if you’re a collector, a “pin back.”)
“Objects don’t tell you how great you are, they tell you how great they are.”
I’ve always liked the thick watch bands of the 1970s and, for some reason, the colored faces of mass market brands of the period like Timex. I think they must remind me of the camp counselors I had crushes on when I was a kid. These watch bands were an aesthetic response to the more gentlemanly Mad Men-era. They matched the handlebar mustaches of the period and remind me of happy things like, Kris Kristofferson in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Mike Nachampkin, my incredibly sexy piano teacher from seventh grade,
Some collections are extra meaningful because I inherited them, like my collection of 20th-century drugstore items given to me by my father. I have added to it over the years when I see things that fit in. It’s interesting how many old fashioned remedies reflect quackery more than medicine. Not so for my favorite, Boyer’s Kill-Em-All Cockroach Powder, which one suspects would still do the trick. My father encouraged my interest in collecting by taking me to flea markets when I was quite young and they are among my fondest memories of him.
One of my oldest collections began before I was ten years old, when I bought my first two Pyramid books about film—about Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. Published in the 1970s, the layout these books was perfect for a kid, as they simply presented a survey of the actor’s film work chronologically eschewing almost everything personal. Some of them were written by future film experts like Leonard Maltin. They seemed to be a perfect companion to the random pleasure of catching these films on TV (which is, undoubtedly, hard to imagine for kids today). Over the years I continued buying these books whenever I would see them at garage sales and used bookstores. They are a great example of a collection that his little monetary value but means the world to me, as it represents the seeds of passion for my future studies in film.
“As an adult it became about grouping objects, making tableaux, as it were. I can make things look very pretty. I like taking disparate things and making them harmonize with regard to color, composition and texture. I should have been an interior designer, but I can’t work a ruler. ”
This is my bathroom assemblage, which blends everything from a crappy coil pot I made at Timber Lake Camp in 1978 to a vintage picture of two women who look to my eyes like suffragettes. Vintage shaving brushes, perfume bottles, a ceramic vase made by a friend, vintage fake teeth used for dentists to match tooth color, items from Santa Maria Novella pharmacy in Florence, and what I interpret as a love letter between two men dating from 1907 are just some of the things I’ve grouped. I love different shades of cream, tan, and off-white in a bathroom.
I didn’t wear my 1970s laminated rock band belt buckles back in the day, but I certainly remember seeing them at the mall. They were sort of the sartorial equivalent of the rock band mirrors that were sold in kiosks in the middle of the mall around the holidays. Most of them were made by Pacifica and are dated from 1976 to 1978. I wear them often now and reflect an enduring fascination with vintage clothing. Most of these artists are still fairly well known, but I wonder if anyone can name a song by ARS—Atlanta Rhythm Section—and Pablo Cruise without doing a Google search.
Come to think of it, a blog is really a collection in itself. I’m always fascinated to learn what other people collect.