I am a collector and I am proud of it. I rummage through the tiniest of thrift and charity shops hoping to find that one piece that feeds my thrill of the hunt, satisfies that craving to eschew the assembly-line, every-day shops, while I repeat the Latin words, sui generis – occasionally and when most needed – in my mind.
Did I also mention that I frequently stand back and wonder where the line is drawn between collecting and that ghastly term, hoarding?
If I didn’t, then this might be the proper time to emphasize that my appreciation for all things collectible falls into the period between 1930 and 1969. I have learned that anything outside those boundaries usually fails to hold my interest. And all in all, folks, that’s rather a good thing! No, I am definitely not a hoarder, but I am a hobbyist collector.
I have no idea, honestly, where it all began. Perhaps I was inspired by the stacks of vintage magazines accumulated over the years at our rustic 1940s’ cottage in the northern wilderness. Then again, it might also have started when I began to read my husband’s family’s diaries, the earliest of which was written in 1913. Though, typically, the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s hold my interest most firmly.
A glance at one particular bookcase in my study/art room reveals an undying appreciation for pre-1969 Nancy Drew and the childhood selections of other titles like Cherry Ames, Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, and The Happy Hollisters. Although, I grew up in Britain where I was entertained by reading a myriad of Enid Blyton titles. Unfortunately, it’s rare when I come across the very old Blyton books here in Canada.
One of my prized books, however, is a 1951 first edition of my favourite novel, ‘The End of the Affair,’ by Graham Greene, and once owned by the late Canadian poet, novelist and diplomat, Douglas LePan (also a Governor-General’s Award winner for poetry.) LePan’s handwritten inscription inside reads, “Lillian, With best wishes and many thanks. Douglas LePan. (and I hope – indeed insist – that this title should not be prophetic. Let us meet soon.” It is dated Ottawa, 1951.
A quick walk into my kitchen and you’ll find behind cupboard doors an ample selection of vintage (coloured and patterned) Pyrex. I long ago donated all my newer bakeware and have become a devoted fan of old Pyrex. Believe me when I tell you that you’d be hard-pressed to find better bakeware than this glass that has found thousands of collectors who have a renewed appreciation for retro, vintage, and upcycled items. I still flip through my copy of Barbara Mauzy’s, ’Pyrex, The Unauthorized Collector’s Guide’ for information and history of pieces, or simply to admire the designs of a bygone era.
In my dining room at the moment I am met with a few stacks of vintage English (mismatched) floral china and vintage garden party accoutrements to be used at our youngest daughter’s upcoming bridal shower. Timeless pieces, individually patterned dishes that, when placed together in a table setting, suddenly become marvellously matched, yet stunningly unique. There are even companies now that one can hire to provide this particular service, along with vintage ‘props’ for whatever occasion… weddings, garden parties, lunches, spurred on, surely, by the series, Downton Abbey. But rather than rent, I opted to collect my own simply because I love the thrill of the hunt, that ITW (collector-speak for ‘in-the-wild’) experience to find something so unexpectedly and, oftentimes, sold at ridiculously low prices.
Certain items over the past few years of collecting have stood out. One of my prized possessions, just found ITW a few weeks ago, is an English, 1950s Arthur Wood, silver and cream, Aladdin-style teapot in mint condition. I found this as I was leaving a small charity shop and the clerk was placing it onto the table. I don’t think it even touched the table, and when I saw the $5. price tag, I knew I had to have it. In truth, had it said $20. I would have bought it, for I loved it immediately, especially as it was in mint condition, as though no one had touched it in the past sixty years.
From that same shop on another occasion, as I was rummaging through vintage plates for my daughter’s upcoming bridal shower, I spotted a rather lovely large bowl. For whatever reason, it piqued my interest and I thought of the late Vera Neumann, American artist and designer. (If you have not read her story, or have not seen her art – reproduced in beautiful scarves, clothing, linens, and dishware – I highly recommend the book, ‘Vera: The Art and Life of an Icon’ by Jennifer Renzi.) As I turned the bowl over, there it was: The potter’s stamp, accompanied by Vera’s unique ladybug icon.
Recently, I stumbled across a few pieces of James Kent, Lord Nelson, and Grimwades chintz from the 1930s. Luckily, they were in the patterns I adore and, they too, were found ITW. I display them, but also use them for tea and cakes with friends. It’s important to me that all these collectibles not sit and collect dust, but rather used for the purpose for which they were intended. (Take a look at ‘The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Chintz’ for date stamps and other interesting information.) Chintz has made such a resurgence in collectible dishware.
Collecting is a very personal hobby. Like all the pieces I collect, each one has to have a certain meaning for me, or else it becomes a futile effort to collect ‘stuff’ simply for the sake of collecting. A particular vintage theme – the 1930s through the 1960s – runs through all the items I collect and treasure. There is just that inexplicable something that attracts my interest and it shows no signs of waning and, for that, I am thankful.
Guest Collector blog, Rosalind V. Went, firstname.lastname@example.org