One of the things I first noticed about my partner Randy’s house was how many different collections he’d accumulated over his lifetime. Not only collections of paintings by certain artists and books on certain subjects of perennial interest to him, but all sorts of other things as well. Wonderful things, too.
Although I’ve enjoyed sprucing up each of the numerous apartments and the two houses I’ve lived in, and trying to make my living quarters as comfortable and congenial and visually interesting as I could afford, I never really thought I “collected” anything in particular or on purpose (with a few exceptions, of which more anon). But Randy pointed out that I have in fact assembled quite a number of collections over the years. Certainly a lot more of them than I realized! My collections are not nearly as large or significant or valuable as Randy’s, but, still, the discovery that my admiration for certain types of things has led me to purchase (or for people to give me) several concentrations of specific items was a total surprise.
In my forays to flea markets, estate sales, yard sales, etc. (where, incidentally, most of the non-electronic items in my house came from), I am always on the lookout for several categories of things, so those things that I have purchased in those categories do, in fact, count as collections, modest though they are. Listed here in chronological order in terms of when I started collecting in these categories, those things are:
- Pfaltzgraff crockery
- cobalt blue glass
- teapots and tea tins
- wooden boxes
- wicker baskets
- red transferware
- anything fashioned from wire
- pottery made by my sister Lori
I long ago ran out of room for any more examples of any of these things, but I find I’m still bringing more of them home and somehow finding places for them in my tiny (1100+ square-foot) abode.
The Pfaltzgraff dishware (the company’s “Yorktowne” pattern) are the dishes Peg and I decided we’d buy when we got married, back in 1969. Reader, I still use those dishes – and only them – and for special occasions as well as for my everyday meals. (Unlike Randy, I don’t own multiple sets of dishes for different occasions or different cuisines.) My sister Gayle also uses this pattern of Pfaltzgraff crockery, as did, at one time, my brother and his wife. When Mike and Inice and moved to Oregon decades ago, they gave me their set of Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne, which instantly and exponentially expanded my stash of this amazingly durable crockery. Over the years I kept buying additional serving pieces and some of my friends began scouting on my behalf for additional pieces on their own thrift-store shopping excursions. Eventually, I had a floor-to-ceiling corner cabinet built in my dining room to contain the Pfaltzgraff pieces that I rarely use, and now that cabinet is full:
I apparently harbor fantasies of at some point having twelve people to dinner! In any case, the size of my collection of Pfaltzgraff far exceeds my actual needs. Fortunately, my most recent acquisition – a Pfaltzgraff lamp I bought in a Murphy, North Carolina antique mall a few weeks ago – is something I can – as soon as I locate a suitable lampshade – store outside the overflowing cabinets in my kitchen and dining room.
My modest collection of cobalt blue glass was spawned from an encounter that happened even earlier than my marriage: my high school days (late 1960s). I spent some time, then and later, in the living room of one of my high school teachers, George Lee. What I remember most vividly about the Lees’ living room was his wife Betty’s collection of colored bottles, which she displayed on their living room window sills. When, fifty years later, I bought the house I live in now, one of the first things I did after moving in was having some glass shelves cut to fit my dining room windows, so I could display some miscellaneous cobalt blue glass pieces I had accumulated by that point (1993):
(The glass shows up better whenever I haven’t allowed the creeping fig that covers the outside of my house to spread over the dining room window panes! Removing the vine from all those windows (among others) has been on my to-do list for months now, but I’ll be waiting for cooler weather to get this done . . . .)
Thanks to Blanche Flanders, my high school art teacher, tea-drinking has been a daily habit of mine since high school, and the collecting of teapots and tea tins began soon thereafter. Eventually I had collected enough teapots and tea tins to justify buying the oak cabinet in the dining room where I store them now:
The tea tins I store in a wire cabinet hanging on a wall in my kitchen:
Actually, there’s another cabinet full of tea, teapots, and tea tins at the cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia that I co-own with some friends:
[Side note: Despite the variety of tea I have on hand, both at home and at the cabin, all teas are not – with me, anyway – equal. Although Constant Comment was (again, thanks to Blanche Flanders) my mainstay from high school years into my fifties, for many years now, what I usually drink – morning and afternoon – is not even pictured in the photo above. That’s because I keep my trusty stash of Typhoo in an even more convenient spot than the wire cabinet: on a turntable on top of my microwave.
[Side note to side note: Ever since my Britain-born friend Roger Park gifted me several years ago with an amazingly efficient electric tea kettle, I no longer use my microwave to boil water for my tea, but I still keep my stash of Typhoo and a sugar bowl on that nifty turntable, right beside Roger’s now-indispensable tea kettle.]
[Side note to side note to side note: Just how “indispensable” to my domestic bliss is that electric tea kettle? Reader, I eventually bought a second one to use at the cabin.]
Since the advent of Randy into my daily routines almost two years ago, I’ve been drinking – especially when I’m at his place – more herbal teas. Even before Randy’s tea choice-influencing, I had discovered Yorkshire Gold, and, recently, I’ve often been ignoring Typhoo for various brands of Earl Grey. Feeling a bit guilty for at least temporarily abandoning Typhoo, I tell myself the Earl Grey thing is just a phase. In any case, I do confess that my large collection of tea (vs. tea tins) has proved a bit ironic. The original intention was to make sure my houseguests would have a lot of choices when they came for tea; what I never expected was that most people either have no deep-seated tea-drinking preferences (like I have), or they tell me they’ll have whatever I’m having. (The era of my presenting my guests with a printed list of all their tea options was very short-lived.) Oh well, perhaps I’ve managed to make a few additional converts to Typhoo . . . .]
Meanwhile, back in the Recollection of Collections Department, I reckon it’s not just tins for storing tea that I collect, as I just remembered that in my attic I’ve stashed away a collection of other tins that I haul down every Solstice to display atop my kitchen fridge:
(Also in ye attic, by the way, are stored the various Solstice-themed ornaments and other paraphernalia that I festoon the house with each year . . . .)
The origin of my habit of buying wooden boxes is obscure. I was vaguely aware of how most things in most Americans’ houses are not made of wood, and collecting wooden boxes seemed somehow to be a symbolic consolation for how unfortunate I thought that fact was. The wooden boxes that I still buy at flea markets and yard sales are of all shapes and sizes, and the plainer they are, the more I am likely to buy them. I use many of the smaller and medium-sized boxes to display or to prop up the paraphernalia mixed in with the books in the living room bookcase that my friend Charles builtthe living room bookcase that my friend Charles built for that room.
Only once did I mass into a single display all the smaller and medium-sized boxes I’d accumulated, but I found I liked the boxes better scattered about . . . which may be why I forget that those myriad boxes (along with a few free-standing larger boxes) do form a sort of “dispersed” collection.
I’m also an inveterate collector of wooden frames. Although most of them are currently stored in my attic, I occasionally haul down the smaller ones to display all by themselves, sans anything in them, simply because I find beautiful what they’re made of (the aforementioned wood):
Incidentally, it’s not only wooden boxes and wooden frames that I seem smitten by: anything interesting made out of wood – pedestals, candlesticks, vases, shadow-boxes – seem to follow me home from those aforementioned yard sales and thrift stores. Like the boxes, these wooden objects tend to end up wedged among the books in the living room bookshelves. An exception is my collection of wooden eggs, which (unless I am photographing it) I keep in the kitchen:
Another subset of the Objects Made Out of Wood That Cal Collects are two sets of miniature bowling pins – no doubt a nostalgic nod to the fact that my dad was an avid bowler, a fact that resulted in my spending hundreds of hours of my childhood in various bowling alley nurseries. Here’s the first set I bought (back when there was a gigantic flea market at Atlanta’s former Lakewood Fairgrounds):
(Note to self: since The Collecting Authorities have decreed that any collection must consist of at least three of something, I suppose I need to stay on the lookout for one more set of miniature bowling pins.)
A photo I came across years ago in a home decor book made me instantly realize that one day I wanted to stack in a corner of one of my abodes a tower of wicker baskets. Well, I eventually got my tower of baskets constructed, and – like my collection of teapots, there is not an inch of room for any more of them!
My very modest red transferware collection (shown in the photo at the top of this blogpost) also has obscure origins. As I mentioned, I don’t own a set of china, but I do admire beautiful china dishes in other people’s houses. However, transferware is a lot more affordable than porcelain. And I am fairly certain that I decided on accumulating red transferware because it’s a little more unusual than the blue patterns. (If I had room to display more transferware, I would also collect brown and purple patterns.) As it is, my collection of the red stuff is small enough to fit atop the armoire that houses my television set and CD player.
Side note: I do own several additional red transferware saucers that I’d love to hang on one of my walls – perhaps around the mirror over my mantel, or maybe alongside the armoire. But I only have four of these saucers, and everyone knows that collections must feature an odd number of items, right? I am patiently waiting for Randy to decide he wants to give me several more plates that he happens to own in this identical pattern . . . .
As for collecting things made out of wire, I have no clue as to where my infatuation with such things came from, unless it was the Flanders-inspired love of Alexander Calder’s wire sculptures and mobiles. What I do know is that it’s virtually impossible for me to pass up an opportunity to purchase yet another wire basket, wire wall hanging, or wire do-dad. Most of the wire baskets ended up mounted above the three (!) doors in my kitchen:
Others wire thingies are deposited elsewhere around the house:
…or are displayed among the tools, etc. that I store out in my garden shed.
Like most Americans, over the course of my life I’ve accumulated a miscellaneous assortment of ceramics. The most treasured of these are the few pieces of wonderful pottery my sister Lori created. Like my other ceramic pots, vases, and bowls, Lori’s are scattered around the house. But for the purposes of this blogpost, I’ve hunted down the items Lori made to take these photos:
Also in the ceramics category is a tiny collection of raku pots that were either given to me or that I found at various yard sales. There are so few of these that I managed to find a single spot for all of them (under the grandmother clock in the living room):
So much for the things I have deliberately been collecting over the years.
Other collections I wasn’t aware of until I started poking around after Randy mentioned that I collected quite a number of other things.
For example, it’s not only cobalt blue glass that Cal collects. There are other assorted glass things in my bathroom window…
…in my guest room window:
…and in the windows above the kitchen sink:
Then there’s a small collection of Florentine trays that I’ve salvaged from various thrift stores and yard sales:
Urns. I love garden urns for some reason. I’ve got several concrete urns out on my patio, but I’ve also accumulated some miniature ones more suited to the indoors:
Oil lamps. For most of my cabin co-owning years, I’ve kept them on the cabin mantel, but recently I brought them back to Atlanta for a while, where they are now in the dining room. Only five of these (and I’m determined not to buy any more!); one of them is currently missing a chimney that exploded when it apparently overheated during the most recent Winter Solstice celebration at my place:
Like most people, I pick up various souvenirs during my travels. For some reason, my travel memorabilia often tend to be depictions of various gods and goddesses. They, too, are scattered around the house, although a few of them are concentrated on one shelf of the living room bookcase, mixed in with some Asian items my Asia-travelling friends have given me:
My longstanding interest in all things pertaining to Oscar Wilde led me to want to festoon my house with something he decorated his own houses with: blue and white things. Most of the ceramic blues-and-whites I’ve corralled onto my sun porch:
An exception is some blue-and-white tinware, which I display in the dining room:
My kitchen, on the other hand, features – by design rather than by accident – A Lot of Red Things. Or, more accurately, red, black, and white things:
In my study, I also have a modest collection of rubber stamps:
Miscellaneous accidental collections not pictured here: my six (indoor) concrete rabbits, my seven small mirrors, my eight (non-Florentine) trays, my growing collection of gourds, innumerable (non-wicker) baskets of all shapes and sizes . . . plus whatever’s out there in the yard (how many more ferns can I plant???) or inside the garden shed that shares a particular theme or shape (a dozen birds nests harvested from the shrubberies in my yard, for example, various sunburst do-dahs, and a still-accumulating assortment of those things one uses in vases of cut flowers called “flower frogs”).
. . . So it turns out that Calvin collects a lot o’ things, not just the few I thought I did! Many would say Cal collects too many things – especially too many smallish things. In my defense, I want the record to show that, had I a bigger house (as large as Randy’s, say), it would doubtless contain even more collections, deliberately-assembled ones as well as the accidental ones.
Certainly I’ve been sorely tempted to collect a host of other things, but I simply don’t have room to store or display them. Chairs, for example: I am always running across yet another gorgeous chair, and even found a few of them I could actually afford to buy, had I the floor space for any more chairs. Ditto pitchers: no more shelf space for any of those (I had to stop at three). And I need to stop buying rugs! (My floors are already covered in them, and I have at least five surplus ones rolled up and stashed in various places that I’m not using, and won’t be able to.)
Who knew that this one-time postage stamp collector (we’re talking pre-high school era here) would dispose of that collection in his late twenties, only to end up years later accumulating so many things that, while visually appealing and/or laden with sentiment or personal significance of some sort, would take up so much more space than a few albums of stamps?
Having recently turned 71, I have naturally begun to wonder whether I should focus more of my energy on getting rid of some of this stuff instead of continuing to indulge in the collecting/accumulating habit that’s obviously part of what makes me happy.
If I ever do buckle down and start winnowing, I shall regard doing so as a significant personal accomplishment. Ideally, I should make the attempt before I become too feeble to undertake such a daunting project. (Not incidentally, my resolve to begin The Great Purge usually evaporates when I remember that what’s on display does not include all the stuff that’s in my attic!)
In any case – and just as daunting all by itself – is the matter of how to better cope with the number of books I own. Purging my bookshelves would be another major challenge. And a project that should probably precede any nonbook object-winnowing, as my bookcases – despite the recent acquisition of two additional ones – are now completely full. (Sadly, there is no room in my 1100+-square foot abode for a single additional bookcase, of any size.)
The fun part of downsizing my library (he writes optimistically) will be discovering how many deliberate and accidental collections it contains. As with my other stuff, only a few of theses collections are deliberate, with many more that sort of manifested accidentally. Another blogpost, another time . . . .
Thank you for reading. I’d be very interested to read any comments you’d be willing to post about what you collect, on purpose or otherwise, and why, or how they contribute to your own domestic bliss.