Fascinating Collectors and The Miniature Needlepoint Collection (Book 4)
Most of us are collectors in one way or another. A quick survey in 1992 at Glorafilia revealed collectors of antique teapots, gardening tools, perfume bottles, soup ladles, theatre programmes, and the compulsive collector of recipes. The reasons for collecting are fascinating. Maybe it begins in childhood, grouping bricks together and putting objects into ‘families’.
We started with stamp and scrap albums, pencils, records, books. Some collections grow modestly, some are obsessive (think of Imelda’s shoes) or bizarre (the Bhagwan’s Rolls Royces}, practical (husbands) or just totally overwhelming like the collection to end them all: The John Soane Museum in London. It would be interesting to know what he collected as a child! Is it the basic desire, to squirrel away privately, flamboyantly, an exaggerated nesting instinct? Is it the scent of the challenge and ultimate prize. Or is it just that it’s fun?
Around this time Barbara Streisand sold a collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco that she had amassed since the age of fifteen – apparently she had loved buying hand-made pieces costing only a few dollars that no-one else had and later moved into more serious priced stuff, but the thrill was always the bargain. Perhaps it became harder to find a bargain or, once she could pay any price the joy of collecting went. Elton John also collected Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and similarly rid himself of his collection. Since collecting is sometimes associated with a need to create an identity, perhaps neither of them needed to do that anymore. It is interesting that they both collected antiques associated with the glamorous era of the entertainment world and began collecting before they were successful.
What turns ordinary people into passionate collectors? is it being acquisitive, does it make us feel secure to have lots of things around us or do we have the desire to own more of one item than anyone else: is it greed, an addiction, an illness (bitten by the bug), a madness (bibliomania means extreme pre-occupation with collecting books) or is it simply a hobby? Is it a status symbol or a dinner-table topic? Well probably all these things.
What category do Carole and I fall into? We are both interested in antiques, we love beautiful things and can become ecstatic over a bargain. We both kept scrapbooks when we were young. I collected stamps, Carole cheese labels!! We are definitely acquisitive but not obsessive, we are not connoisseurs, nor do we want to own more than anyone else. Perhaps it’s a way of indulging ourselves without being too obvious.
At that time, I had a collection of blue and white china on walls, on shelves and jugs hanging from shelves, alcoves crammed with Arthur Wood 1930’s china, Victorian watercolours. crystal candlesticks and wine glasses. All the glasses were individual and found all over, one especially wonderful one I found in the backstreets of Venice in the dingiest shop. Much of this has long gone but my collection of George lll Copeland Spode china (quite rare as it was made exclusively for Harrods) still has pride of place in my kitchen. When I moved I would not have bought a house that didn’t have space for this collection which I love and which I now actually use. Whenever I find a piece I have to have it.
For someone who finds it difficult to rise early I used to throw myself out of bed easily enough at the prospect of Bermondsey market or an obscure antique fair in the country. I was in my element buying antique needlework and accessories for the Glorafilia shop.
Carole began collecting before she had her own home. In the mid 1960’s she used to frequent antique shops and to her parents’ horror bring home large pieces of highly carved furniture which she would cram into her bedroom. I didn’t understand this desire of hers and thought she was eccentric. As I, in contrast was busy at that time collecting shoes with matching hand bags and as many Biba dresses that I could afford. How wrong I was. Carole has a wonderful collection of antiques bought for a small amount of money while my clothes collection has long gone.
Carole is a collector de force. When she moved recently it was a nightmare of boxes and although she did part company with a lot of stuff she still has a huge collection of African Tribal statues and textiles, chairs – Victorian, carved, campaign, wicker, gothic, modern – you never know when you will be short of a chair, books, how can you have too many books? Then there is the stonework – carvings, heads, busts, plinths and the pillars, now erected with much difficulty in her third or fourth house. She has always admitted to collecting tiny coffee cups, shells, crystals, Japanese lacquer and primitive little figures but the other things!! Her home is not complete without these items lovingly arranged on shelves and is constantly changing their positions.
Glorafilia The Miniature Needlepoint Collection
Now back to needlepoint!! I began this diatribe as we were asked to write a book with small projects that could be stitched quickly and given as presents. After much deliberation we decided on Collections and so the book Glorafilia The Miniature Needlepoint Collection was born. The research was so much fun and everyone we approached seemed delighted to tell their story. The sixteen collections that inspired the book were sometimes eccentric, often stunning, always interesting. It was truly a privilege to meet their creators, all of whom were passionate about what they collect and it altered our thinking about discreet understatement. How much better is it to pile it on – excess is great! The book was published in 1994. It would be interesting to know if the people mentioned still have their collections today.
The Collections ranged from treasured old teddy bears, Victorian dolls, heirloom samplers to fresh blue and white china, agate jewellery and FROGS! The projects were varied, a pincushion, photo frame, jewellery roll, pictures, two small cushions, an evening bag, a stuffed Staffordshire dog and a FROG.
Our blue and white collector lived in organised serenity. The china was grouped gorgeously on every possible surface in the knowledge that no teenager would put his doc martens on the mantlepiece, nor unwashed washing on the parsons table. She began collecting many years ago. “I thought I’d collect a husband but decided that china would be less trouble”. The project was a charming miniature cushion.
Our Frog lady collected any kind of frog except real ones. The exclusive and the kitsch stood shoulder to shoulder, buttock to jowl. She had over five thousand, meticulously catalogued, room by room, cabinet to cabinet, and table to window ledge and terrace to garden. When asked if she had a favourite she raised one eyebrow and said “Of course, you don’t think I could be attached to all those frogs”. After the size of the collection the striking thing is the sense of humour. All right, all right frogs are not serious stuff but the breadth and style and wit are astonishing, from the Warning – Frogs Crossing Road sign outside the house and croaking door chimes, past the Lalique, Picasso and neon frogs out to the waterfall leaping with happy froggies in stone, lead and bronze. Obviously, the project was a stuffed frog.
I know a born collector who has collected everything. She has had so many collections that it is hard to keep up and she has bought and sold as many! She believes that if you have the bug it doesn’t matter what you collect. With her it’s the hunt, antique fairs are the place, no smart antique shops or Sotheby’s for her. “The adrenalin rises as soon as I arrive on the scene, heart races, what will I find today.” She agrees that collecting could stem from insecurity, the need many of us have to surround ourselves with an armour of possessions and thinks we should blame childhood deprivations! It is like an addiction. Tennis memorabilia was her thing at the time and she filled a tennis pavilion with energy and elegance, wit and flamboyance. I was often with her on the hunt and have to say that I feel the same way, an excitement that is difficult to explain or replicate. It was amazing to find that there was so much tennis memorabilia around, it wasn’t hard to create this collection from scratch to an enormous, varied collection, from trays, cups and saucers, tennis racquets, statues, china and bronze, a straw boater, pictures, embroideries. Ink stands, book ends, cups, trophies, cigarette cases, jewellery, decorative boxes etc. etc. Several years ago, this collection was sold to The Wimbledon Museum. We designed a tennis picture for the project in the Miniature book
Ah books. To us one of the ultimate desirables. Some of us are besotted. Others can take or leave alone. Forget your kindle, one sniff of an old binding, gold edges that rub off on the fingers, embossing, faded inscriptions, bound in leather with marbled end papers can have an intoxicating effect on book lovers. One of our collectors in the Miniature Collection was a bibliophile and a dealer in second hand books – he never loses the desire to collect another volume, and another. He said, “I regard this as the thing I treasure most of all – the privilege to be able to buy books.” His collection is varied but mostly beautiful old bindings. For this section the project was a spectacle case and bookmark in a marbled pattern.
During the pandemic many of the speakers on television or lecturers on zoom all seemed to have a fixation with books, haphazardly in piles or neatly arranged on sagging make shift or very smart book shelves, or titles strategically placed so that we would be impressed by their taste. And when you think about it why do we keep so many books, how many times do you reread a book and with a kindle what is the need, but we do it. My sitting room would not be the same without my comforting collection of books. They bring back memories, where was I when I read that, how old was I, what did it mean to me? I write in my books which some people think is sacrilegious, but I enjoy looking at my comments, when I have the time.
To sum up, most of the collectors in the book and the people I know who collect, it is quintessentially the pleasure that we get from the hunt – knowing where to look, knowing the people who will quickly pass on a sighting, responding well to serendipity and finessing the purchase with a poker face to get the best price. It’s in the blood………
The Glorafilia story is coming to an end and in the next and last episode I will tell you about our final book The Ultimate Needlepoint Collection and about some of the people involved in Glorafilia.
Jennifer’s George lll Copeland Spode Collection.
Carole’s Coffee Cup and Saucer Collection.
Blue and White China.
The Frog Collection.