Confessions of an Incidental Collector

Last week I attended the funeral of Mrs J, the beautiful and much loved mother of one of my oldest friends. Thinking about Mrs J three things immediately sprung to mind. Orchids (she was a renowned grower with many pots of different colours and varieties), knitted dolls (she was a prolific knitter and knitted dolls for grandchildren) and salt and pepper shakers, because years ago the wall unit in the “J” family home housed a huge collection of salt and pepper shakers of every shape and size.

Remembering that collection made me reflect on my own collections over the years. In my teens and early twenties I made a serious effort at collecting matchboxes, women’s fashion magazines and, for a solid decade, Vanity Fair magazine.

None of these collections still exist, or at least they don’t exist in the same form. A lack of storage space at various times in my life caused me to say goodbye to all but a handful of the fashion magazines, to relegate my Vanity Fair magazines to boxes in my garage, and to get rid of about 90 per cent of my matchboxes, only keeping a handful of my favourites in a bowl on the coffee table and some of the Redheads, which I framed.

bowl containing various matchboxes including Greek Michelin tyres, Gnome, Frida Kahlo, Vogue Johnny Walker whisky, and Automatic Restauranta white box frame containing nine different Redheads matchboxes

These days I sort of collect bookmarks. I say ‘sort of’ because despite collecting them since I was a child, I don’t really put much of an effort into it. It’s only been in the past decade that it’s really kicked off; I’ve added bookmarks picked up on my travels and coincidentally received a few as gifts. They’re flat and lightweight so they don’t take up much space in your suitcase nor, importantly, when you get them home.

bookmarks of varying sizes and styles scattered on the floor

I did think bookmarks were my only active collection. Then I remembered my movie ticket collection. Since I was about 19 I have been collecting my cinema tickets. I’m not sure why I started, but I did and now I have over two decades’ worth of movie tickets in a small cardboard box.

The movie tickets box sits atop my collection of MTC theatre programs. I’ve bought a program from every play I’ve seen since the late 1980s. I’ve got nearly 100 programs. Needless to say inside each program is my ticket from the play.

When I opened the tickets box to photograph it I realised it came with several other mini collections inside it: concert, opera and ballet tickets (no programs for these: too expensive). And sporting event tickets.

a box containing used cinema tickets with more tickets scattered around it

But wait, there’s more. There was a little plastic wallet in the box that held a mini collection of Australian dollar and Greek drachma notes (no longer in use), and, inexplicably, some stamps. And a 50 cent coin or two. A wee mini collection that I’d totally forgotten about, stored within another collection.

Of course that reminded me of my foreign coin collection, kept in a small ceramic jar from Greece. It holds coins from places I’ve been to and a few I haven’t been to. Another mini collection.

Australian one dollar note, two dollar note and Greek 50 and 100 drachma notes, stamps (Blinky Bill, Weary Dunlop, Click go the Shears), 50 cent coinscattered coins of different sizes and metals from Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the United States

There’s more too. On the same bookshelf that holds my theatre programs and bookmarks there’s my collection of … well, I guess you could call them little toys. Mostly they’re things I’ve picked up travelling, like the beaver soft toy from Vancouver, or the yo-yo from Cordoba. Within this collection I have a little sub-collection of small spinning tops, too.

Despite being a keyring, the Canadian beaver doesn’t live with the other keyrings I’ve collected (only a handful, honestly). They hang blue-tacked on the inside of one of my kitchen cupboards. Does this location make sense? No, it doesn’t. But I’ve come to realise that nothing much about what and why I collect things makes sense.

And still there are more small collections. I’ve got about a dozen decks of cards collected on my travels or received as gifts from friends who have travelled. When I took these out to look at them I discovered my old collection of pins and badges which used to adorn an oft-worn denim jacket in my uni days but now sit in a wooden box in the cupboard in my study.

Selection of small toys including Elvis Mr Potato Head, spinning tops, a robot, a small plane, figurines of a knight, king and jester, yo-yo and plush beaver

Oh and my marbles. I still have all the marbles I played with as a kid (cue countless jokes about not losing one’s marbles). Is this a collection? I would’ve said no except a few months ago I bought three very beautiful marbles and added them to the bag. So I’m going to say yes, it’s a collection.

I’m not including here my many collections of practical things that get used, or have had a practical use. Things that I just have a lot of, for example: bathers, scarves, handbags, cardigans, embroidered linen, books, cds, cookbooks, postcards, diaries.

I’m not even including the many other memento collections I have from my travels: the fridge magnets, the artworks or other wall hangings, the wee kitsch things that sit on my kitchen window sill.

selection of small spinning tops, some made of wood, others metal and plastic

Though even these things have something in common with all my other small collections, and that is that they haven’t really been put together with much intent. They’re all incidental collections.

I don’t go out of my way to collect things. I just happen to buy them or receive them or pick them up for free every now and again. Then I hold onto them. And I don’t often let go.

You could say I’ve curated the objects of my life into little groups that make sense to me. I guess the only thing I actively collect, then, is little wee collections.

scattered marbles of different colours and sizes