During my working week I am surrounded by collections, and the stories and histories of the people who amassed them.
I have a love of many different kinds of objects, including these . . . . .
. . . . hyacinth vases.
I am drawn to their jewel-like colours and different shapes, from squat to slender. And I like them because I can use them, whether for growing hyacinth bulbs through the winter months, or as vases for cut flowers when the hyacinths have faded.
Last Saturday, during a browse around a favourite antiques shop in the Cambridgeshire village of Houghton, I was lucky enough to find this one. As the seventh I own (six made of glass and one of china) I suppose it would be true to say this latest is an addition to my collection.
But I don’t think of myself as a serious collector in the vein of those who build sets of specific objects, filling gaps where a certain piece is missing, or striving to find that all-elusive prized item. And when I’m browsing stands at an antiques fair I will look at anything and everything that catches my eye.
I can also happily spend hours browsing objects without necessarily needing to possess any of them, which is probably one of the reasons I enjoy museums so much. There, collections belong to everyone and can be enjoyed without building up too much clutter at home, and never having to help with the dusting.
But I do like to have interesting things in the house, and get most pleasure out of finding old things I can use. And over the years, during hours spent in antiques shops and fairs, I’ve learned a few things about buying and collecting.
Here are my tips:
- Always buy the best you can afford.
- If you are building a serious collection of specific pieces, don’t be afraid to upgrade as you go. It may be necessary to cast off earlier purchases as your eye (and knowledge) develops.
- Set yourself rules. For me, if I’m buying early twentieth-century china the rule is “no chips, no cracks, no crazing” for the simple reason that there are enough pieces available in perfect condition to warrant not settling for anything less (I would set a different rule if I were collecting early maiolica).
- Do your research – find out about your subject, read reference books, but also follow the market to see what things are selling for.
- Talk to dealers – specialist dealers have a wealth of knowledge, built up over years, from seeing and handling many items. General dealers tend to know a bit about a lot of things. You can learn from both.
- Know what you are buying and why you are buying it. It’s fine to buy something that’s “wrong” if you are aware of its faults and are buying it simply because you like it.
I will be filling the “Cabinet of Curiosities” with more favourite objects to share with you, so do come back and visit again. And I would love to know, are you a serious collector or a magpie like me?