BURGEONING collections start early in life – in cereal boxes, where often cards or plastic toys are to be found. Children tend to expand this first collection by swapping with others in the school yard or the playground.
They may later progress to a stamp collection or cigarette cards, although not politically correct any longer, most kids are blissfully unaware of such attitudes, or cards of famous sports people, film stars and other celebrities.
A coin collection is sometimes initiated from a parent emptying loose change into a particular container. Another collection can commence with mementos from a holiday.
I have been bitten by the collecting bug since childhood, but it was only when I had finagled an airline purser into strapping the huge elephant carving we had purchased in Sri Lanka that I realised that being a collector at times can be somewhat inconvenient to say the least.
A few months earlier, we had bought two elephants, beautifully shaped and carved, made of teak, in Thailand and my better half had to sit with one of them on his lap on the flight home, as the overhead lockers were cram-packed. Some time later, when we were looking at an elephant pendant in Covent Garden in London, his “At least we will not have to block a seat” rammed home to me the problems collecting can actually cause.
At the start of my elephant collection, my husband proudly brought me an “elephant” bought from a street vendor in Nairobi on a solo expedition, while I was having my hair done at the hotel. I politely pointed out it was a lovely carving, which I would naturally cherish, but in this case he had purchased a hippopotamus!
My elephant collection consists not only of wood carvings but also of batiks and, recently, when visiting the Albertina Museum in Vienna, I acquired a print of an elephant drawn by Rembrandt.
There are elephants in glass, porcelain, ceramics and Bakelite in my current collection as well as in jewellery in gold and silver.
Collecting and travelling go together, though you can stay in one country and acquire items. During our lengthy sojourn in Scandinavia, we built up a collection of English 19th century teapots, many acquired at auctions held in Aarhus in Denmark.
Since moving to Dubai and during our travels, we have been searching for such teapots, but they have now moved up substantially in price and are generally too expensive to purchase. However, we have 20 of these porcelain treasures so, I guess, you could say that’s a collection.
The most difficult to assemble collection has been the Bakelite. This consists of objects d’art made in the earliest plastic from the 1920s and 1930s, when designers were intrigued by this new material, which is now commonplace in households and offices.
Not to be swapped, bartered or sold items include napkin holders in the shape of elephants, rabbits or birds plus three mushroom-shaped items for darning socks, which light up like a torch to show where the hole is located in the stocking. I adore the original Bakelite jewellery, which is now almost impossible to acquire at a reasonable price, though I did find a bracelet in Greenwich Village on a trip to New York.
The strangest objects we have collected? Must be the hat collection which, for a while, decorated my husband’s office featuring headgear from Lapland, Portugal, Uzbekistan, Peru and other places. In the end, we decided they were taking up too much space and the collection has been static for number of years.
Why do we collect? We collect in order to preserve memories of our experiences and travels to many capitals or major cities of the world, remembering the great museums housing wonderful works of art; the speckled light flickering over the vendors in the Istanbul bazaar; the auction at which we both bid for the same teapot, as we were located in different areas of the sales room; the half hour of bargaining in Bangkok for the black elephant carving only to discover it had a crack at the back, when we returned to our hotel.
The Irish writer, Elizabeth Bowen, once put it like this: “The charm, one might say the genius, of memory is that it is choosy, chancy and temperamental – it might reject the edifying cathedral and indelibly photograph instead the small boy outside, chewing a chunk of melon while sitting in the dust.”
Speaking Out Jonna Simon
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