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Collections and Hobbies

Collections and Hobbies

In almost all cultures and societies, children have collected a broad spectrum of items. Although the activity seems to be universal, very little has been written on this subject. And even though collecting has played an important part in many individuals' lives, it is seldom described in memoirs or autobiographies. This may be because many collections are suddenly abandoned when the collector grows up. Many of these collections are split up and disappear unless parents understand the fascinating world of the small collector and pay special attention to saving them. Some collections, however, continue into adult life, becoming lifelong passionate occupations; this is especially likely with collections that have some kind of economic value or present the adult with challenges or opportunities for further study.

The pleasure of founding and creating collections may lead children, as they grow, to collect a new category of items that are more acceptable to their age. The spirit of the collector once established never leaves the individual but is turned in new directions. Grand collections may end up in professional institutions, such as museums, which seems to be the dream of collectors, who do not want their passionate investments to disappear with them. But most collections are scattered by the years and do not survive their owners.

The Functions of Collections

Collecting serves a wide range of purposes and functions. Collecting trains the eye, creates a sense of order, and develops aesthetic appreciation. But collectors can primarily be characterized by their joyful dedication to their project. The world of collectors may be lonely, but can also be social when collectors share their pleasure with each other. The collector often participates in a community, whose connections may range from informal gatherings to organized networks. These give collectors the pride of showing and the pleasure of seeing others' collections, as well as an opportunity to exchange experience, advice, and actual items. Many collectors know that individuals outside the collectors' world consider them members of a special subculture that pays too much attention to an eccentric and limited sphere of interest.

Children's collections tend to be looked at with more tolerance, however strange or fantastical they may seem to the adult world. They form a space where childhood fantasy and imagination can be indulged. Contemporary tendencies reveal a change in the differences between the collections of children and adults. Many children start collections of valuable items that are marketed directly to them by the mass media and commercial powers. At the same time, adults show an increasing interest in collecting items that once belonged only to childhood or that possess a significance that may be regarded as infantile. Male and female toy collectors all over the Western world collect valuable antique matchbox cars, tin soldiersdolls, and dollhouses, as well as more recent miscellaneous objects that were once strictly children's toys. They seem to represent a dream of never-ending childhood, which never requires giving up the fascination with toys but supplies it with the new, playful ambition of the economically independent adult collector.

Sheer entertainment may be the purpose of one of the contemporary world's greatest collectors, Michael Jackson. His collections consist of amusement park attractions, a zoo, and numerous kinds of toys, although he has a special devotion to toy animals. To some people he may represent the disappearance of well-defined borders between the ages in postmodern life: the boy who never grew up and the grownup who never adapted to his new role and responsibility. Jackson may exemplify the collector's true identity, which confuses work with play, leisure with learning, childhood with adulthood, and creating new openings for possible and impossible identities.

Subsistence Economies

In subsistence economies, nature is a never-ending source of objects for infant collectors. Stones, shells, bones, twigs, leaves, flowers, feathers, teeth, and hair have been collected and appreciated by adults and children in most tribal cultures, although anthropologists have seldom described this activity within the specific context of childhood studies. They tend to study it in the context of the magical, religious, or festive. The basic instinct to behave like the parental group or other care givers may have been the origin of these childhood collections, whose durability and existence depended on the mobility and social stratification of the population.

Gender and division of labor may have been decisive factors shaping and structuring children's collections. Depending on the integration of children's work in subsistence economies, time for play and leisure varied. Hunter, nomad, and pre-agricultural societies generally offered less domestic space and thus less place for objects and collections that were not mobile.

Peasant Societies

Children in peasant societies worked, but they lived a much more settled, domestic life than did children in subsistence economies. This allowed for the possibility of more consistent collecting. Even though toys were seldom bought, they could be made, and depending on how much time was available for play, collections could be started. Sticks could be made into bows or used as throwing instruments. They could be carved in patterns or exchanged for other objects. In American immigrant milieus, it was easy to turn corn husks into dolls, and many girls had lots of them. No clear line exists between the possession of homemade toys and collecting.

In peasant cultures, children often reused objects from the adult world. It was common to collect pieces of glass or colored pieces of broken pottery. Yarn from worn-out knitwear could be sewn into balls in many patterns. The loose winter hair from cattle could be shaped and rolled with spit to make balls that bounced well. Braiding straw and flowers was often popular among girls. Paper could be folded or cut into more or less spontaneous patterns. Paper pierced with needles could provide children a great deal of joy. Children often collected beach stones with holes so they could put a string through the holes and pull them like cows. Exchanging such objects or using them for a lottery was common. Turnips, beets, and pumpkins could be hollowed and turned into lanterns, as is still done for Halloween. Clay could be shaped into small figurines or made into beads and then into bracelets or necklaces. Leaves, straw, shells, and many other objects could be fixed on the surface of any kind of box to create a home for one's treasures. Collecting in peasant cultures was generally a moneyless, outdoor activity, which appealed to both fantasy and social play. In the 1800s and 1900s, these collections were far more ephemeral than collections in the bourgeois culture and industrial society that developed alongside peasant culture.

Industrial Society

The bourgeois culture that began to develop at the end of the 1700s stressed consumption and domestic life. Even family life changed radically. Bourgeois children were given more physical space; training and education became more focused; and new intellectual borders between ages were established. More and more, the ideal domestic life excluded production and favored intimacy, reproductive activities, and leisure. Children began to have their own rooms in the home and were looked after by a differentiated staff, made up mostly of female servants. Education and schools played a still more important part in the child's life. Care and control developed side by side. Children's collections changed and were directed toward new aims.

The economic subordination of women and children in the reproductive and consumer spheres created new conditions for the small collector. Items became far more prearranged, dependent on money and the booming practice of giving gifts. During the 1800s, Christmas changed, becoming less of a social, religious feast and embracing the private, emotional, cocooning elements typical of the modern celebration. Parental love was increasingly connected with giving children gifts at Christmas and birthdays and in other specific situations. The new collections often started and developed via such gifts. Children began making lists of items they wanted, which could be bought in shops and markets. However, homemade gifts were still usual and were often regarded as more personal. In the 1800s, Germany took a leading position in the production of toys. But the German paper industry developed innovations for children, including printed games, paper dolls, cards, sheets, and colored paper scraps.

Fascinating collections, however, could still be started without special expense. The birth of a consumer society meant large-scale production of luxury paper for packaging. Products were marketed in attractive paper wrappings, which children often saved. Food, sweets, cosmetics, tobacco, and many other goods were presented in new ways to the customers and their children. Mail-service companies started the printing of stamps, which initiated many young philatelists. Railway tickets and other items from the expanding world of transport and communication represented new collectors' items, enlarging the world of childhood.

Twentieth-Century Collections

The growth and democratization of consumption may be the outstanding feature of the recent period, and it changed children's collections decisively. After World War I, it became common to celebrate children's birthdays. Invitation cards became a new collector's item in the 1920s, functioning as social souvenirs. Girls started collections of exquisitely printed paper napkins, often brought home from birthday parties. Marketers introduced a new strategy, adding collector's items for children to products for adults. Cigarettes, soap, coffee substitute, chewing gum, and many other products contained collectibles for children. The expanding film industry, sports, and mass media sent children hunting for autographs, photos, or other memorabilia from the stars. Beautiful packaging was still popular, including matchboxes, tin boxes, fancy bottles, and shopping bags from fashion shops. Before World War II the Walt Disney Company launched a strategy of integrated consumption of trademarked goods, which appealed to young consumers and collectors. Film, magazines, cards, posters, soap figurines, bubble gum, printed napkins, and toys built up a total universe of desirable objects and experiences. This strategy was so successful that it turned into the contemporary business of merchandising, which puts trademarked characters on wallpaper, videos, computer games, towels, schoolbags, pencils, erasers, and clothes, and in fast food. Even though such collecting may worry some adults because of its prearranged character and the way it commercializes childhood, it mirrors the conditions of modern culture that also affect the adult world.


Merrick, J., ed. 1988. Merete Staack: Bo § rns samlinger. Fra vaettelys til coca-cola-kultur. Copenhagen, Denmark: Barndom.

Bjarne Kildegaard

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COLLECTING. Americans are voracious collectors. They collect anything and everything. While probably not as popular as stamps, American collections include coins, baseball cards, comic books, and Beanie Babies.

The First American Collectors

Rev. William Bentley of Salem, Massachusetts, may have become the first documented American collector when he purchased a William and Mary period settee in 1819 for the sole purpose of owning a piece of furniture of an earlier American time. More than a score of years earlier, in 1793, the Massachusetts Historical Society became the first public institution to receive a decorative arts bequest, a chair "of antique fashion" by a resident of Salem. Within a decade several historical and colonial societies had been founded in New England. These were the beginnings of what would become a national interest in squirreling away its past in public and private collections.

Because of the great interest in historical events and individuals, various objects such as furniture, silver, pewter, clothing were preserved and kept in public view as reminders. The librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, Samuel F. Haven, reported in 1842 that "old pictures, old furniture, old plate, and even old books, which have here to fore suffered neglect, and enjoyed but a musty reputation, as uncongenial to the go-ahead habits of our people, are now sought with eagerness as necessary adjuncts of style and the most cherished ornaments of the drawing room." At the time, collecting was an enlightened amateur affair. There were no antique dealers or guidebooks to identifying antiques.

During much the same time, cultured Americans could read freshly written accounts about the newest science and archaeology, learn to discern between Greek and Roman sculpture, develop a profound interest in Gothic architecture and the medieval life it represented, or study the roots of the Renaissance as they were being uncovered in Florence, Rome, and elsewhere. Americans even went to England or Europe to live and to collect. Collections helped determine aesthetic preferences and influenced the direction deemed proper for contemporary art production. In the 1850s, they also influenced preservationists, such as Cummings E. Davis of Concord, Massachusetts, who gathered what he could find of local colonial relics. His accumulation eventually formed key components of the Concord Antiquarian Society collection. By

the 1850s, a broad public awareness of national history led to the preservation of such relics as "Old Ironsides," or Mount Vernon.

The Influence of Collectors

As the nation began to anticipate its centennial celebration in 1876, a few furniture dealers began to sell antiques in Boston and New York, and public interest in antiques began to grow with exhibitions focused on American decorative arts. In Boston, The Bunker Hill Centennial Exhibition featured furniture, pewter, and ceramics from the collection of Maj. Ben Perley Poore of Newburyport, Massachusetts, one of the nation's most prominent collectors of colonial objects. Books published in 1877, such as The House Beautiful by Clarence Cook and Pottery and Porcelain by William C. Prime, helped feed public interest in antiques. When Irving Lyon began collecting furniture in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1877, his focus sparked several of his Hartford friends to do the same, and eventually led to his publishing The Colonial Furniture of New England in 1891, the first book devoted to the subject. The expanding number of collectors led to more books and articles on American decorative arts. In 1892, Alice Morse Earle's China Collecting in America became the first scholarly work on ceramics in America. In 1896, Theodore S.

Woolsey, a Yale professor and silver collector, wrote the first article on the collecting of American silver for the popular Harper's New Monthly Magazine.

The Chicago World's Columbian Exposition (1893) devoted much space and ink to collecting. The Fine Arts Building was devoted almost exclusively to paintings and sculpture from American and Europe, while Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York exhibited their colonial furniture tradition.

When William H. Crim auctioned his important decorative arts collection in 1903, he set a new trend in dispersing collections. The following year, Charles L. Pendleton began another tradition when he bequeathed his collection of furniture, silver, ceramics, and paintings to the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1909, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition in conjunction with the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. Several collectors participated, and after the show, Eugene Bolles sold his extensive furniture collection to the Museum. The exhibition had also provided an opportunity to establish the Walpole Society, the first American organization devoted to collecting.

Starting just after 1900, Henry Francis Du Pont of Winterthur, Delaware, began to amass an extensive collection of American decorative arts. In 1951, it became the Winterthur Museum. About the same time, Ima Hogg's American collection, second only to Du Pont's, went public in her house museum, Bayou Bend, in Houston.

As if birthing twins, the same cities that saw the genesis of colonial arts collecting also saw the gathering of oriental art objects, as a result of growing trade with the Far East. As early as 1800, the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, had materials brought from India, China, and Japan to the East India Marine Society and the Essex Institute. An early leader of Japanese art collecting in America was Ernest Fenellosa, a great scholar of oriental art at Harvard and the Fine Arts Academy of Tokyo. His collection, dating from the 1880s and 1890s, is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In 1923, Charles Lang Freer's outstanding oriental collection moved into its own museum, the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In addition to an astounding array of oriental art, Freer had bought some one hundred paintings and a thousand prints from James Abbot McNeill Whistler. But it was Freer's acquisition of the whole Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room that focused that aspect of his collecting.

In 1804, Thomas Jefferson owned several works of questionable authority; the painter John Trumbull exhibited his small collection at the Park Theater in New York; and the Gallery of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts opened. Nevertheless, Americans did not enter the world of seriously collecting paintings until the second half of the nineteenth century. A rarity among collectors, the pioneer collector J. J. Jarves (1818–1888) lived in Florence for about thirty years after 1851. His collection of 119 works was deposited at Yale Art School in New Haven in 1867. Isabella Stewart Gardner commuted between America and Europe, acquiring works on the advice of Charles Eliot Norton, a Harvard professor of fine art. Her collection—arranged the way she had lived with it at Fenway Court in Boston—was opened to the public after she died in 1924. Norton also influenced Bernard Berenson, who, after his graduation from Harvard in 1887, moved to Florence and, from there, asserted an enormous influence as a connoisseur and collector in his villa "I Tatti."

In general, it was only after 1900 that the magnates of American industry and finance—Henry Walter, Andrew Mellon, Samuel H. Kress, J. Pierpont Morgan, Benjamin Altman, Henry Clay Frick, and Joseph E. Widener—began to accumulate extraordinary collections that became available to the public from the 1920s to 1950s. The great dealer, Sir Joseph Duveen, who began his activities in 1886, aided several of these collectors.

Aiming at the serious collector, in 1846, Michael Knoedler set up business in New York as a representative of the French gallery Goupil. Since 1857, the firm has been known as Knoedler's. In 1879, Mary Cassatt and Mrs. Henry O. Havemeyer met and their friendship helped influence several collectors. Two Paris dealers, Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard, also helped. In 1886, Durand-Ruel organized an exhibition of over three hundred impressionists in New York, where he opened a branch of his Paris gallery three years later. In Chicago, another friend of Mary Cassatt, Mrs. Potter Palmer, showed impressionist paintings in her home during the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. At about the same time, Martin A. Ryerson, a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, exhibited his taste with sixteen paintings by Monet, five by Renoir, and five by Redon.

In 1898, Miss Etta Cone bought several paintings by Theodore Robinson. This led her and her sister Claribel into the still exotic and generally unaccepted world of contemporary art. In their Baltimore home, they eventually gathered some three thousand objects from around the world. At about the same time Dr. Albert C. Barnes was beginning his pursuit of contemporary works, particularly paintings by Cézanne and Renoir.

Twentieth-Century Collectors

From 1911 to his death in 1924, John Quinn, a New York lawyer, acquired a hoard of some two thousand paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures, representing more than 150 contemporary artists. Duncan Phillips in Washington, D.C., opened his collection to the public in 1921, becoming the first permanent museum of modern art in America.

The early 1950s saw a flowering of art collecting across the United States. In Chicago, Edward and Lindy Bergman, Joseph and Jory Shapiro, Ruth and Leonard Horwich, and Morton and Rose Neumann created complete artistic environments to live in, focusing on Surrealism, outsider art, and Chicago contemporary. They were followed in the 1960s by Dennis Adrian, Lolli Thurm, Roger Brown, and Larry and Evelyn Aronson, who focused almost exclusively on Chicago's own artists, including the Harry Who and the Chicago Imagists.

By the early 1960s, America became the world's center of collecting through the emergence of many American collectors of international significance, such as Dominique de Menil, whose sweeping collection is in Houston, Texas.


Richardson, Brenda. Dr. Claribel & Miss Etta: The Cone Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. Baltimore, Md.: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1985.

Taylor, Joshua. The Fine Arts in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Zilczer, Judith. "The Noble Buyer": John Quinn, Patron of the Avant-Garde. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978.


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Collections and Collecting

91. Collections and Collecting

the collecting of airmail stamps.
a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, etc.; a miscellany.
a collection of writings by various authors. anthologist , n.
a collector of teddy bears.
the collecting of money boxes, as those found in churches or on dispensing machines.
a collection of fables, intended to teach a moral lesson, in which the characters are real or imaginary animals.
bibliophilism, bibliophily
zeal for collecting books.
the collecting of cigar bands. Also called cigrinophily .
the collecting of keys.
the collecting of cigarette or chewing gum cards depicting famous people, baseball players, etc.
1. a collection of literary selections, especially in a foreign language, as an aid to learning.
2. a collection of literary selections from one author. chrestomathie , adj.
1. the collecting of shells.
2. the branch of zoology that studies shells. conchologist , n.
the collecting of key rings containing advertising. copoclephile , n.
the collecting of matchboxes.
a collection of oddities and rarities, especially books, often pornographic.
the collecting of picture postcards.
the collecting of phonograph records.
the collection and compiling of extracts from ancient Greek philosophers, to which editorial comments are added. doxographer , n. doxographic , adj.
the collecting of stamps other than postage stamps, as revenue or tax stamps.
a collection of items of special, rare, or unusual interest, often pornographic.
1. an anthology or collection of brief extracts or writings.
2. an anthology of good writing from the best writers for imitation.
a collection of Hebrew materials, usually literary or historical.
1. the science or art of collecting and dispensing herbs, chiefly medicinal.
2. Obsolete, botany. herbalist , n.
homologumena, homologoumena
the collection of books from the New Testament recognized from the earlier period of the Christian church as authoritative and canonical.
Brit. the collecting of outdoor signs from inns.
a person who collects pictures, as prints, engravings, lithographs, etc.
a collection of literary or historical materials relating to Judaism or the Jews.
the collecting of beer-bottle labels. labeorphilist , n. labeorphile , n.
the collecting of cheese labels.
Obsolete, a collection of materials that may be or are to be read, usually for spiritual or moral edification.
1. a compilation of legends.
2. a collection of the lives of the saints.
objects, books, letters, sayings, etc. connected with Abraham Lincoln.
a formal collection of written accounts about matters or events worthy to be remembered.
an informal collection of data to be remembered or preserved.
a collection of objects or materials illustrating military history.
a varied collection, particularly a collection of literary works, extracts, fragments, etc., in book form. miscellaneous , adj.
the science of collecting and arranging objects for museums. museologist , n.
the collecting of bank notes.
the collecting and study of coins or medals. Also called numismatology . numismatist , n.
the part of numismatics concerned with the description of coins. numismatographer , n. numismatographic , adj.
a miscellany or medley.
the collecting of postage stamps. philatelist , n.
the collecting of matchbox labels and matchbook covers. phillumenist , n.
a specialty within philately involving the collecting of flrst-day covers.
the collecting of phonograph records. phonophile , n.
the collecting of dolls. planganologist , n.
the collecting of cardboard beer coasters. tegestologist , n.
Archaic. philately.
a mania for collecting postage stamps.
the collecting of Camembert cheese labels.
a collector of tokens used in buses and subways.
the collecting of flags or banners. vexillologist , n.

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