Ransacking my shelves in an attempt to get rid of even more books, I found Collector’s Progress by Stanley W Fisher. This was published in 1957 and is an account of the author’s life as a collector of porcelain. In real life he was a headmaster but seems to have spent every spare minute either fishing or sallying forth on china hunting expeditions; this in spite of having a wife and two children. Though he would have called himself an amateur he amassed (and later sold) two fine collections of porcelain and wrote books and articles on the subject. I enjoyed my second read of it just as much as the first; it’s fascinating to learn about the experts and dealers he met, the collections he examined and above all, the thrill of the chase. He’s quite honest about the desire of every collector to get a bargain by knowing more than other people do.
What do you collect?
I collect books
I collect antiques
I collect stamps
I collect records and CDs
I am a magpie and collect anything I can
I don't collect anything
How do you pay for your collecting?
I will go without essentials to support my habit
I budget carefully and save up for what I want
I don't waste my money on such trumpery stuff
How do you enjoy your collection?
My collection is a sekrit which I gloat over in private
I love to show people my things
My whole house is a collection
My home is a shrine to minimalism with no room for rubbish
How honest are you?
I boast to everyone about my bargains
I never tell my spouse/partner what I have spent
I pretend a thing cost less than it really did
My life is an open book
So what makes a real collector? I think real collectors are single minded and usually limit their collecting to one area only. They will go without food if necessary to pursue their goal. They can be pretty ruthless. I could obviously never be a real collector. People look at my books and talk about ‘your book collection’ but with the exception of one author it’s really an accumulation. Although I have complete sets of some writers’ books, I’ve picked them up here and there as I found them, rather than actively pursuing them. It’s the same with stamps. I’ve occasionally sought out one to complete a set but on the whole I’m happy to have lots to enjoy, when the sensible thing would be to specialize. Then there’s the question of quality. Your true collector will have only ‘mint in dustwrapper’ first editions of the books he/she wants and stamps/glass/china or whatever only in the best condition.
I always enjoy books which feature antiques or book collecting and I’ve been trying to think of a few. Robert Graves’ Antigua, Penny, Puce, his only light novel, is about sibling rivalry over a stamp. Headlong by Michael Frayn is ‘a question of attribution’. Can anyone suggest more collecting titles?