Sunday, January 29, 2012

Collecting Part 1

We all love to collect, but why do we collect? the range of psychological interpretations of this fundamental behaviour is enormous. Baudrillard warns us that the collecting impulse is regressive and escapist. Susan Stewart offers a more gentle approach to say that it is a means of control over our environment.

Philipp Blom in To Have and To Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting,  says that the collector’s devotion infuses life into these dead objects, forming a bridge “between our limited world and an infinitely richer one, that of history or art, of charisma or of holiness,” a world, he concludes, “of ultimate authenticity and thus a profoundly romantic utopia.”

My favourite view is that it is the process of collecting that is the thing.. that completeness and closure are impossible… it is a process of continual inquiry and endless desire. The thrill of acquisition and the pleasure of reviewing the collection as a means of remembering the exciting process of the hunt for each thing.

In etsy and on ebay I come across a lot of collectors, and I find them fascinating - so I thought I would start a series of posts about particular people who I have met who are avid collectors.

Bonnie is a customer of mine who collects vintage paua shell embedded in resin.

Paua is regarded by New Zealanders past and present as a taonga or treasure. Maori legend has it that paua was a special gift from Tangaroa, the God of The Sea. It is unique to New Zealand, that lives on the rocky shoreline all around the coast, but grows best in the waters of southern NZ. This marine mollusk eats seaweed and lives clinging to rocks at depths of 1-10 meters, normally along the shoreline. Paua Shell is the most colorful of all the abalone shells. Most other abalone are pale in comparison. 

Here is Bonnie's story

Tell us about your background, why you collect and how it got started

I work in a bookstore in San Francisco, live north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the shadow of Mt. Tamalpais (the sleeping lady). My interest in the paua / koha stuff goes back a long time. As a kid I was a bit of a magpie--always attracted to shiny sparkly things. At some point I was given a small butterfly pin made from silver and abalone and I was hooked. I love our local abalone shell, but find the blue/green hues of the NZ paua shell even more difficult to resist. I've been to NZ twice and just fell in love with the country and her people. There are many parallels between living on the coast in California and being in NZ.

What is the holy grail of your collection? That is, what is it you are keen to get your hands on that you don't have?

You know what I'd really love to have? A catalog of all the items in the koha product line! I know there is one out there someplace in some shopkeepers overstuffed and never cleaned out since the 1970's file cabinet. 

What are the best and worst aspects?

One of the coolest things about collecting has been meeting the people that are acting as my non-local eyes! I've got you and a fellow in Tasmania and others who let me know when they see things I might like.I've been having a blast getting this collection together. I was totally bummed to miss out on a 3 tray collection on ebay (darn outbid notices!), but I'm sure the person who got them will also enjoy them. I'm old enough that I know that if I'm meant to have something it will come to me, and some things are meant for others-- no sense crying over it. Over time I've come to appreciate the value of vintage items, which often have great quality and were made in the country in which they were originally sold. I'm not a fan of cheap plastic stuff, which is really hilarious considering that I'm collecting paua shell bits cast in resin in the 60s and 70s! What can I say-- when my tiny little teardrop trail is done being constructed it's going to have some very sweet koha items in it! :)

So, readers, if you have a passion for collecting a particular thing - please drop me an email and I would love to do a post on you! Come on, don't be shy!


  1. Wow, what a fascinating post about collectors and their collections! I never thought of collecting koha!


  2. The paua is beautiful! I have a vintage ring that belonged to my mother-in-law that has this shell in it! Love the color!

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