In Praise Of... Collecting

Glass eyes, rolling pins, floaty pens, air-sickness bags, snow domes, Barbie dolls, protest badges, Star Wars figures and anything orange. Sound like a quirky shopping list? No, just an amazing array of objects gathered by collectors.

I am one of those people. A collector. A hunter gatherer. A curator of the curious. A nostalgic who watched too much TV as a kid and refuses to grow up. I suffer from Collectomania.

I suppose I’ve always been like this. I’ve always been a little eccentric, and at age 11 I developed an obsession with Humphrey Bogart.

When I was about 14 I haunted the Bogart film festivals on my own, with my tape recorder. Once home, I’d lock myself in the bathroom, reciting every line, while my brothers would be banging on the door. I’d call out “Ten more minutes. I’m up to the airport scene from Casablanca.”

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Toys from the popular Japanese manga and anime 'Astro Boy' feature heavily in Chan Shaw's collection

The collecting began with a poster of Bogart. It cost me a dollar and after that I was off, buying books, posters, soundtracks and lobby cards. It was like an addiction.

Many people swear that they don’t collect anything and that they don’t see the point of accumulating stuff. But most people do have photo albums, permanent records of their memories, or at least a collection of images saved on an iPad, a smart phone, hard drive or the cloud, just like any collection.

I switched from being an obsessive teen to a kooky adult. Now my attention has turned to collecting tin toys and robots. There are about 400 in our house, all displayed in glass cases with lighting. So it’s ordered – it’s not the house of crazy people.

Why robots? Anyone who grew up watching Lost in Space on TV as a kid will understand. The Robot, B-9, or the Bubble Headed Booby as he was known, was a robot with humour and personality.

Collections of wind-up and battery-operated tin robots from 1949 to today, sit with spaceships and ray guns. They jostle for space with other tin toys: the rabbit mowing the lawn, the tumbling monkey, the panda playing drums.

Between my husband and me there are collections of books, wine, fossils, antiquities, photography, contemporary art, the Michelin Man, Warners Bros animation cels. Thankfully I’m married to a man who is also a collector and equally obsessive.

We are in good company. One in every three adults collects something.

For me collecting is all about nostalgia. I sold off my toys when I was a teenager and realised too late that I’d made a terrible mistake. Since then, I’ve been making up for it, buying toys that remind me of the TV shows and movies with which I grew up.

Most of us have boxes of old letters and keepsakes we’ve collected over a lifetime. Sometimes these boxes take over the spare room or the garage and we joke “maybe I’m a bit of a hoarder”, but there’s a big difference between holding onto mementos and compulsive hoarding.

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Do you have any classic toys like this that you've kept since childhood?

I keep birthday cards, and still have some of my assignments from high school. I keep the boarding passes from overseas trips. Surely that doesn’t make me a hoarder?

I’m controlling my tin robot collecting, and now only focus on Japanese pieces from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s not easy. Cashed up baby boomers whose mothers threw out their toys are bidding on the same items on eBay, sending the prices sky high.

Collecting is in my nature. It is who I am and what I do. While I love the pared back aesthetics of minimalism, I need to surround myself with these objects. Perhaps you’d call me a maximalist.

I believe in collecting because you love an object and feel a connection with it. Every object has a story and that adds to its provenance. I gather the things that give me joy. They may not be worth a king’s ransom, but to me they are priceless.

Are you a collector? What do you have in your collection?

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