The state inherited from a dwindling aristocracy the role of collector-in-chief with its support of independent museums. But the present government, with its admirable sentiments about access and inclusion, presses the accelerator without fuelling the tank.
On Collecting and Collectors
Thus the British Museum which has provided free access and universal education for years is starved of the exercise of its true skills and energies - its drives of acquisition and research - while being asked to serve an ever larger multitude. Blom gives a timely reminder of how the great public collections grew from the obsessions of such cultural omnivores as the much-travelled physician Hans Sloane, whose collection both formed the 18th-century kernel of the British Museum and seeded the Natural History Museum.
Though the surviving elements of Sloane's bequest are now dispersed throughout these museums, the Ashmolean in Oxford still shows a cabinet of curiosities that formed its beginning. Like Sloane but years earlier, John Tradescant started as a naturalist collecting specimens. It is to him that we owe the importation of the lilac, virginia creeper and trees such as larch, plane and horse chestnut. These went to fill what became known as Tradescant's Ark.
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Together with the trophies of nature came artefacts like "shoes to walk on snow without sinking", which marked the origin of that oddly Eurocentric discipline, ethnography - as if we were not ourselves "strang". Tradescant's son continued the enterprise, leaving the treasure house to his widow Hester, who fell victim to the wiles of Elias Ashmole, a zealous visitor and adviser who turned out to have a terminal case of the collecting disease: he collected collections.
To Have & to Hold An Intimate History of Collectors & Collecting
The duped widow, failing to regain her title to the hoard, committed suicide. The museum's name celebrates Ashmole's coup. Blom's text delights in extremists and obsessives, men it is largely a male affliction who would cheat, steal, kill or marry to feed or finance their habit.
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In the light of present-day political correctness, many who collected in good faith are tainted. No Sloane or Soane could now operate openly.
Even the barbed-wire collector, once heritage has placed its gloomy stamp on his speciality, may become vilified. Perhaps Robert Opie is safe. He collects commercial packaging.
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From one epiphanic moment, when he decided to save rather than discard a Munchie bar wrapper, he has amassed more than half a million items. These are often seen in TV dramas, where they lend authenticity to period backgrounds.
To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting | Rain Taxi
In the manner of one addressing the Peckham Lodge of Acquirers Anonymous, I have to confess that I read Blom's largely anecdotal survey with the morbid fascination that a hypochondriac brings to a medical handbook. It was only recently that the aesthetic and scholarly alibis fell away and my own addiction was pathetically revealed.
Philipp Blom was born in Hamburg in After studying in Vienna and Oxford, he worked in publishing as a journalist and translator in London and Paris, where he now lives. To Have and to Hold. Philipp Blom.
Harry N. From amassing sacred relics to collecting celebrity memorabilia, the impulse to hoard has gripped humankind throughout the centuries.