How To Build A High WASP Collection Of Thingamabobs For Your House

Doesn’t the TV stand wheel in the background add a certain je ne sais quoi? A certain ironic reflection of the snuff bottle’s non-sphere? Can you tell I was talking literary theory with my son yesterday? Bwahahahahaha. This’ll show him not to get his mom going.

High WASP houses always have a collection of something or other, somewhere. One way to make this happen is to inherit a group of thingamabobs, put together by a family member, and passed on. These thingamabobs might be works of great value, but that’s besides the point. Another way is to set out on the hunt yourself, again, for works of great value, or not.

I’ve got a small collection of snuff bottles. I don’t think they’re, um, commercially important. The original set belonged to my grandmother. Whether she found them as she traveled with her second husband, around the world, or whether she picked them up in Boston antique stores, I realize I don’t even know. I think they are Chinese – except the red one. I bought the red one somewhere, in a faint-hearted attempt to take up the collecting mantle. I failed.

Often one doesn’t actually get all the objects in inherited collections. One of my cousins has a similar grouping to mine. I don’t even know which cousin it is. But the friends of my snuff bottles are out there. Maybe in Arizona. Another one is in Palm Springs. One year I determined that the fabulous guy who cuts my hair just had to have one for his vacation house. So there it sits. Who knows why? Clearly these are totemic objects, from a clan with mysterious rites. They are in charge, not I.Amassed collections live a much more purposeful and energetic life, statements of personal interest. You will know a High WASP collection by its quirkiness, and its adherence to genre and era. It will not be a collection manufactured as “collectibles.” I realize that some of you reading do not follow this protocol. More power to you. Again, I’m not saying you ought to participate in this cultural folderol. I’m deconstructing, not proscribing.

Reggie Darling, who writes one of most beautiful classic house style blogs out there, collects antique twine dispensers. Tell me these don’t make you suck air in between your teeth and say, “Oooh.” Or at least feel the delicious quirk of the similar yet different shapes and textures. And those scissors, stabbing? Wowza.

Suffice it to say that if you happen upon an obscure antique house goods category you have taken a grand step in High WASP decorating. And if you want to learn more, just go talk to Reggie and his husband, Boy. Go even if you don’t like talking. Darlington House is beautiful.Of course, not everyone has the time, or the funds, or even the interest to travel hither and thither looting and plundering. Not everyone wants to go to Bonhams and Butterfield’s auction house catalogues in search of the perfect glass and silver pickle jar. Not to worry. A quirky collection can be put together with nothing but wit and intent. With nothing but a broadband connection and a hard drive.

To wit, these blogs. Kate, at love you big, introduced me to A Collection A Day. Below, plastic doilies. Close enough to all those wonderful photos of no snowflakes the same, but plastic. For irony, and a little mid-century relevance.

Kate also introduced me to Amassblog. This is from a collection of playing cards that have been used for more than playing cards. How’s that for a poem of being?

Collections are a wonderful model for how humans understand the world. The grouped collection has meaning above and beyond its separate items. Yet each item has its own story. Its own narrative, as the critics would say. Quite structuralist. Quite demonstrative of how language itself functions. I may have spent many months writing about this in college. But I really digress.

The thing is, collecting is also dreadfully stressful. I remember 40 years ago calling all the local big box stores, every Sunday morning, for my brother’s Hot Wheels. I believe we were looking for a McLaren. With a spoiler. I’ve never recovered. My father collected art. To this day if we discuss buying art his eyes gleam. The thrill of acquisition, the agony of loss.

The thing is, also, I need my house to calm me down. Especially after all those years of corporate adrenaline. If I were to collect in the real world, I believe I might vibrate at such high speed that one day I’d begin to spin and either generate enough power to solve our reliance on carbons fuels or explode. So, no collecting of stuff. Although I would love to deal with the carbon fuel problem. But, again, I digress.

In truth, I’ve never even bought anything on eBay. Let my little collection sit in its place, unbroken by increase or decrease, reminding me only of my grandmother’s house as it was. While I like the naming of groups (Did you know that a flock of larks is called an Exultation?), we’ll leave the actual collecting to you. Tell me. Because collecting stories is another thing altogether.

Twine dispensers by Boy Fenwick, via Reggie Darling
Doilies via A Collection A Day
Playing cards via Amassblog

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  • I am not much of a collector. I don't like stuff that much, i.e. I hate knick-knacks. I do collect charm bracelets and I sometimes display them on my Kuan Yin statue. Does that count?

  • My mother has several lovely collections that fit your criteria perfectly. Antique silver baby spoons. Tiny porcelain animals.

    I admire them, now, in her house. I'm fairly certain I will inherit them. But I admit that I daydream only of the thrill of selling them on eBay. Does that make me a bad daughter? Or just a bad High WASP?

  • Yes it counts. Particularly in California, where water goddess types are welcome:).

  • I have a collection of sorts, they are objects from my great grandmothers, no two the same, but displayed all together, the collection is of objects that remind me of the heritage of strong, creative and brilliant women in my life. I have an antique vase from my maternal great grandmother, a mid century cookie jar (really obnoxious to look at) from my paternal great grandmother, I have an oil painting from another maternal great grandmother, and I have a silver tray from my boyfriends grandmother.

    Apart from that I collect silver snowflakes for my Christmas tree… and that's pretty much it… my darling grandmother has the most stunning collection of German steins that I've ever seen, all shapes and sizes with little pictures you can only see once you've emptied the mug and hold the now empty mug up to the light… isn't it strange how such nonsensical objects seem to draw us in and hold us within their possession instead of the other way around?

  • I have a collection of early 20th century US art pottery, mostly Rookwood. I no longer add to the collection, for two reasons. I left Ohio (where many of the great art potteries were based)for Virginia where if you can find art pottery it has, in the words of my brother, Reggie, already swum upstream and thus out of my price range. The second reason was I found myself paying the equivalent of two mortgage payments for a Rookwood vase and justifying doing so as "adding value to my collection". This is absurd as I have no intention of ever parting with it and I was just seduced by the vase's lapis lazuli glaze…

    Hermione Darling

  • Anon – Each family has its own rules. The dwindling of family fortunes often provokes a sale. Or two.

    Elle – Yes, the pull of collections is over and above what we might expect.

    Hermione – ! I am so pleased to meet Reggie's sister! Thank you for coming, thank you for commenting, and you clearly took yourself to collectors rehab without need for any intervention. How sensible.

  • For a long time my family collected nutcrackers which we only put out at Christmas. My mom also used to collect monkey themed items – it started with a monkey chandelier in the kitchen and expanded (pictures, etc. its subtle throughout the house). Since I only have a tiny apartment, I collect matches. Its a nice way to remember where I've been.

  • I am a collector of many things…from diamond hearts for my charm bracelet to matte green American arts and crafts pottery…and many a collection in between…even beautifil feathers!
    I see how grand Reggie's home is…now that truly is a labour of love. The world needs people like Reggie who have that eye, the knowledge and will to restore and preserve these grand old ladies for future generations. Not for the faint of heart…or the impovrished!
    BTW…nice snuff bottles!

  • I adore Reggie's blog. He and Boy have such a grown-up life and exquisite taste in, well, everything.

    I have some of those plastic doilies! They go between the plates of my grandmother's china.

    My father collects art. There is very little white space on my parent's walls.

    My husband collected wives, til I made him stop ;-)

    I'm collecting Tory Burch Revas.

  • I've inherited a few interesting and/or meaningful pieces that collect themselves together. And from time to time, I've caught myself collecting as well — generally, I try to stop before I get too far gone as I recognize an OCD possibility in my personality. But I'm a sucker for narrative and nothing gives a home narrative the way collections do, really. . . .And I enjoyed yours, thank you.

  • My mother collects very arbitrary and eccentric things. Porcelain heads. Antique clothing for a dressmaker dummy. Her house is lovely. But we will have quite the job one day.
    I have a small collection of antique keys.

  • I used to have a collection of my grandad's paintings of horses but now my sister has them. I do have a collection of lithographs. 7 total so far.

  • My grandmother had a wonderful collection of Chinese snuff bottles. My mother inherited some of them; I wonder if my aunt has the others.

    I collect far too many things. Right now, my favorite collection is of southern coin silver. Some of the pieces were given to me as a very small child by my great aunt.

  • I collect WWI era antique toy soldiers…Mannoils and barclays. I've been collecting since I was about 8 years old when I bought my 1st one for a Quarter while at an Antique show with my parents. I have had fun with it ever since.
    They are displayed in the living room and are a great converstion piece.

  • wbm – one of my favorite songs ever is Motel Matches by Elvis Costello:).

    hostess – diamond hearts? ooh.

    Patsy – hahahahahaha. Smart man, your husband.

    Mater – Yes, I run in the other direction if I ever see anything I might even think about collecting.

    Maureen – It isn't creepy? The heads? But I love antique keys.

  • Oh, dear me, how nouveau. Don't you know snuff is stored in boxes?

  • Ms. Givens – Lithographs can be just lovely.

    Genteel – Coin silver just sounds lovely.

    Main Line – I wouldn't be surprised if more collections were made of military stuff than anything else. I imagine your soldiers are fascinating.

    Duchess Omnium – I am perhaps missing some dry British humor?

  • Once again your writing has made me laugh out loud at my desk, alone. I love that.
    My mom collected rubber bands, twist ties, used wrapping paper and the stir sticks from McDonald's. Clearly, I am not a High Wasp nor raised in privilege, but I have been a clinger-on and truly appreciate Waspish Ways. Now I'm an unclutterer and find myself chunking out any collection I might have — sheets, dishes, shoes, what-have-you. (Just thought of this. I once saw a contestant on American Idol who collected his fingernail clippings — for years. Now that's a collection!)
    Thank you again for making me laugh. I need to read your entire blog now. Darn it.

  • Barrie Davenport raises some interesting points – I'm a clinger-on and declutterer by turn as well.

    Nonetheless, I am inspired to go forth and find an obscure article of daily life that I may start collecting.

    I don't think there are many things left in obscurity in our current times though.

    SSG xxx

  • One of my favourite films ever: Eric Rohmer's 1967 La Collectionneuse. Collecting men, now that's interesting.

    Another very worthwile book and later film about collecting is Utz, Bruce Chatwin's novella.

    The mind of the collector is a specialized land.

  • Oh I'm so glad you enjoyed those blogs, Lisa! I love trawling them with hungry eyes – seeing collections (other people's) makes me crave order and groupings in my own life. I suspect that's where the bower bird instinct comes from.

    As for me, I collect maps and stationery (papers, pens, stickers, ribbons). Mostly useful things.

    And just lovely, lovely bottles.

  • What a divine topic, I love it. And your snuff bottles are lovely, what a great collection. We have a nice little (ahem) vintage fabric collection, with a few (ahem-ahem) other vintage collections related to fashion… apparel, accessories…. just a few "groups" of things. Then there is the mid-century glass collection…. that one is scary, but the acquiring has been such fun, just one of our very favorite things to do.

    And the bonus part of this post? All the comments, too fun!

    Smiles at you,

  • I've never boguth a thing on ebay either. I used to collect Royal Winton from the 20s 30s 40s and 50s but stopped in the nick of time thank God. It was an addiction.

  • I enjoyed reading that… even though I'm not into collecting anything. Oh, maybe children's "art," the things J & Z make for me.

    "…unbroken by increase or decrease" –It's this part of collecting anything that causes me to stress. Oh, I'm referring to collections that snowball and somehow get out of control. :)

  • I loved your post. As a child, I collected blown glass paperweights. Years ago, I sorted out the good ones (about 20-30) and they are in a trunk. I also have old silver from a grandmother. That set of grandparents lost their fortune in the crash of 29 and never financially recovered. Still, she kept her opera glasses, diamond jewelry and silver of all kinds…but who needs 5 or 6 sterling cake servers? These things are also in a trunk as my style is more minimal. I have decorated with a number of odd paintings of equine art to remind me of my younger days of showing horses. Since they hang on the wall, they don't qualify as clutter to me. Now that I write this, I am questioning how "minimal" my lifestyle really is!!!!

  • Dearest LPC: I am flattered that you mention me and call your readers' attention to my blog on your lovely, amusing, and thought-provoking one, which is a daily "must read" in my household. I am in truly vaunted company! Thank you. Even though I haven't had much to comment on regarding your tribulations at the Saks makeup counter, I do enjoy reading such postings a lot. Coincidentally, my great-grandmother also collected Chinese snuff bottles. I suppose they must have been "all the rage" among ladies of that day. Yours with admiration, Reggie

  • Barrie – Ha! Your comment made me laugh in return!

    Sydney – I look forward to your blogging about collecting adventures:).

    Duchesse – Collecting men would probably work better than raining men…

    Kate – Exactly. Thanks for cluing me in. I haven't seen your bottles yet.

    Princess – The comments are almost always the best part.

  • Faux Fuchsia – Phew. High end designer clobber counts as a collection to me. And a fun one at that.

    Buckeroo – Thank you.

    Anon – Thank you so much. Your collections sound beautiful. I can imagine the cake servers on a table somewhere, looking gorgeous. But you're right, it can all start to feel like clutter.

    Reggie – Thanks to you and Boy for showing us your great taste and style. A pleasure to also meet your sister.

  • I'm rather pedestrain in that I collect Christmas ornaments. I love that they are "put away" for the year except perhaps the one or two that come my way during the year and at Christmas I think about each ornament as they come out of their storage box. My family thinks I'm nuts. I also have "pinch pots" that my children made, it was a favorite art project year after year so I have many. On the bottom are the initials for each one of them so I'll never forget which ones belonged to which. They are all lined up on a shelf. My mother collect "little blue glass" objects. She has glass shelves built into a sunroom window. I'm going to make sure my sister gets those when the day arrives….

  • I don't do thingamabobs – I prefer doohickeys.

    Beloved's grandmother passed away recently, and I feel sorry for whoever got stuck with her thimble collection – she literally had thousands of them. As for me, I collect Precious Moments figurines (those that are not overtly religious) and Santa Clauses and snowmen for when I decorate at Christmas. My ex is a "collector" (action figures! 46 year old man!) and absolutely effing pretentious about it – I am SO glad I don't have to deal with that crap any longer.

  • LPC, my today's posting is one big reference to this posting :D

  • As always, another lovely post. I collect silver Christmas ornaments, small elephants, matchbooks, cookbooks, and folk art. I've started collections for my children as well. The best part about collecting something, is that my in-laws always have something to give us. Whenever I'm confronted with the obnoxious question – "what do you want for your birthday/christmas?" My reply is always something from the many collections.

  • I have collected diverse antique so much, that I got fed up with it. Luckily I managed to sell it forwards, and at the present, I enjoy collecting nothing.

  • I have a few groupings of things that would become a collection if I let them.

    I do have an actual collection of Japanese ivory netsuke that was passed down through the family. A couple of them are rather erotic and no one seems to know just how those ended up in the collection.


  • I have accidentally amassed a collection of little hinged boxes. I am not sure why. Some I received as gifts, some just called to me when I spotted them, and I bought them. They are variously made of metal, or wood, or ceramic. But I have never been able to have them look nice as a display. They don't look like they belong together, and because they are small, they can't be viewed easily from any distance. So instead of display, I actually use them to store small things in.

    However, aside from any aesthetic value, they have sentimental value to me. I know the where, why and when of each.

  • Just teasing. I am enjoying your blog, which, as you know, I discovered from Jan's Sushi Bar.

  • LPC, I want to show you my collections. I think they are pretty waspy, you tell me when I post them! Thanks for sharing. I love the snuff bottles!!!!

  • Love the snuff bottles… how cool and intricate they are!

  • I collect Murano glass,mainly birds, and colour specific pieces.

    I used to collect carriages, and to this day am obsessed with the "one that got away." It was a very unusual, and ornately carved coach, made by Curley. It was in such a sorry state, that it was impossible for me to even discern the colour of the body, or upholstery. We speculated it must have been made for a wedding, or a very fancy lady of the evening. No one had ever seen anything like this before.
    I was so strongly drawn to this coach, and even though I would likely never drive it, I felt a connection, that I've never experienced before, or since.
    I couldn't bring myself to be stay during the bidding, when I realised there was another person as interested as myself. I burst into tears when I found out that my husband dropped out at $4000.00. I have never cried or lamented about anything, like I have about that coach! I was surprised by my emotions, and I had to go and take one last look at this hauntingly beautiful work of art.
    The winner was already looking her over, and I could barely speak through my tears, as I asked him what he was planning to do with her.
    He told me he would send her to Belgium, and have her restored, in time for the 2000 Carriage Conference.
    I asked him what colours he would choose, and somehow I already knew what his answer would be; vermilion, and green.

    My own signature colours.

    I have searched for her ever since.

    Perhaps he sold her in Belgium? Perhaps she never left the USA?

    I search for her still.

    Sorry for the long comment, I have been holding this in for twelve years! lol.


  • Hmmm. I don't really collect things, because experience has shown that I become a little obsessive. But I do love adding to my stockpile of Liberty fabric, precisely because it's something that is not easy to find, thus I don't fret about it.

  • Let's just ignore how far behind I am on reading, yes? It's been a whirlwind of a month.

    Anyway, I did not KNOW I was following my heratage so well. I have a silver spoon collection. In fact, I used to tell people I was shopping for my sliver spoon collection, and they'd ask me how many I had, and I'd say, "None. Yet." But now I have several. I mean, one day I will have random family silver, but this is silver that tells the story of where I've been

  • I have an inkling to take one of my numerous silver spoons, a big one, and get it engraved with APW for you:).

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