from Paul Trafford

A few days ago, I was ambling through an avenue of trees, gazing first
at the autumnal colours and then the fruits that lay on the ground …
conkers! Ah yes – how avidly did I pursue these nuggets whilst at

I started recalling how I would wait patiently for the months of
August and September to pass before arming myself with carrier bags
and off I would go sweeping up dozens and dozens. Thus did I engage
eagerly in the activity of collecting.

Looking further around and through the trees, I remembered further
back to one of the first items I collected, when I was a toddler. Not
long after I had learnt to walk, I developed a strong interest in
large specimens of bark, which I would gather from the forest floor
and haul back with me to store in the garden shed.

“Why collect bark ..?” I started wondering. Then I reflected deeper,
and asked why collect anything? What is it that urges us to collect?

Walking further along, I mused that there were many facets to
collecting. Another popular example came to mind to prompt me –
stamps, particularly Thai stamps, which I started collecting whilst in
Junior school – Mum had been receiving letters from her home in
Bangkok ever since she left there to study in England. Behold a
colourful way to learn about history, the different monarchs,
different festivals and celebrations, a bit of art and other

However, that wasn’t my primary interest. All I really seemed to be
keen in was arranging those fragile pieces of paper most carefully in
their rightful places, hoping that one day I would complete the set…

That this was the case was confirmed by my subsequent ventures in
collecting: football stickers and, even, British Rail timetables. “If
you give me Ray Clemence, I’ll give you Lou Macari … ” and so the
bartering went on, as every boy at school was racing to fill all 525
‘vacant slots’. Of course, I learnt some statistics each time I
eagerly peeled open a new packet of footballing heroes bought from the
local newsagent.

And then there was a further realization, as I started collecting old
coins, which all my relatives seemed quite happy to discard my way.
Perhaps for the first time I realised that collecting could reap
monetary rewards. These tiny items were potentially extremely
valuable, and I learnt about rarity and quality – too bad that most of
my coins were old pennies in poor condition and minted by the tens of
million! But I felt distinctively grateful to some unknown eccentric
millionaire who was apparently trying to buy up the lion’s share of
the world’s silver and I offloaded a pile of rather undistinguished
old florins (10p pieces) for what seemed like a small fortune to
someone having to exist on a bit of pocket money.

So, by my early teens I had learnt several facets about collecting,
and derived a lot of enjoyment. But then I discovered one of the
drawbacks – I was cluttering up my room with too many things I had
collected. In fact, a better description of my ongoing activity was
hoarding, a trait that appeared evidently unhealthy.

Surrounded by what had become substantially a pile of bric-a-brac, I
decided that for me collecting had become a burden, and now I really
though that quality, not quantity, was the key, so I made a switch to
looking for something that would intrinsically endure and I discovered
another dimension to collecting: aesthetics. Whilst studying in High
school, a colleague of my Dad gave me a signed copy of the only book
available on a certain make of English pottery that was produced early
this century – Ruskin pottery. So off I went to a few markets and
even an auction in a bid to capture one of these trophies for my
mantelpiece, but alas to no avail as I realized that others (adults)
valued these works of art (with adult prices). After that I lost
interest …

Reaching the end of my journey, I wondered what do I collect today?
Abstract items – impressions and ideas, it seems, all free and can be
treasured just as much. However, I still look around occasionally for
some of William Howson Taylor’s craftwork and, who knows, I may find a
gem some day to embody all my ideals!

End of reminisce