Spec­ta­tor

Les­lie Ged­des-brown cat­a­logues her col­lec­tions

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Les­lie Ged­des-brown

HERE’S a tip. If you’re start­ing a col­lec­tion, al­ready have one or have just ac­quired one, whether it’s Dinky toys, nar­cis­sus bulbs or Pi­casso etch­ings, start a cat­a­logue, too. You’ll find it great fun and, in the dis­tant fu­ture, full of in­ter­est.

My fa­ther, a doc­tor, started col­lect­ing in mid­dle age and cat­a­logued every­thing he bought. His col­lect­ing in­volved an eter­nal hunt for more, be it English porce­lain fig­ures, Ge­or­gian sil­ver or 20th-cen­tury British art. This was the first bit of en­joy­ment. Then, he would bring his buy home and start to re­search it for his cat­a­logue (no in­ter­net then). This was also ter­rific fun. I think it was the best bit.

Noth­ing was too in­signif­i­cant to be writ­ten up, first on sheets of pa­per and then, when he thought the info ad­e­quate, on stiff cards. A lot of th­ese de­scended to me and were tran­scribed from his im­pos­si­ble writ­ing by a friendly sec­re­tary. To say she had dif­fi­culty puts it mildly.

To prove noth­ing was too in­signif­i­cant, here is an ex­am­ple: ‘Worces­ter blue and white moulded, painted pickle tray. Elab­o­rate leaf mould­ing out­side, blue dec­o­ra­tion (flo­ral) in­side… c1755, com­plete lon­gi­tu­di­nal crack.’ He records that he bought it in June 1951 from a York dealer for 5d or, in dec­i­mal terms, 2p. He adds more de­tails of the maker’s mark: ‘V&A Col­lec­tion3252.’ I still have the lit­tle chap.

Later, I started my own cat­a­logue, first with Vic­to­rian glass, which I now loathe. Look­ing at it, I see my en­try about a 1860s mil­i­tary chest bought from an of­fi­cers’ mess in Hamp­shire (what could be more ap­pro­pri­ate?). I was un­der 20. Weirdly, I de­tailed each piece with a code for price and that one cost me £2.50. Seven years later, I found a ma­hogany coun­try Chip­pen­dale ta­ble, about 1750, for £3.50 in Pick­er­ing, North York­shire. I still have both and re­mem­ber clearly how I came to ac­quire them.

Hew and I still cat­a­logue things. I know I re­cently spent £25 for a mod­ern neck­lace and who made it. I know that my am­ber neck­lace was bought by my ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther when on a trip to the Baltic. He was a poor boy who grew up to be­come a rich ship owner and, as a con­se­quence, never bought any­thing but the best. And there’s a wa­ter­colour of Gozo, near Malta, by Ed­ward Lear (bought in a lot for £2 by my fa­ther in 1967). In his cat­a­logue, my fa­ther noted that Lear has writ­ten that the scenery ‘may truly be called pom­skizil­lious and gro­mophiber­ous’.

Our cat­a­logues have ta ught us a bit about our fam­ily his­tory, Lear, Gozo ge­og­ra­phy, where the best am­ber is found and how it was pos­si­ble to buy a mil­i­tary chest di­rectly from the mil­i­tary. Ev­ery time I read them, they bring back mem­o­ries of dread- ful old junk shops with dusty trea­sures or snooty deal­ers who took one look at us and di­rected us to the ‘cheap room’.

I re­mem­ber stop­ping at one such and spot­ting a small Chi­nese fig­ure of a Court lady. Ca­su­ally, I asked: ‘How much is that rough fig­ure over there?’ ‘Ah,’ said the dealer, smirk­ing, ‘you mean the T’ang.’ He had known all along and waited, like a spi­der, for me to get caught in his web.

You’ll never com­plete your cat­a­logue if, like us, you’re al­ways buy­ing things, whether at auc­tion, in shops or on ebay and if, also like us, you move pieces from room to room. Or if the task of de­scrib­ing ev­ery book (bar­ring crime pa­per­backs) is too daunt­ing. That’s a plea­sure for the cur­rent long win­ter evenings.

Start now, while dusk still falls in the af­ter­noon and when you can sit over a glow­ing (or as they usu­ally say, roar­ing) log fire and re­mem­ber coups gone past. They’ll give you mem­o­ries decades later and help your chil­dren learn what their pack-rat par­ents did with their free time.

‘They’ll help chil­dren learn what their pack­rat par­ents did in their free time

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