Curiouser and curiouser
There is a collector in all of us, whether it be of shells, doll’s houses or Roman coins. Anna Tyzack meets the enthusiasts who have found their passion
Anna Tyzack meets the collectors who have found their passion
As children, we collect shells on the beach and, as teenagers, we hoard posters. For some, the urge to collect carries over into adult life and even becomes a lifestyle. Jon Baddeley, Antiques Road Show presenter and director of Bonhams Knightsbridge, believes that there is an inherent collector in all of us: ‘It begins with an object that gives you joy and leads to a life of fairs, markets, museums and libraries, plus endless cataloguing, displaying and storing.’
Collecting as a hobby dates back to Ancient Egypt and there are many reasons why we enjoy it, Mr Baddeley continues, including nostalgia, the pleasure of bringing order to chaos and the thrill of the chase.
‘I get an enormous adrenaline rush when I find a new piece,’ agrees Mark Hannam, who has been collecting Roman coins for most of his life. ‘It’s often when I’ve already walked several miles, but, afterwards, I can keep going for the rest of the day.’
It only takes a small budget to lay the foundations of a collection, according to Mr Baddeley. ‘You can start by buying chipped or blemished pieces and then invest in those in perfect condition when finances permit,’ he says. ‘It’s a hobby that can grow up with you.’
He advises fledgling collectors to ‘buy with your heart’, but to make sure their collection can be easily displayed in the home. ‘If you have to store it away in boxes, it takes all the fun out of it,’ he warns. It’s also a good idea not to focus on something too fashionable —collectables such as Rolex watches are plagued by fakes and replicas. ‘Remember— if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.’
Mr Baddeley collects watercolour originals of early-20th-century railway posters, a genre so unfashionable that the artworks cost less to buy than the posters themselves. But is there marriage value in putting objects together in a collection? Don’t count on it, he cautions—your money is safer in the stockmarket. ‘However, if you invest in stocks and shares, you’ll only enjoy it when they go up. A collection gives joy all the time.’
Peter Francis, Gullaskruf glass and Hornsea ceramics
A large blue vase by the Swedish glassmaker Gullaskruf (1893–1995) first caught Peter Francis’s eye in a gallery in London 15 years ago, but it was only when he moved to an Arts-and-crafts house in the Lake District, designed by Baillie Scott, that he began collecting glassware. ‘I studied one of the long, deep window sills and realised that what it needed was Gullaskruf glass vases,’ recalls Mr Francis, who was production designer for the ‘Harry Potter’ film series and Titanic. ‘They’re not expensive, but they’re examples of good design, which fits with the ethos of the house,’ he elaborates.
Originally, Mr Francis only looked for green vases by the same designer, Arthur Percy, but, in time, he permitted red and blue into the collection. ‘The house is eccentric and doesn’t lend itself to colour themes,’ he explains. ‘However, the oak surfaces are perfect for displays.’
He also collects mid-20th-century Hornsea ceramics, having grown up near Hornsea, and has a number of mugs and owls. ‘As a production designer, I’m always putting things together to create environments for a story and I suppose my home is my story: a bit muddled, but in an orderly way.’
Peter Francis, who was production designer for the ‘Harry Potter’ film series and Titanic, started collecting Gullaskruf glass 15 years ago
David Lowe, grandfather clocks
Noon is a noisy time of day in David Lowe’s home near Salisbury, Wiltshire, owing to his collection of 11 grandfather (or longcase) clocks. ‘I try not to make phonecalls approaching midday—it takes up to 10 minutes for them all to chime,’ explains the barrister, who also collects Staffordshire figures and has more than 230 paintings and engravings, including Britain’s largest collection of paintings by Margaret Neve—each one is separated on the walls by ‘just a 5cm gap’, but he and his wife ‘weren’t prepared to get rid of any of them’.
Each of his clocks has its own character: there’s a Scottish model from a ladies’ club in Edinburgh, with Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake painted above the face, an early, one-handed country clock and another with a chain that occasionally slips off its cogs, prompting an ear-splitting crash.
He bought his first longcase, by Will Snow of Otley, at an auction in Leeds, in 1955, when he was just 12 years old. ‘It’s numbered 619 and, once, years later, when I was seeing clients in their dining room about an inheritance dispute, they happened to have number 620,’ he recalls.
In 1957, he invested in another clock, by Anthony Hudson of Preston, and bought his third, by Thomas Beeching of Rye, in 1972 for £150. A grand provincial clock, it has a blue-lacquered moon-dial. ‘My wife and I collected it in our Renault 4 and had to strap the case on the roof,’ he recalls. He also has a rare Regency dial clock, purchased from an antique shop in Dorchester while waiting for one of his daughters to take her driving test: ‘I couldn’t resist it.’
It takes Mr Lowe more than half an hour to wind all the clocks, but he couldn’t bear to part with any of them due to their ‘fine faces and interesting cases’. The clocks have even influenced the type of house his family has lived in over the years. ‘We tried to downsize from our old rectory in 2004, but ended up in a larger, even more dilapidated old rectory,’ he confesses.
Time and space: after starting his collection when he was 12, barrister David Lowe now has 11 grandfather clocks
Above: Antiques Road Show presenter Jon Baddeley collects watercolour originals of early-20th-century railway posters. Below: Peter Francis has a particular fondness for owls