To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting
by Philipp Blom
Collecting is one of the most common pastimes, and can often become a passion bordering on the obsessive. Our familiarity with the pursuit, however, ... Show synopsis Collecting is one of the most common pastimes, and can often become a passion bordering on the obsessive. Our familiarity with the pursuit, however, obscures the questions at its heart: why do people amass things that have no use? What drives them to spend time and money getting hold of a single stamp, an unusual beermat, or a rare doll, only to put it in a folder or on a shelf? Why do we feel the need to possess these items, and why is it not enough to know that they exist in a museum, or somewhere else? In this book, Philip Blom delves into the history of the collecting passion and explores it through a series of interlinked portraits, stories and discoveries, each characteristic of a period. What emerges is the story of a human quest more intimately linked with our primal needs than many would have thought possible. Investigating the history of collecting from the Renaissance to our day, Blom shows a multiplicity of worlds: the scientific cabinets of the 15th century and an Italian scholar employed as dragon slayer; the "Ark" of the Tradescants and a friend's betrayal; Emperor Rudolf II's Prague collection as "practised alchemy"; the macabre art of Dr. Frederik Ruysch, first among embalmers; and the over-flowing menagerie of Sir Hans Sloane's curiosities, later to become the foundation of the British Museum. He also discusses the strange fate of Angelo Soliman, a black man at the Habsburg court who was stuffed and exhibited with wild animals; explores the rise of scientific collecting and classification, and parallel to it, the explosion of collecting as the private passion of hundreds of thousands; and introduces Robert Opie, whose collection of half a million items of household packaging now fills his home in London and two overflowing warehouses in Gloucestershire besides. Out of this glittering diversity of material Blom distils the themes underlying this seemingly elusive pursuit; conquest and possession, and the awareness of our own mortality. The instinct to collect, he says, is rooted in our very being: "Saving the world, or a world, preserving history or genius, saintliness or innocence, touching something beyond our random existence is a labour of love, a constant ritual, one face of the desire to be authentic, to be human".