Aaron Draplin has a large collection of memo books—mostly mid-century advertising material for seeds, fencing, fertilizers, and other farming related products. In a video posted at Field Notes he talks about his interest in and motivation for collecting memo books and about the arbitrariness of collecting and organizing anything. The video is at The Memo Book Archive as are scans of 300 or so of his memo books.
Another article in the NY Times raises questions about the nature of features of a museum. This time, a NYC sanitation worker, Nelson Molina, has spent the last 20 years collecting things that other people have thrown away. His collection now includes around 1000 pieces of art that he has arranged in the second floor of a Sanitation Department garage.
Molina’s theory of art is both straighforward and unassailable. When asked to explain how he decides whether or not to include a piece, he replied: “It doesn’t matter what it is. As long as it’s cool, I can hang it up and I’ve got a place for it.”
Over at Smithsonian.com’s Smart News blog a recent post tries to explain why we collect things, or at least why we hoard things: Why We Hoard and How to Stop. The basic claim seems to be we value things we own or wish to own—there may be a circularity here that tends toward vicious. Researchers call this the endowment effect.
I am not convinced this the endowment effect is acting in Mr. Molina’s case. He doesn’t, after all, owns any of the objects he collects and arranges.
The NY Times is once again covering museums. The latest article, “In Texas Tradition, Museums That Enshrine the Quirky,” underscores how any collection of things can be displayed and called a museum. Apparently, collectors in Texas take seriously the American Association of Museums’ criteria that to be a museum it must make a “unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world.”
This gives us The Eight Track Tape Museum and the Devil’s Rope Museum or Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum. Some of these museums seem more durable than others. Some seem to have descended into obscurity, leaving only a website to mark their passing. They force us to confront again what distinguishes a museum from a personal collection, and when does a personal collection become a museum.
In this case, another quotidian table utensil, the lowly pepper mill, has been extracted from the world of utility and elevated to an objet d’art. For the family, collecting these pepper mills is equivalent to collecting art: “It becomes more about buying an art piece than a functioning piece.”
To read more on this, see my post at PACHS: “On Pepper Mills.” While there, you might peruse my growing collection of posts on collecting: “On Salt Shakers and Chinese Takeout Menus” and “On Collecting and Collectors.”
An article in the Smithsonian reports on an enormous collection of salt and pepper shakers: “Would You Like Some Salt and Pepper? How About 80,000 Shakers’ Worth?.”
This collection, despite receiving the imprimatur of the Smithsonian, is no better or worse than Harley Spiller’s collection of 10,000 Chinese takeout menus: Inspector Collector: Chinese Menus. In both cases the collectors are exercising authority and establishing expertise by collecting, arranging, and controlling access to their objects.
For more on this, see my post at On Salt Shakers and Chinese Takeout Menus