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Collecting Small Things
( Original Published 1913 )
"Collecting small things in a small way " appears on the title-page of a book by the Rev. A. W. Oxford, M.D., and the title is " Notes from a Collector's Catalogue, with a Bibliography of English Cookery Books." I have seen Mr. Oxford's intensely interesting collection. Were it but for the bibliography of works on cookery alone it would be valuable, yet it is valuable also in other ways.
Quotations of Wisdom. This is how the book begins: " I must keep three rules if I wish to collect wisely- (1) Collect only what is beautiful or of great human interest. (2) Collect only things which are scarce ; let there be a clear limit to whatever is being collected. (3) Give special attention to things which museums would be glad to possess." And this wise counsellor adds that " I must never let myself be carried away by love of freaks, such as coins wrongly stamped, or books with mistakes in their title-pages, which were withdrawn from circulation as soon as the mistake was discovered." And " I have often found things common which at first sight seemed very rare.
Now, before I go far in collecting a new thing, I ask myself, 'Can a millionaire overtake me in a week ? ' If it is probable he can, I send the collection to a saleroom and start on something else. Moreover, I must not start on any branch which is too vast for my modest means." As to " things which museums would be glad to possess," Mr. Oxford says that " every village ought to have a museum in which such things as smockfrocks, flails, screeves, and local engravings should be preserved. If no proper building can be erected, why should not a part of the school, or even of the church, be used ? "
Collectable Small Things. Let me catalogue a few of the delectable and collectable small things which Mr. Oxford has got together. Cards and their accessories-counters, for instance. There are the counters and their boxes to be found, in great variety, made of gold, silver, ivory, bone, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, porcelain, pinchbeck, wood. There are counters consisting of George III shillings and threepenny-bits. Porcelain counters were usually of foreign make. Then there were trays or receptacles for counters while at play; some in Battersea enamel, some in salt-glaze,, some in cardboard lined with silk, some of papier mache. Gaming tickets, of wood, tortoiseshell, and ivory, are to be found, some of them marked" White's." There are dice-boxes also, and domino-boxes, and so forth.
Then what about a series of London hall-marked silver vinaigrettes? And nutmeg-boxes, that used to be carried in the pocket in days when every gentleman thought himself a dab at brewing a bowl of punch ? These nutmeg-boxes contain a grater under one lid and a receptacle for the nutmeg itself under another. Mr. Oxford has more than 150 of them in silver, not to mention some in Battersea enamel, wood, Sheffield plate, iron, brass, and ivory. These boxes go back. to the Stuart period, and ceased to be made in the early period of Queen Victoria's reign.
Mr. Oxford has also a number of old stay-busks, about the quaintest things I have ever seen. Most of these now extant were made for women of humble station, carved in wood or whalebone-the latter by sailors, it would appear. But there are also ivory ones, long, for the long Elizabethan stomacher. The wooden ones are marvellously carved as a rule. Some of them-, are triangular and positively bulky. But I warn my readers that old stay-busks are very rare.
Knitting-needle holders, again, are in great request. They are wooden, as a rule, but some are silver, some iron, and some of bead-work.
Travelling ink-holders are another " line " ; and so are pounce-boxes, used before the introduction of blotting-paper. Seals and scarabs, circular metal calendars (those perpetual almanacks) for the pocket ; tokens in metal inscribed with sentiments, which were used in days when few people could write a letter ; diaries and commonplace-books; and so on-the range of small things to collect and store in small cabinets in small houses, or in flats or apartments, is really quite remarkable. And to this range, there is no other guide to be compared with Mr. Oxford's book.
Snuff-boxes Mr. Oxford rules out, as being numberless and limitless. Patchboxes have the same defect as a " line."But, really, I do not know that it is at all essential to have a complete set of whatever you are bent on collecting. My own rule has been to pick up anything I come across that I like, and know to be :antique and genuine, if I can obtain it for a low price.