Objectification of desire: part two

A while ago I started ruminating on the objects that we acquire, what might be termed material culture, and today I continue.

One thing I have learned about taste is that it stays close to home. I remember hearing that vintage Poole Pottery is more expensive in the town of Poole in Dorset. That seemed illogical—surely the place of manufacture would be saturated with collectibles, which would lower the price? In fact, the citizens of Poole prize what they know, make, and own more than the rest of us. But I love the cups below – post-1956 Poole.


This turns out to be a universal truth. I spent years in England perusing flea markets, car boot sales, and antiques fairs, but when I moved to France I was singularly disappointed by les brocantes…I didn’t like anything. In the U.S., I find much more that I like and many more parallel styles, but I think generally they lack the emotional connection and familiarity of English ceramics and brands. I love Fiestaware – it’s so fun – but I don’t see myself buying it. I’m more likely to go for contemporary American design than vintage.

One of the strange phenomena of being a collector, regardless of budget and area of interest, is the fervor that takes over. My ex of a long time ago would get obsessive about collecting sets…I learned to fear Volume 1, Issue 1. There were CD clubs, gardening magazines, TinTin educational cards…she managed to complete many sets, but sadly we left France without the full TinTin card collection…every once in a while a new filing box would arrive suggesting many more months, if not years, of subscription.

There was a time when I would be up at 6.30am on a Sunday morning ready to go to a car boot sale and scour for desirable objects at bargain prices. There was palpable excitement at what treasures we might find. And it paid off. Look, I got this 3-legged 60s table for £1!


We’d go to antiques fairs and mull carefully over whether to pay £12 for a lovely traveling iron with a Bakelite handle.


The collecting fervor is a weird combination of love for the object combined with fear of missing out. But, with limited financial resources, you have to be selective, so it’s a constant assessment of the value of the piece…its aesthetics, its application in your life, and whether your admiration will last beyond the excitement of the moment. I remember experiencing an intensity of emotion that combined excitement and panic as I weighed a desired object. Making a wrong purchase could be as aggrieving as missing out on something. But how wonderful the euphoria of a good purchase and the opportunity to show it off to appreciative friends (we had a small gang of collecting fiends).

Over time, and I guess this is the calming of my collecting spirit, I have found that while acquiring the object fulfilled a burning need, after a certain period of possession I can release many things back in to the sea of seekers.

However, there are disposal decisions that I regret to this day. They gnaw at me…how could I have thought that I could live without the huge collection of Agatha Christie books with fabulous covers from the 50s and 60s? I can only hope to replicate that collection through future visits to flea markets and second hand books stores

To be continued.

11 responses to “Objectification of desire: part two”

  1. Beth W says:

    There are so many interesting parts of this post that I can respond to. Earlier this week, I read this article by Paul Graham about how people are trapped by owning stuff.

    I had never thought that “taste stays close to home.” I thought it was more generational. In my family, my brothers and I like mid-century American pieces that my parents think are ugly.

    Have you seen the BBC show where people sell off their things, Cash in the Attic? I can hardly watch because they always have beautiful things that I can’t imagine parting with for just a trip to Disneyworld. It’s so hard to find the balance between the desire to acquire beautiful things and the need to have space in one’s life. Why are we so attached to things? Why do we use them to make us happy?

  2. Dave says:

    I love these posts about your collecting, Stella.

    Were your collecting friends really fiends?

  3. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Stella, have you ever tried Sontag’s The Volcano Lover?

    The loving descriptions of the Cavaliere’s relationship to collecting remind me of your posts.

  4. brooke says:

    These are really fun posts Stella.

    I have one painful recollection of getting rid of collectibles. I was about 16 years old and I decided I didn’t need my vinyl LPs anymore. Compact Disks were all the rage and who needed these stupid antiquated things anyway?

    I remember piling up all my vinyl and taking it down to Vinyl Ink in Silver Spring. The guy at the counter sifted through my records with interest and said “Are you sure you want to sell all of these?” I shrugged and said “Yeah.”

    After all, who needs first pressings of the Specials collection, the Exploited, Bad Brains, Toasters, Michael Jackson, Minor Threat, New Order, Fishbone? He gave me maybe a hundred dollars, and I went and blew it on stuff I can’t remember now.

    Who knew I’d become a vinyl freak years later, and deeply regret this decision? I’ve spent more time and money trying to replace those records than I’d like to admit. Some of those records are worth a lot of money now, not to mention they rock.

  5. Stella says:

    Brooke, I feel your pain!

    Beth W. – I agree it is generational, so you don’t necessarily like the family home, but ultimately it’s strongly shaped by the culturally familiar.

    Dave – all my best friends are fiends.

    Ruben – haven’t read it, will look it up.

  6. WW says:

    What’s weird for me is that “stuff” is where I put all my emotions. Way disproportionately. The loss of a job or being on strike aches, sure. But that poster I didn’t buy in the thrift shop is what elicits tears and staying up all nite. Pathetic.But it’s easier to put the feelings in a tangible place than to grapple with what can’t be seen or bought.

  7. swells says:

    I too am a stuff junkie with a desire to keep anything with a memory attached to it, and replace anything that doesn’t with something vintage or freaky that does the same thing (like a teakettle, for instance–my regular one is breaking so now I can’t replace it unless I find a really mod weird one). Must be the same syndrome WW is describing. I would have bought all the things you picture in your post, Stella. I am just now getting to the place you mention about learning how to let go of stuff I no longer need (but I’ll be damned if it’ll be my records).

  8. lane says:

    “the boot”

    one of the coolest expressions in English English.

  9. Rachel says:

    Stella, I love that table. What a deal!

    Despite loathing most “reality” TV, I am newly addicted to home-improvement shows like “Clean House” and “neat.” They have completely transformed my attitude about STUFF–now I can actually see myself parting with some of it. However, the neatness guru usually begins by telling the family to pare down the contents of their bookshlves, to which I say NO WAY. La bibliothèque, c’est moi .

    But aren’t any of you overwhelmed with media storage? I can be elated about finding an out-of-print indie single for dirt cheap, and then mystified when I get home and have no place to put it.

  10. Mark says:

    Do what I do Rach and put it in your collection of vintage cardboard boxes in the garage. I hate to brag, but I’ve got boxes dating back to the early nineties. One’s even got a screen print of oranges on it. That’s my favorite.

  11. Stella says:

    Rachel — I can’t stop watching Clean House! I’m glad I’m not the only one. I looove Niecy!