chapter  13
Collecting in time
Pages 20

It is a permanent record of my life. (People's Show 1992)

Collecting is an essentially spasmodic activity. Acquisition takes place over an extended period, and we feel that this is an intrinsic part of its honesty and sincerity. 'Instant' collections, our instincts tell us, are not true collections at all; in order to be honourable and genuine, collections must have been acquired gradually over the years, and piece or group at a time. There are, of course, some legitimate exceptions to this. One may inherit a complete collection, and it will have a sincere place in one's own life. But unless it is added to, it remains essentially the collection of the dead person, which in the nature of things has passed into other hands. One may purchase complete collections, or substantial parts of complete collections, and add these to the total of one's own accumulation. The history of collecting in the grand manner is replete with such major purchases: to take only one, the collection of Sir Hans Sloane was, by the time he passed it to the nascent British Museum, essentially a collection of collections for Sloane had acquired not only much material of his own, but also the entire holdings of several well-known collectors of the previous generation, especially those of William Courten and James Pettiver (Brooks 1954: 176-81). But this kind of acquisition does not really transgress our notions of what is proper. Sloane, and most of those contemporaries and successors who have collected like he did, were unmistakably genuine collectors who happened to be able to structure their collecting lives through the occasional major addition to what they already had. Our instinctive objection relates to those who buy collections by the yard, in the attempt to establish a spurious material pedigree and past.