I suppose I could be called something of a collector because I have this thing
about clocks. I‘m drawn to them and own quite a few, all in excellent working
I’m particularly fond (don’t ask me why) of clocks emblazoned with
the name of some commercial enterprise, and generally pick them up for next to
nothing at yard sales and bazaars: El Al, Bank of Jerusalem, Radisson Moriah
Hotel. They’re full of character, and often beautiful.
acquisition is a huge deep blue and silver-colored wall clock advertising a
construction company in Haifa that I came upon one evening during a walk in my
Jerusalem neighborhood. It was leaning comfortably but with dignity against the
wall of a house in an upscale street together with some other items clearly put
out for anyone to take. It now hangs in my kitchen, delighting me every time I
look up at its colorful face and hear its authoritative tick.
What is it
about clocks that speaks to me? I’ve worked out that it’s probably something to
do with their faces, which suggest human ones. That’s why my clocks must have
hands and numbers designating the hours; digital timepieces leave me
Like people who take in stray cats, I feel I can always find room
for another clock.
MY colleague Liat Collins happened to be passing by as
I was thinking about this column. She told me that as a student she had attended
a seminar on collecting given by sociologist Prof. Brenda Danet. A collection,
she said – echoing my feeling about clocks – can be characterized as something
ongoing that is never completed.
Organization and display are other
important defining elements. Monetary value isn’t crucial.
collects little sugar packets from cafes and restaurants – “hundreds, over the
years, starting from a holiday in France at age six,” right into her career as a
“In Oman, I nicked sugars freely from one of the most
expensive hotels in the sultanate,” she confessed.
“You can’t give it
up,” she said, saying she was “addicted to the sugar rush.”
intrigued me about collectors, I told her, was not so much what they collected,
What are collectors revealing about themselves? I was led to
ponder this question by the recent experience of a North American friend that
was the opposite of collecting: His aliya preparations included many painful
months spent separating from all kinds of stuff, some of it inherited, much of
it owned for decades.
During this process, he developed such an antipathy
to even the concept of acquiring that he e-mailed me (only partly) jokingly:
“Maybe someone will do me a favor and just put a match to it all.”
never hear about collecting without picturing one of Jerusalem’s most dedicated
collectors, Toby Shuster, in whose apartment I stayed for several weeks in 2000
while my own was being renovated.
Her numerous collections, for the most
part, hang from walls or sit on shelves, creating riotous color rather than
clutter, and include: an impressive number of Argentinean paintings on wood of
doorways and windows; 1950s and ‘60s women’s hats; different kinds of kippot;
miniature shoes; a quantity of blue-and-white Bukharan china; tribal, ceramic,
porcelain and papier maché dolls, colored photographs – and the collection for
which she is best known: some 400 miniature Volkswagen Beetles, running up and
down and around her doorways.
“Some of them are in double lines,” she
told me when I called to refresh my memory.
I recalled that when my
daughter and I stayed in her apartment, we first had to clear the dolls off her
sofa before we could sit down.
“It’s just great,” she replied when I
asked what her collections did for her. “When I walk into the apartment, I’m
always smiling. It’s soothing.”
Is collecting compulsive? It is, she
said. “Collectors keep on collecting,” she stated, and advised, “Never ask a
collector, ‘Where are you going to put it?’ They’ll always find a
But she’s getting much more selective, she said.
And a lot
of her stuff, I have to admit, is interesting and beautiful, if visually
overwhelming in the mass.
ANOTHER colleague told me about his brother, an
expert mechanic and clarinetist, who one could say collects with a
“He moved from Canada to the Cayman Islands to teach mechanics
to the natives in a community college,” my colleague recounted. “He had been
living in a house in a small village in Ontario whose three floors he had packed
from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with electronic equipment beyond any sane
requirements for his own use. He had to give it all away.
in the Caymans, he rented an airplane hangar and started the process all over
again. Now, 10 years on, he’s in Toronto, where he has acquired 200-300
computers and computer monitors, stereo equipment, and 30 or 40
“He goes around the neighborhood by car,” my colleague
continued, “picking up anything he sees that he thinks he can use – computers,
TVs that aren’t working, even lawnmowers.
“‘I can sell them and make
money,’ he offers by way of explanation, though most of it is junk.”
my colleague hastened to add, his brother has nonetheless made some amazing
“For example, he can buy a clarinet for $50 or $75, and sell
it for $3,000 or $4,000.”
Is his brother a collector or a hoarder? I
asked. A good question, my colleague mused.
“Collecting gives him a
feeling of security,” he said. “It makes him feel more immune to the vagaries of
One psychological view identifies the quintessential collector as
the small child who collects just one thing – a security blanket.
difference between collecting and hoarding, it emerges, is the ability to
differentiate between what is important and needs to be held onto, and what can
be parted with; tied, psychologists say, into a baby’s initial total
identification with its mother (“me and mother are one and the same person”)
followed by the eventual ability to sense “what is me” and the separate “what is
The Collyer brothers, who lived in 1940s America, have gone down
in history as obsessive collectors of all kinds of items who set boobytraps in
their corridors and doorways to protect against intruders. Both were eventually
found dead in the Harlem brownstone where they had lived as hermits, surrounded,
according to Wikipedia, by over 130 tons of waste amassed over several
For them, healthy separation was a tragic
“A sense of ownership is part of normal human
development,” a psychologist friend explained to me. “Filling photo albums,
keeping heirlooms, these are healthy things. A collector collects with a fine
hand and exercises subtle judgment, often with a defined goal – beautifying the
home, or eventually bequeathing the collection to a museum. His or her
collecting makes sense to others and can be a shared pleasure.
hoarder, on the other hand, collects out of compulsion, attempting thereby to
deal with some inner problem that would dismay rather than delight others.
Compulsive hoarding, a pathology, is the extreme expression of
“In the end, it depends on the personality and motivation of
WHAT about my impulse to collect clocks? I asked my
“Clocks are a reaffirmation of life,” she
“Their ticking is like the heartbeat. Someone who collects
clocks is connecting to a special memory that gives security.
something happy about a clock face,” she smiled, “recalling the earliest face of
ONE of the most fascinating and colorful collections of all
time can be found right here in Israel. The collection is ongoing, and on
perpetual display. It is organized (most of the time) and, many believe, has a
definite goal – though exactly what that goal might be is a matter for
The name of this unique collection? It’s the Ingathering of the