How To Start A Collection

Feb 11, 2016  By Dan Tamarkin


”I’d rather have one and not need it, than need one and not have it.”

a wise person


It’s a fine line, my wife Laura will tell you, between “collecting” and “hoarding.”1 But each item in my studio is essential, it’s not clutter – it’s an integral part. So what if I haven’t used that slide copy-stand since the Reagan Administration? Or that camera bag in the corner surrounded by dust bunnies, since sometime in the 1990s? Or that umpteenth 50mm lens? Thank goodness it’s all here and ready to go. Well, almost ready anyhow – a little dusting off, and rummaging to find a filter or lens shade – this will only take a minute…

These things I hoard – I mean, collect – are a part of me. The enjoyment of my collections comes from being surrounded by these objects of desire, by things I treasure. Most items in my collection have little monetary value but are nonetheless treasures – to me.

The mark of the collector (or at least of the collector mentality) is the owning of more than just a few examples of an object unnecessarily with little or no intent to actually use them. Now, there’s an argument to be made with watches, for example. They’re functional and many people wear them. But a fine timepiece is jewelry, as well. “It goes with my favorite suit.” might be your argument for a new Panerai. Or, “But, honey, the tone of this instrument is totally different from all the others!” and “This one is built for speed, this one is for distance, this one is for off-roading…” And so on. This is why collecting can look so much like hoarding.

The collector mentality: guilty as charged.

Along with Leica cameras, I collect four-string “tenor” guitars.2 Originally conceived in the 1920s as a bridge instrument for banjo players to sit in with guitarists (who were enjoying rapidly increasing popularity at the time), tenor guitars play like a banjo but sound more like a guitar. Gibson and other prominent makers created the tenor for banjo players, and one of the most exciting versions is the “Venetian” tenor made by Kay in Chicago. I have a few examples, both tenors and six-strings. Guilty as charged.

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