Friday, March 30, 2012

Buying Books, Badly

Within my great collector universe, I have a niche where I express myself as a somewhat-compulsive book buyer.

Is it because I have been a voracious reader since early childhood? Or because my mother and sister taught reading? Or because I was in the publishing business all my life? Or what?  I don't know exactly why I buy books.
Great Books of the Western World
(gift from mom circa 1965)
But I do know this:

  • I prefer buying used books over new
  • I prefer to find books by serendipity, not by recommendation
  • If I find an author or character I like, I want one of each of all their books, every one
  • I don't like frequenting libraries
  • I'll never belong to a book reading club
  • I've never read best-sellers (OK, I did just race through Steve Jobs' biography in one night)
  • I loathe book clubs and other enforced buying schemes
  • I've learned that publishers rarely produce consistent spine art and titles 
  • I read most of every book I buy (but not every page)
  • I tend to read 3-5 books at a time

Let's have a look around the shelves ... these first two sets are old books that I have had for many years - the Nordhoff and Hall Mutiny on the Bounty and related titles, and George Herter's Professional Guides Manuals. [click any image to enlarge]
Nordhoff and Hall Pacific Islands books 
Herter's Professional Guide Manuals
Some of the 82 Earl Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels
Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy
George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman
Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe
Ellery Queen's Masterpieces of Mystery
As you can see I have mis-matched accumulations of each author, but in most cases I have every book that author has written, or every book in a particular series. These are just a small sample - my guess is there are at least 20 more sets like this around my house.

The Ellery Queen set is an exception, in that they have similar bindings and I bought them only from two different used booksellers. The Flashman series is primarily matching paperbacks which I bought one-at-a-time in various stores in Canada, as they were not sold in this form in the USA. I think it took me about 5 years to get all those books, as they were not released all at once.

I have discovered that I have 10 years of IWC watch catalogs, one for each year. And a hundred watch repair manuals. And a few dozen car repair manuals (though I have tossed most of those), and the first 5 versions of the Bosch Automotive Handbook (why? I wanted them!). Today I have just learned that the 8th edition is out. I must contact my friend Mike Bentley, the US distributor, and get one.

Some of these sets are due to my occupation of writing car manuals, but most groupings have been assembled due to my undying quest to understand and experience things. And the collector obsession to have them all.

Esemblo-Graph Watch Repair Manuals 
Haynes Car Repair Manuals (just a few) 
First 5 editions of the Bosch Automotive Handbook
Classic and SportsCar Magazine (about half of the total)
Oh my. I almost forgot my complete set of Automotive Quarterly, a hard-bound automotive journal of history and art. This goes from Vol. 1 Number 1 to today - more than 50 years without a gap. I bought another (deceased) auto book collector's set of the first 30 years, back in Detroit in 1990. So I've been adding to it for 22 years. But I'm about ready to give this quest up. Anybody want a complete Automotive Quarterly set?

Automotive Quarterly

Monday, March 19, 2012

Singing the Blues

Welcome to Curating Cazalea, where I try to understand the mystery and magic of the collections I've assembled.

My sister Kathy liked my RED blog, but suggested I do a BLUE Blog sometime.

Today I feel blue, so blue it is. I was stunned to learn my good friend Blanche died yesterday - so this post is dedicated to her. We begin with a blue collage of my icons, watches, cars, stained glass and Blanche. [click any image to enlarge]

Blanche wasn't a blue person - far from it. She was full of life - "full of vim and vigor" and the last one you'd think would leave us so soon. I think you can tell for yourself. Look at the joy (and mischief) in her face:

We met 25 years ago through our respective jobs. Later my wife and I ended up moving to England to work at Glass's Guides, where Blanche worked for 40 years. She and I became fast friends and workmates - taking the UK by storm with our used car price guides. Over the years, we met up on holidays in England, Canada, the USA and Mexico:

In her "spare time" Blanche was a tireless worker for Macmillan Cancer Support, personally raising more than £1 million while volunteering since 1959! Last year she was recognized by the Queen and received an MBE.

I am very happy to have been her friend, to have shared hundreds of meals as part of her family, to have given the eulogy at her husband's funeral, to have witnessed her grandson's marriage, and to have happily called her "mom".

To finish this up, I watched Indigo Angel - an episode of the Touched By An Angel TV series. It features Hal Linden, Al Jarreau, BB King, Dr. John, Al Hirt, Della Ressa and Monica and the blues. If you have time, click the link and watch the show - and think of the people who have brightened up the blue times in your life.

Here's to you, Blanche! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Seeing Red!

Today I have been cleaning up my collections of files on the computer. Specifically, on the small iMac ... yes, indeed whereas most people have lots of socks, or scarves or worst, dust bunnies under their bed, I have a collection of files dispersed and duplicated on a collection of computers!

NOTE: Don't scoff. I am dealing with my addiction...

These are my current computers:

  1. iPod1 Classic has all my music files and virtually all images
  2. iPod2 Classic has all my music files
  3. Iphone3 has Laurie email and related stuff
  4. Iphone4s has Mike email, contacts, images and apps
  5. iPad2 has Mike email, contacts, images, movies and apps
  6. Mini320 has movies and music in iTunes (with very little else)
  7. MacBook aluminum has almost everything
  8. MacBook titanium has Photoshop and selected emails back to 2003
  9. PowerPC tower has 2 enormous screens, high-fidelity speakers, movies and music
  10. Apple TV2 plays through Sony Bravia TV
  11. iMac Small has Adobe CS2 and Ansmar files
  12. Dell Inspiron has watch diagnosis, timing and adjusting software
It turns out this is not going to be a post about all my computers - but a post about a collection I discovered on one of them. Apparently at some point I became enamored with the color red. I filled a folder full of photos of red cars, for example. [please click to enlarge - I did all the collecting for this collage ...]

If I look closely at the pictures, I see myself (camera in hand) taking photos in Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, England, Scotland, California, New Mexico, Washington, etc. The first pictures were taken about 1985, and the latest in 2011. All seasons and weather are represented here. One photo was even taken from my kayak.

So you just take pictures of red cars, I hear you asking? Well, no. Red other things too. Apparently watches in red livery appealed to me as well. Yes, I took the photos. And no, I didn't remember taking so many. In red. Hmmmm.

PS - Did I ever show you my collection of (red) pomegranate artwork?

I guess I will leave you red-handed.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Accumulation or Collection, Part IV

This blog has been prompted by my retirement from "work" and my retreat home into the midst of all the things I've been collecting for 40+ years. This series on accumulation vs collection has been driven by the unconventional nature of some of my collections. I want to state in advance of today's post that I don't consider myself a hoarder. Read the definition on Wikipedia.

I'm prepared to admit this is an unconventional collection. But any tool lover will know what I am talking about here. In fact wires are tools that carry electrical signals. Wires are what you need to be a miracle-worker - to hook up DVD, TV, computer, home automation, etc. You can't do it with string, rope, or duct tape.

Power wires (also called extension cords) extend electrical current from the wall socket to the electrical device. Many of mine are already in use because we don't have many outlets in the walls of each room. We recently re-wired the feed from the power company and the circuit breaker panels, but not to all our rooms. The photo shows the special cords, with 90-degree turned ends, or flat ends to fit behind a bookcase, etc. I love it when people see these and say "I wish I had one of those!"

Foreign power wires and adaptors for England, France, Germany, etc. fill up one segment of my wires collection. I don't travel as often as I used to, but it's still necessary to have some of these special wires, otherwise your regular wires can't do their duty.

Audio wires carry the sound signals from a source to an amplifier. The pictured wires all have RCA plugs, in single, paired, or multiple channel configurations. I've owned the green wires on the right since 1969, when I left home to go to college. The rest I have accumulated very carefully. They are part of the collection.

The green wires carried the signal to my first set of speakers. (Why yes, I do still have those speakers - when you buy the wood and cloth, then design, build, finish and wire them - you keep them!).

Apple Wires are not always specific to Apple computer equipment, but Apple has wisely stuck with this white-wire branding, and it's easy to tell your Apple cables and adaptors from the rest of the pile collection. These are the items I have left over after hooking up 7 Apple computers and phones at my house.

Network or CAT 5 Cables are almost passe nowadays, what with wireless routers. But I'm willing to bet that most of us are not on the cloud yet, and we all have a few of these around the house or office. I've got several dozen snaking around my basement, even though I use a wireless router, because cables are faster and more reliable when streaming large audio and video files.

USB cables are ubiquitous nowadays. I have all sorts - short ones, long ones, cables for cameras, phones, hard drives, extensions, voltage tappers, PC keyboard to USB, etc. Maybe there are 20 spares, not counting the ones in use.

Firewire cables were used to carry signals to printers and big drives, and are now at the end of their lifecycle. I probably ought to toss them out but some are so beautifully braided and feel so nice - they almost make me want to buy some old drives so I can use them again.

Telephone wires are also approaching the end of their lifecycle in my house, but I have these cables and adaptors from 20 years ago when I first set up my home office with 3 telephone lines. Notice the white Apple phone cords in the center? On the left is a credit-card-sized rewinding phone cable for travelers needing to hook their laptops to a telephone modem.

Test Leads are the good wires. The tool wires. The jumper wires with alligator clips. I've owned and used these particular wires for 40 years. (Yes, my middle names used to be Radio and Shack.) They carry any kind of electrical current or signal from points A to B when you don't have the proper adaptor or you just want a temporary connection. Yes, it is possible to melt them, cut them up in the fan blades of the car, or get shocked using them. I've done all that, and more. I bought the same kind again. So they are my partners and friends. The wires on the left are alternate leads for my Fluke voltmeter and other testers. The main leads are connected to the testers, of course.

I have lots more wires. I've spared you the boredom of all the voltage adaptors, converters, phone chargers, etc. etc. They accumulate - I don't collect them. And I don't mind throwing out one or two.

I'm excluding TV wiring, coaxial, HDMI, optical, etc. Not that I don't have some of those cables, but I don't care about TV very much, and as a result I really don't care much about those signal carriers. Besides, they're all used up on the entertainment center, which has a door behind it so I needn't get on my knees and climb around while messing around with my wires.

Do I have a collection of wires? Heck yes.

PS - I've got to put all my wires away now - but you can go here and read more.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Accumulation or Collection? Part III

My last few posts have asked if a consumable item (tea) could be the focus of a collection. I have concluded that consumables could be the focus of a collection, but not necessarily so. Plenty of consumable items are stockpiled / hoarded by some people, while collected by others. Full definitions of what I mean by each of these words will have to come later.

Today I want to address the concept that a collection can consist of usable, not just observable, items. By observable I  mean enjoyed using all the senses, not just viewing or listening.

What has led me to this? My oriental rugs. We have about 25 woven, knotted and tied fabric items. I say "about 25" because what constitutes a "rug" depends on your definition. For more details, check this Wikipedia article on Persian carpets.

How is our collection usable? They are on the floor, or walls. We walk on them, sit on them, store things within them, and look at them. We curl our toes in them, we stroke them, we brush cat hair off of them. Periodically we take them out on the driveway and vacuum them on both sides. Occasionally we send them off for cleaning. [click any image to enlarge]

It's difficult to convey the totality of the impressions that a house full of rugs can give you - an exotic feel, a sense of luxury, comfort underfoot, a faint smell, a kaleidoscope feeling of color and pattern and shiny / matte reflection and texture ...

As I contemplate the rugs and other weavings, I lament my inability to remember all their names and origins. I can tell you where I bought the rugs, and from whom, and even how much I paid for some of them. But I can no longer articulate the village or style in which they were made, or the meaning of the patterns. I do have the resources - this shelf full of books plus another group of articles and receipts. But there are so many other things to collect, and so little time!

I believe this happens to other collectors too - we simply can't keep track of a collection from 20 years ago with all the details that were so important then. Especially since we have used up brain cells on other, newer, more exciting pursuits. But we can still enjoy and describe this collection aesthetically (if not intellectually) and communally with others.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Accumulation or Collection? Part II

I'm pursuing the distinction between an accumulation of things versus collection with a theme. In my last post, I established 10 guidelines for my collections.
  1. May start by accident but must continue with deliberate intent and specific choice
  2. Need not contain one of everything, especially at the beginning
  3. By definition, does not include everything; collections have limits
  4. Limits are imposed by economics, storage space, taste or other factors
  5. Collected items may have utility but need not be used
  6. Items in the collection must have a tolerably long life span
  7. Changes may occur over time as tastes evolve or the collected items deteriorate or are used up
  8. If someone else uses an item from the collection, the collector bristles
  9. The collected items invite the collector to categorize or arrange / rearrange in different ways
  10. A collection must please the collector and at least one other person
Today I want to consider a consumable collection. I propose that the previously-shown colorful peppers in a bowl ARE NOT a collection. Wines, single-malt whisky and high-class teas MAY BE a collection. Wines and whiskies do not appeal to me as something to collect. Just to drink. But tea is a bit different - long-lived, affordable, enjoyable, classifiable, etc.

Here are some of the teas in our kitchen. [click any image to enlarge] I am leaving out boxes of tea bags and the miscellaneous teas that accumulate as gifts or are brought home from a hotel room. I have not tasted all of these teas, as some are still in vacuum-sealed packages.

Teas invite categorization. There are white teas, green teas, oolong teas, black teas, infusions, etc. Within the categories there are grades of teas, teas from different producers, teas from different regions, teas picked at different times of the year, etc. In considering this I derived another collecting rule:

11. Esoteric language may be needed to describe a collection precisely (pleases other collectors) but common language is best with outsiders.

What do I mean by this?

You can see that I have color-coded my tea containers. An orange band at the bottom enclosing the term 2nd Flush means the tea was picked in the second burst of growth or "flush" which occurs in summer. Generally speaking, first flush teas or springtime teas are greener and more astringent, and third or autumn flush teas are darker and richer and more mature. Tea containers labeled in green text contain green tea.

This simple, clear, color-coded labeling is helpful when answering the question often posed early in the morning by my loving but caffeine-deficient wife "What sort of tea would you like" to which I can reply "anything 2nd flush" or "any green tea" rather than saying "Singbulli Muscatel Delight Second Flush please" and expecting her to sort through these containers.

I'm often asked if I can tell one tea from another. Of course, what sort of collector would I be if I couldn't recognize my items? But that doesn't mean you could dump all the tea in a bowl and expect me to retrieve the leaves separately. Here's a comparison of 3 different teas. My wife's favorite is Tetley; the other two are both 3rd Flush Darjeeling [See A on the map below] teas.

And here's a comparison of two 2nd Flush Darjeeling teas (again with Tetley in the middle). A tea connoisseur would appreciate the large, unbroken leaves, and might suspect the tea on the right to be a green, white or silver tip tea.

Here's a comparison of tea leaves after brewing. It's clear that the leaves differ, the colors vary, and the composition can appear as chunks, chips, stems, leaves or "grounds". 

I've devoted a lot of thought to these teas, built a database to understand my inventory, and blogged about tea. Look here and here or here if you want to read more.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Accumulation or Collection?

What is a collection? vs an accumulation?

In the past few days I've talked about collections of things that are brightly colored - paintings, glassware, etc. And I showed them against our bright white kitchen counter. Here's a bowl full of brightly-colored fruits reminiscent of the group of Nyiri paintings from last week. But is this bowl of edible items a collection?

Most of us probably wouldn't call this a collection, even though the bowl contains a carefully arranged assortment of yellow, orange and red peppers. Where's the green? you'd ask, wondering why I didn't put any green peppers in. Then Why one tomato and one lemon? Why are those in there?

Based on this bowl of peppers, I came up with my own set of 10 rules for collections:

  1. May start by accident but must continue with deliberate intent and specific choice (pre-meditated)
  2. Need not contain one of everything, especially at the beginning (no green; they weren't on sale)
  3. By definition, does not include everything; some things are out (peppers ok, no citrus)
  4. Limits are imposed by economics (price of green peppers), storage (bowl) or other factors
  5. Collected items may have utility but need not be used (watches not worn are still ok)
  6. Items in the collection must have a tolerably long life span (collecting ice cubes wouldn't work)
  7. Changes may occur over time as tastes evolve or the collected items deteriorate (get eaten)
  8. If someone else uses item from the collection, the collector bristles (shouts, removes from reach)
  9. Collected items must invite the collector to arrange and rearrange them (beauty in combination)
  10. A collection must please the collector and at least one other (collections are best shared, admired and envied)
I looked at one set of items in my kitchen. I think it's the beginning of a collection but my wife and other friends disagreed. They say it's an accumulation. Or just utilitarian cookware. What do you say?

These are all cast-iron pans. You can see round 7", round 8", round 9", square 10" and round 12" skillets. A 10" Dutch oven, and a 7-compartment biscuit pan. The makers I can identify include Griswold, Lodge and Wagner Ware. Several are devoid of any maker's marks. All are oiled, seasoned, virtually indestructible, and constantly used (except the biscuit pan).

We got the largest skillet by accident from a relative and we liked cooking in it. I hunted down the rest of the round skillets. I bought the square one just to cook bacon and grilled cheese sandwiches. I purchased the Dutch oven specifically, so I could bake country bread loaves in it. I have no idea why I bought the biscuit pan.

I haven't pursued this collection for awhile. I'm busy with collecting other things. But when I go into antique (or kitchen supply) shops, I look at the cast-iron pans. If I see something I like, I might buy it. Does that constitute "intent"? Is it premeditated? Is this collecting in the first degree?

Are my cast-iron pans a collection? Or an accumulation? You tell me. They're certainly not colorful.