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.