The 1990s saw the maturing of the ‘baby boomer’ generation born after the Second World War. There was a growing interest in genealogy and in New Zealand’s recent past. Old tobacco tins, for example, which might once have been used as nail containers in the back shed, were now seen as relics of a bygone era.
This period saw the emergence of ‘kiwiana’, reflecting some of the more colourful and distinctive aspects of New Zealand life. Among the more collectable items were those produced by Crown Lynn Potteries, including the classic New Zealand Railways cup and kiwi vase.
In 1996 Sofia Gooch of Linwood, Christchurch, had a collection of 4,500 vehicle spark-plugs. She had moved on from her previous interest in collecting teaspoons, and even wore spark-plug earrings. She told The Press that while spark plugs looked very similar to most people, in fact they were all slightly different.
From the beach and shed
New Zealand’s extensive coastline has provided rich pickings for collectors of shells, flotsam and jetsam. The country’s many sheds and farm buildings have also been boons for collectors, who have preserved discarded items, giving them a second life as collectables.
New Zealand collectors have trawled for material in auction houses, in antique, second-hand and opportunity shops and at white elephant stalls and jumble sales. From the 1970s garage sales and early-morning markets provided further collecting opportunities. A major change in the 2000s has been the closure of many second-hand shops and the rise in popularity of online sources, such as the website Trade Me, which in July 2012 claimed to have 2.9 million members.
Collecting motivations and psychology
Collectors collect for a range of reasons. Some have a scholarly interest in the subject of their collection. Collectors such as Robert McNab gathered manuscripts and books which formed the basis of their (and future) studies in New Zealand history. 19th-century recorders of Māori history and traditions, such as John White and Hoani Nahe, also fall into this category.
In 1894 the Otago Witness newspaper’s column on collecting commented: ‘Some new craze is always cropping up and old ones dying out. Perhaps the different collecting manias that ever and anon take possession of us are the most satisfactory, for when they are over we have at least something to show for our enthusiasm. Some of these, however, have not the slightest interest for anyone but the collectors themselves or those possessed of a like passion. China, photographs, even autographs, all appeal to our artistic tastes … but what can be more depressing than page after page of stamps?’1
Motivating factors for collectors include nostalgia, a desire to connect with past generations and understand their lives, support for and interest in contemporary artists, and simple love and appreciation of the objects collected.
Some collect for investment purposes, in the belief that the objects will increase in value. In the 1980s, for instance, demand for 19th- and early-20th-century New Zealand art increased dramatically, driven by investors who were not necessarily interested in artistic qualities.
Collectors are sometimes accused of harbouring obsessions or falling victim to crazes. Some collect a particular object, artist or writer, while others collect a range of items. The quest for collectables is often cast as a hunt – in 1936 Johannes Andersen of the Alexander Turnbull Library published The lure of New Zealand book collecting, in which he wrote of ‘sportsmen-collectors’ and ‘fever-hallucination’, and the feeling that ‘I must have this.’2