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In the eighteenth century, collecting was the preserve of the landed gentry, who mostly brought art and sculptures. This required a certain education, a large amount of floor and wall space, and also a lot of money. However, in the nineteenth century, this changed considerably. There was an explosion of collectors of all types - notably of less expensive, smaller items. This was a Victorian phenomenon, virtually unknown in the rest of Europe - a search for objects that people could enjoy in their homes. In England, there was an emerging network of museums and a quest for education of the masses and self improvement. Towns vied with each other in building libraries and museums, designed to fill their inhabitants with wholesome activities for their leisure time.

This extremely interesting book looks at five Victorian collectors - from the professional to the eccentric - and explores the way Victorian collectors went to almost any lengths to find that elusive item they wanted, needed and had to have. There is John Charles Robinson, curator at what would become the Victoria and Albert Museum, and founder member of the Fine Arts Club. Lady Charlotte Schreiber was the widow of a steel magnate and a traveller, who scoured Europe for treasures. Murray Marks was a professional dealer, as well as a collector, mainly dealing in Holland. Joseph Mayer was a Liverpool jeweller, who liked to collect Roman remains, Egyptian antiquities, coins and Anglo Saxon archeology. Lastly, there is Stephen Wootton Bushell, who was the doctor to a British delegation in China, who became an expert on Chinese art. This was a time when people could collect items which would now be considered as belonging to countries, rather than individuals, and the people in this book took full advantage of this ability.

None of these people are now well known and the author has brought them vividly and wonderfully to life, in all their eccentric and wonderful glory. The Victorians had a desire to know about everything and, for them, no knowledge was unimportant. Whether a person was interested in art, glass or fans, their collecting was seen as a valid hunt and the collecting bug was widespread. It was a fashionable hobby and those that could, indulged it to the full. I am sure you will enjoy this book, although sometimes you may be incredulous at the lengths some of the collectors went to - or, if you are a collector too, perhaps you will understand and even admire. Great fun and very interesting to read about how museums evolved in the Victorian era. Highly recommended.
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on 25 April 2013
It is a very long time since I did not finish a book I started. I couldn't finish this one, though, and I'm not sure why.
The subject should be interesting, given the breadth and diversity of Victorian collecting. But I only got about 10% before I had to give up. It had not gripped me at all.
For me, the writing is just to dull. It's a bit like a students first long essay: the author wants to get everything in, making sure the reader is fully aware of the effort and research that has gone in, without then getting a good editor to strip out all the unnecessary stuff. I also found it rather repetitive, the same information or point appearing time and time again.
Other reviewers have obviously found the book impressive, but it didn't work for me.
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on 5 January 2018
Excellent book. Delighted that it came with the library protective cover.
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VINE VOICEon 25 May 2011
If you've ever wanted to better understand the eccentricities of some of the leading (but not necessarily famous) collectors of 19th century Victorian society then this book is ideal. To be honest I purchased it on a whim and, luckily, it turned out to be both erudite and (marvellously) entertaining. I suspect modern-day collectors and anyone who is interested in Victorian society and culture, or in the evolution of museums and galleries, will find much to enjoy in this book. It is well written and, for a non-fiction book, something of a page-turner. Highly recommended.
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on 16 February 2012
Well, well, well. Well researched, well written and leaves you with a sense of well being. A really great read, fascinating historical references on people, society and how the world got to where it is in many ways. Thoroughly recommendable.
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on 12 May 2011
I've read one of Yallop's novels and so was interested to see this non-fiction book. I have to say I really enjoyed it. The stories of the individual collectors are fascinating; each is a slightly different kind of collector, giving a different viewpoint on both collecting and the period. They were all quite mad! And Yallop uses these stories really well to discuss the broader context of collecting, and to bring in lots about the Victorians, their philosophies and world-view without it seeming heavy going in any way. Intelligent, thought-provoking and really entertaining. I think this book will do really well.
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on 26 September 2011
Fascinating account of Victorian collectors. Not a topic I'd usually be interested in, but the book carried me along. It's very well-written - erudite, but easy-going. The collectors are real characters, and the author fondly details all their different neuroses and eccentricities. Entertaining stuff!
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on 1 June 2012
I read only 9% of this book and got as far as Chapter 4, and then gave up, wishing I had sampled it instead of trusting to the 5star reviews. It is not badly written, but it reads like an MA, or possibly a PhD thesis, and the author has a tendency to include small lists in her sentences - not surprising, given the subject matter. History can be made fascinating - Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder is as readable as a novel, but it takes a truly gifted writer to achieve that. Jacqueline Yallop's writing is fine for a historian, but not up to the demands of making history enthralling to the ordinary reader. There is nothing actually wrong with the book, and maybe it gets more interesting if I had carried on reading, which is why I gave it 3 stars, but I am surprised that the earlier reviewers were so fascinated by it - they are obviously more easily fascinated than I am. Sample before you buy.
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on 11 June 2013
I've bought this book to help research a project i'm working on - its taking forever to read (I've had it months) its just not that inspiring. It goes on a bit when you want to read something really fascinating! Bit of a disappointment - so I've ended up turning to other books - its also very thick - not such a good book to carry around in your bag.
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on 15 May 2013
I'm not usually one to give up on books and the premise of this one sounded great, but i just couldn't engage with it on any level and gave up.
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