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Magpies, Squirrels and Thieves
on 2 May 2011
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.