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Comments (1) Posted 06.23.13 | PERMALINK | PRINT

John Foster

Birds of a Feather


The grouping of similar objects can be an exhilarating experience for visual people. In fact, a common denominator of any connoisseurship is the contrasting and comparison of similar objects. As a boy, I collected coins, among many other things. As I built my penny collection, I was constantly looking to improve it by replacing a coin of lesser condition with a better one. My fellow collectors and I graded coins by two key attributes: condition and rarity. Of course, the more rare the coin, the more forgiving you could be as to its condition. For example, just to own a 1909 S-VDB penny in any condition — as long as the date of the coin was legible — made your collection extremely special. With only 484,000 VDB pennies released to the public in 1909, the VDB was the holy grail of the first wave of wheat penny collectors. As for my collection, I never found one, and never knew anyone who owned one.

Today, collecting a group of similar objects, like my penny collection, can be as simple as grouping just the photographs of similar things. I am reminded of the popular poster I have seen of “Doors of Ireland,” where a photographer grouped and contrasted similar front doors. The many shapes and colors were an instant hit in decorator shops. Putting similar objects side-by-side allow you to see the beautiful and often subtle differences.

This week I share the taxonomies of many things, from groupings of actual objects to photographic comparisons, like Wisconsin deer stands. Quirky collections are the most fun. I have a friend who collects fallen cat whiskers from the floor of her home (they have 10 cats). The whiskers are displayed on the windowsill of her kitchen, in a small bottle. The whiskers sit large end down and emerge from the top. Looking like a small shaving brush, its mystery and reason for being collected at all defy the rational. I think it’s great.


Groupings
A collection of 9 vintage wrenches. Photography © Diana Zlatanovski

Groupings
A collection of 9 antique metal catchers masks. 

Groupings
A collection of 20 seashells. Photography © Diana Zlatanovski

Groupings
An assorted collection of 15 peppers. Photography © Diana Zlatanovski

Groupings
A collection of 10 custom mounted antique and vintage car and truck metal reflectors measuring 6 1/2" to 11 1/2" on their stands.

Groupings
A collection of 104 antique wooden spinning tops. All different colors, surfaces and textures.

Groupings
A photographic collection of scenes from a frosted bedroom window. Photography © Mark Meyer

Groupings
A collection of late 1800's to early 1900's wire hangers   

Groupings
A typology of day/night cottages. Photography © Douglas Ljungkvist.

Groupings
Collection of 5 antique hand-forged steel pitchfork heads measuring 11" to 20".

Groupings
Collection of old workman's vintage shovel handles in cast iron, steel and wood

      Groupings
Photographs of Wisconsin deer stands. Photo © Jason Vaughn

Groupings
Collection of 9 vintage and antique metal children's tricycle seats in greens, blues, navy, and turquoise.

Groupings
Collection of 16 globes. Artist: Wendy Gold

Groupings
Collection of 198 Rocks by © Tabor Robak

Groupings
Collection of Lego figures by StartTheDay

Groupings
Collection of 20 split chocolate bars.

Groupings
Collection of 12 antique cast iron stove grates of various designs measuring 6" to 11" wide.

Groupings
Collected photographs of 42 yellow chairs.

Groupings
Collection of 32 winter stocking hats.

Groupings
Collection of 5 pairs of antique turned wooden croquet posts with original paint.

Groupings
Collection of 12 antique pressed steel child's tricycle running boards in assorted original painted colors. These graphic pieces resemble medieval gorgets or super hero insignia. This collection ranges in size form 9" to 15 ½".

Groupings
Collection of 14 antique 19th and early 20th century wooden hand mirrors with beveled glass ranging in size from 7 1/2" to 15 ¼".
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Comments (1)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

I've always found such arrays of similarity and variation incredibly satisfying, and have a few collections of my own. I hope you've been to the fascinating Mercer Museum, in Doylestown, Pa., which displays the private collections of an early 20th Century doctor who dedicated himself to collecting "American tools". The building itself is a historic (and Escheresque) labyrinth of early cast concrete, filled room by room with eccentric categories such as doll parts, cobblers needles, kitchen utensils, cast glass bottles, and candle holders. It (and his house and ceramic tileworks) are absolutely worth the trip.

06.23.13 at 10:52


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Foster and his wife, Teenuh, have been longtime collectors of self-taught art and vernacular photography. Their collection of anonymous, found snapshots has toured the country for five years and has been featured in Harper’s, Newsweek Online and others.
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