An Interview with Maurice Collins: Owner of one of Britain’s most peculiar collections
Eccentric Maurice Collins, owner of a weird and wonderful collection of off-beat antique gadgets, is bringing along a selection of some of his more ingenious and outrageous exhibits to the Antiques for Everyone Summer Fair from 20-23 July at the NEC Birmingham.
From adjustable skirt lifters, nose shapers, Jolly Duchess Pills to improve complexion, and corset testers; to more practical devices designed to make our lives - especially women’s lives - just a little less arduous like the mechanical vacuum cleaner and a food chopper and grater.
We caught up with Maurice to ask him about his spectacular collection.
How did you start collecting?
It started as a hobby to share with my son Paul to compensate for all the time I was spending looking after Kim, my disabled daughter. He said he wanted to go bottle-digging in Victorian rubbish dumps. We uncovered pot lids and old bottles including a genuine Hiram Codd mineral water bottle, with a pointed bottom and a marble in the neck to stop the contents’ gas escaping and the drink going flat. I was hooked and I’ve been collecting ever since.
How do you decide what to include and what to exclude?
The crazier the item, the more I feel it should be in the collection. Who has heard of a system of smoking two cigarettes at the same time, or a semi-automatic cherry pipper?” The majority of objects fall roughly within a hundred years, from the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 to the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Do you have a favourite piece?
My all-time favourite piece happens to be my clockwork teasmade dating from 1902 which, was made in Birmingham. The Science Museum has one in its collection. I love the design and look of it, the bright polished copper, the tilting mechanism with the large clock face behind. It is one of the most beautiful pieces in my collection and a joy to watch in action.
How big is your collection now and what has it taught you?
From that first Codd water bottle my collection has grown to a staggering 2000 individual items. I’m quite meticulous, each one is carefully catalogued and stored eight to a box (depending on size), with an individual description.
I’m continually amazed by man’s ingenuity and inventiveness and particularly the Victorians, who were bristling with new ideas. I’ve learnt that nearly every gadget has its predecessors, and many have successors today. Often the objects are hilarious or ridiculous, yet even in some of these, is the germ of an idea that later generations have perfected.
Tell us about your new book
I’m launching a new book: ‘Bizarre & Outlandish Gadgets & Doohickeys: Used in Everyday Life-1851 to 1951’ by Schiffer Publishing. It contains, everything from time-and-money-saving devices to Victorian fashion accessories and items of outrageous quackery. I’ll even sign a copy for you at the Antiques for Everyone Summer Fair where the launch will take place. All proceeds will be donated to the Dorris Collins Learning Disability Charitable Trust.
How can I find out more?
Join me for my talk at the Antiques for Everyone Summer Fair,
it entitled ‘Bizarre and unusual contraptions and gadgets between 1851 and 1951’ – where I will demonstrate some of the products and explain how they were distributed, advertised and sold. It will be a great opportunity to discover the origins of some of the essential household devices today.
Why did you decide to show your Collection at the Summer Fair?
Antiques for Everyone is a great place to search for antiques and find out about their history from the specialist dealers. As the largest fair of its type outside of London, it attracts a huge number of visitors of all ages and as my collection is for all ages, I think it makes a great fit. I look forward to providing an educational and interesting feature exhibition this Summer.
About Antiques for Everyone
The Summer Fair brings together 200 specialist dealers showcasing more than 50,000 pieces, from jewellery, furniture, ceramics, silver and glass to decorative items, Art Deco, 20th century design, paintings, sculpture and more.
All items for sale are vetted by experts for quality, date and condition and with prices starting from £10 and going up to £100,000, there’s something for everyone.
Antiques for Everyone Summer Fair will be at the NEC, Hall 5 from 20- 23 July 2017. Admission costs from £12 in advance (£15 on the door) and includes free parking and a visitor guide. For further information and to book tickets visit: antiquesforeveryone.co.uk