What do Madonna, Demi Moore, Paul Keating, Elton John, Jane Seymour, Kelsey Grammer and Tom Hanks have in common? They all collect antiques or art, ranging from antique quilts and vintage photography to rare books and manual typewriters. Tom Hanks is the typewriter collector; he keeps them by the phone and uses them to write notes to his friends. He prefers pre-World War Two examples, which he usually picks up for about US$45 each.
At the other end of the scale you’ll find Ursula Andress, who freely admits that collecting is her passion. She loves furniture, rugs, paintings, frames and in particular a life-size pair of 16th century Spanish lions. Decorated with polychrome gold leaf on wood, the lions were stolen from her home. ‘I got them back,’ she said. ‘It took me six months. Don’t take anything from me, because I’ll track it down.’
Singer/actress Adrienne Barbeau likes firkins. She uses them as waste paper baskets. Small wooden buckets with timber bands, firkins were originally designed as sugar buckets, and early examples can sell for a thousand dollars on the US market. Barbeau also collects primitive American furniture, antique quilts and Fiestaware dinnerware, which she uses every day. Barbeau also uses her quilts; apart from a few that are displayed on the wall, most of her thirty-plus collection are either on beds, or used as throws.
Anita Pointer, from the Pointer Sisters group, has a collection of black memorabilia so large that she thinks it would probably fill a basketball court if you spread it all out. She began collecting in the early 1980s, when she bought a Dancing Sam doll. There was, she says, a lot more around thirty years ago, when you could pretty much find items everywhere: ‘Not any more; black memorabilia has become a popular collectable.’ Pointer has literally thousands of items, ranging from quilts to salt and pepper shakers and biscuit jars to mechanical banks.
And she has hundreds of dolls – black Kewpies, black Hawaiian hula girls, a black Raggedy Ann and even a black doll made from a bottle. Since Pointer started collecting, there’s even an annual Black Memorabilia Price Guide on the US market.
When Elton John sold off his antique and Deco collection two and a half decades ago, he had enough to fill four Sotheby’s catalogues. A perennial collector, these days the singer collects work by the pioneers of photography, including Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray and Imogen Cunnginham. He has nearly 3000 pieces in his collection, which he allows to tour to the occasional museum. He’s not the only celebrity to lend his collection to the people. Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has one of the greatest collections of pre-Raphaelite paintings in the UK, often lends pieces to public galleries and exhibitions.
Demi Moore’s collection of antique dolls is legendary. It was once reported that she had so many, she bought a house especially for their display. But it’s not only dolls that are her passion; Ms Moore is also a collector of vintage designer clothing. UK actress Jane Seymour also collects vintage clothing – and has done for four decades. ‘When I hear that vintage is in,’ she says, ‘I think, I’ve been wearing vintage for the last forty years!’ One of her favourite items is a 1970s coat given to her by June Cash, Johnny’s wife. ‘Everyone said, that coat is so amazing! Where did you get it?’ Seymour is also a fan of vintage teapots, a collection that started by accident but has now assumed a life of its own.
Sometimes a collection does start totally by accident. Take Robert Opie. In 1963, whilst eating a packet of sweets, it occurred to him that the packet the sweets came in could be an important part of history, so he kept it. He now has a collection encompassing every conceivable form of packaging, including an amazing 10,000 different yoghurt containers!
Some celebrities collect purely to invest. Madonna, who famously said she began buying paintings ‘As soon as I had the bread’, reportedly has a vast collection that includes a Picasso purchased in 1990 for US$1million. Sylvester Stallone is a fellow lover of art. And if you move in the right circles, you can even expect a Picasso as a wedding present; when rocker Bill Wyman married teenager Mandy Smith, Mick Jagger gave them a Picasso etching.
Frasier actor Kelsey Grammer not only collects first edition rare books – he actually reads them! He says he’s willing to take the risk of soiling them a little to get the sense of being that much closer to the actual experience, and to the writer. His favourites were given to him by the cast of the show; a William Butler Yeats, and a Robert Burns. ‘And I’m a huge devotee of W.H. Auden,’ he says. ‘I have several of his first editions.’
Now if you’re thinking that amassing these collections would take a lot of time and money but not a lot of physical effort, you’re right. For broadcaster, writer and filmmaker Philip Adams, adding to his collection is far more physical. An archaeologist in his spare time, Adams has travelled the world to participate in a number of digs and unearth a treasure or two to what is recognised as the largest private collection of antiquities in Australia.
With items ranging from mummy cases and coins to ancient lamps and weapons, the Adams collection tells the tales of ancient Aztecs, Mayans, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The first piece of the collection was found somewhere altogether less exotic, however; it was, says Adams, when he was in the wilds of Old Bond Street in London with entertainer Barry Humphries. Whoever said antiques were dull!
If you’re a celebrity, there’s always the possibility that people might want to collect something of yours. And if you’re really famous, it could be your rubbish. A lady named Lydia Pullman, of KoKomo in Indiana, hit on the idea of collecting discarded Thigh Masters belonging to the rich and famous. That’s right; Thigh Masters. She’s got an old one of Cher’s, and another that was Bruce Willis’s but was found mint in box. (Bruce was nice enough to sign the box for her). She’s also got Thigh Masters that once belonged to Anna Nicole Smith and Tori Spelling. Only in America.