The Big Collections
As I write this, I am sitting in the Canadian Rocky Mountains running a conference (about a different kind of glass) and I am contemplating the “big collections” of carnival glass and how we don’t see or hear much about them these days. One of the questions I ask many collectors at conventions or auctions is how many pieces of carnival glass they have, and the huge majority these days are finding collections of three hundred pieces or less. In the past, the answers used to be in the thousands, with some people even having hundreds of examples of just one pattern (usually Holly or Grape and Cable or one of the other popular patterns).
We have seen in the past fifteen years or so many of the “big” collections come up for auction (sadly, a lot of those times have been with the passing of the collectors). Each auction was an “event” with people scrambling to buy (and break up) the collection and scatter it across the globe. Quite a few of the pieces in my collection are from those type of auctions because each one of those pieces reminds me of the original owner (and it’s funny how we can place emotional transference onto a piece of carnival, one of the reasons why provenance is such a key to driving sales values higher and higher). I have a piece from the Matheny collection, one from the Cinclair collection, one from the Phillips collection, etc. Those are the pieces that will tend to stay with me for the rest of my collecting days.
We have also seen in the past two decades some super collections get built, but then get sold (while the collectors either stay in the hobby or move on to something else). Pete and Paula Bingham amassed a fantastic collection (both in size and value), and then they had the 2006 auction and the pieces were scattered out again. Stacy and Des Wills put together an amazing collection (remember that basement??) that then was split up and sold over several years. And there have been even more.
Now of course, this isn’t a new thing. There was the Moore collection, the Cox collection, the Bacon auction, etc. It seems that big collections are cyclical (and there are still some enormous collections out there). But moving forward, who is building that big collection? Is it something of the past that is phasing out, or something that will develop again in time?
One such big collection is about to be sold in three different auctions: the Tarkington collection. You may remember my remembrance of Carlton Tarkington here in The Pump, and the Tarkingtons had put together one tremendous collection. We are very fortunate at ICGA to have the first of the three auctions coming to our convention next year in St. Louis. I have seen Carlton buying some of those special pieces at the many auctions mentioned earlier here, and now provenance will have to determine whether it’s a “Tarkington” piece or tied to the previous owner. Regardless, it will be a very special piece and I look forward to remembering my conversations with Carlton while the pieces are selling next July. Perhaps some of you will buy some of those pieces to put into your next big collection…