Collecting: A few of my favourite things

Old drinks cans, toy owls, salt-and-pepper pots; in our disposable age, no collection is too ludicrous to consider. And now the hoarders have been validated with a museum devoted to their pursuit. Hester Lacey visited
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The Independent Culture
THOSE LITTLE, BRIGHTLY-coloured, plastic snap-together toys that come in Kinder chocolate eggs: fun for the kiddies for a few minutes but infinitely disposable? Not if you're Jayne Jordan, who's been collecting them since 1989 and now has enough to cover the floor of a fair-sized room: which, coincidentally, is the exhibition space she's been allocated in a new project at the Bargehouse on London's South Bank.

The Museum of Collectors, which was opened by Tony Benn (who himself confesses to collecting mugs, stamps and cameras, and says he is now also amassing broken computers), is the first in a series of five temporary museums to be set up in the substantial brick building on the site of the former royal bargehouse.

The collections featured are the pride and joy of their respective owners. Some are the kind of thing you'll have seen on mantelpieces, shelves and walls up and down the land: miniature owls of all shapes and sizes, rooms plastered with Dolly Parton memorabilia, selections of erasers and badges and troll dolls that would make any schoolchild weep with jealousy, and a rather terrifying range of Care Bears.

Others are more unusual: toast-racks, salt-and-pepper shakers, noisy tin toys, cheesy record sleeves, Eastern European carrier bags, tangerine wrappers (those bits of tissue paper that normally end up in the bin), tree stumps (small ones), and rejection letters.

Gareth Miles collects sweets: all still in their wrappers, all unopened, let alone nibbled. They come from around the world; Japan has some particularly weird confectionery, like the syringes filled with syrup. There is chip- shaped bubblegum in a McDonald's-style red carton, mini plastic lavatories filled with nuggets of chewing-gum and a tin of Chocolate Maggots ("tastier than the average maggot").

"I do suffer from the Willy Wonka syndrome, but it's healthier to collect sweets than to eat them," explains Gareth. "My favourites are the Japanese syringes, so inappropriate, and the nose with green gum in it - sick! It makes it easy for people to know what to buy me when they go away."

David Swift's collection of monsters is housed in a darkened room; the lights go up and down to reveal an impressive range of skulls and skeletons. He's been collecting his current batch of ghouls since 1995. "My bedroom walls were covered with glow-in-the-dark skeletons when I was a kid, but later my collection went into the loft and disappeared. After my father's death and a serious illness I started collecting again, out of a sense of nostalgia for happier times." He still misses the Frankenstein ventriloquist's doll in a coffin-shaped box that he had as a boy.

Ghita Cohen has been collecting miniature houses for 20 years. "My children now bring them back as presents from their travels. I have always been fascinated by architectural forms and I like looking at empty houses and other people's homes." Her favourites are the rougher, hand-made pieces. Lisa-Jane Edwards's collection of houses is also on display. "I started in my twenties and bought one from every place I visited. I didn't know how important it was to me until I realised I'd collected over 10 years, while I was in a particular relationship, but when that ended I stopped - odd!"

Jayne Jordan needs to maintain a regular intake of Kinder eggs - not, it would seem, a great hardship. "I treat it as my after-dinner dessert or snack; it's become part of my diet. I am fascinated by not knowing what's inside. I always want the complete set so I end up collecting more and more - it's addictive."

! The Museum of Collectors (0171 401 2255) is at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, SE1; open Wednesday-Friday, 1-7.30pm and Saturday-Sunday, 12-7.30pm, until 6 March 1999. Admission is free