Everyone collects something. Many people start out determined to live simply and soon find that that isn't really feasible -- or desirable. They begin to get things they need and then see things they like and want to own.
We collect things because they touch a sentimental nerve or because they will increase in value or because they hold for us a part of our past. Glass has a rich history that dates back 3,500 years. Historians believe the Phoenicians were the first to make molded glass. Glass beads and amulets -- richly colored, in the preferred Egyptian style, by the addition of minerals -- that date from 2,000 B.C. have been found in Egyptian tombs, where the precious objects were interred with their owners. Vessels as well, such as jugs and vases, were used to hold the oils and cosmetics used by Egyptian women. The Roman Empire adopted the art of glass blowing, which probably originated in Sidon, and the art spread to glassworks throughout the Roman provinces, to the Rhineland, France and the British Isles.
The first free-blown bottles were formed in about the first century B.C. Roman Britain became a popular producer of bottles, although bottle making declined when the Romans left the British Isles, not to be renewed until medieval times. Bottle making flourished in the 17th century, when the art spread to newly settled America, practiced by artisans from England and Germany. By the 19th century, Americans were producing cheaper, pressed glass that was highly designed, although the more costly blown handmade glass remained prized.
The brass and glass inkwell pictured here was probably part of a turn-of-the-century desk set. The silver-topped perfume atomizer, with its glass topper still intact, may have held a woman's favorite scent, resting in her purse as she sat at an evening's entertainment. The amethyst-tinted bottle, an early example, was most likely used to hold essence or medicine, as was the narrow, more common, green bottle.
The things we collect are what make the difference between a decorator showroom and a home. People often make the mistake of thinking that what they've collected is somehow not "good" enough to be displayed prominently. Yet objects chosen because they appealed to their owner, for whatever reason, have their own integrity.
In the book Billy Baldwin Decorates, the decorator, whose talent was honed by many great women (among them the Baroness Philippe de Rothschild and the decorator Ruby Ross Wood), writes: "The way people accumulate and display objects can add immeasurably to a room's vitality. For a decorator to go out and buy a whole collection at one fell swoop is almost an invasion of privacy. To display it formally in some ghostly lighted cabinet, as the French often do, makes me shudder. I love to see collections that have been gathered over the years kept right out in the open as the English keep them -- on tables and commodes where you can see them and touch them."