Lock collector Raine Borg

All the contents on Historicallocks.com is produced by Raine Borg, passionate lock collector. These are his thoughts about his hobby of collecting things.

“I’m a born collector,” or “I’m a collector by nature,” are common clichés. But in my case it’s true – to my mother’s great horror, I was an eager collector even as a child. I found, picked up and dragged home all sorts of (in my opinion) strange and important things, filling my little cupboard with them. Things like mysterious small metal objects and softly rounded stones of different colors. As I started going to school, these fascinations were expanded with tin soldiers, pictures of my idols and marbles of stone and glass. Later, I became obsessed with old coins and stamps, and in my teens I collected classical music on vinyl. As an adult, my interests shifted to recorded music, reference books on a range of topics, gemstones, locks and keys, antique tools, scissors, ancient Chinese bronze and jade, and other strange things.

The many years I spent seeking out, documenting and analyzing medieval baptismal fonts throughout the province of Småland is another example of pure and simple collecting.

Why collect things? What does collecting mean to me as an ethnologist?

In the prehistoric era, people collected things to survive. And that instinct is still with us. People seem to still be hardwired to collect, eternally equipped with the possessive urge. A difficult question to answer is: Where do you draw the line between saving and collecting?
What purposes or goals have I had in my collecting? I don’t collect everything, only items in a number of limited areas of interest – which do, of course, contain many variations. My interest in historical things and cultural aspects, and in people’s lives in different communities and contexts, contributes to this. Then there are the images and the need to analyze, interpret and learn from things, to tell a story and hold lectures. I have a great need to use my knowledge to try and reunite objects with their national and temporal context. I rarely buy something I already have – I don’t collect duplicates. Personally, I think collecting is a good, often useful and enriching hobby that gives me a lot of satisfaction. 

There are many reasons for collecting things. To build up and own a collection of trophies, to achieve social status, to highlight your identity. To have an interesting hobby and find new destinations for travel, to obtain research data and to invest capital. Another important reason for collecting may be to show off your results. To a large degree, this applies to me, too.

You may ask, what is it that’s so special about collecting locks and keys? What are the driving forces behind it? To me, it’s the cultural history, the development and finesses of technology, the craftsmanship, the shape and appearance of the artifacts, the exciting process, and the search for all the missing links so I can learn more to tell about. I see collecting as a contest – I’m trying to be the best in the field!

So what is so special about collecting and writing about antique jade from China? To me it’s a way of getting to know the country and people of China and their fabulous, ancient cultural history.

The collecting process
Collecting is an exciting, fun phase of the process. I know that there are not many stories about collecting, so I’d like to describe how a new chapter in the web book historicallocks.com came to be. I decided to write a chapter on main entrance door locks.

The locks I’m thinking of came into use in Sweden in the 1880s, and are still used today in a more modern form. So far, the web book has not given these locks the historical role they deserve.

I grew up in Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast. I have a very clear memory of the lock on the front door of our apartment building in the area of Redbergslid. A little black thing on the interior side of the door, with a brass knob to open the lock. From the outside, you opened the door with a little key, with a saw-type bit. On the flat front of the brass knob, the word YALE was inscribed in all caps with a frame around it. To our family, the lock was an element of everyday life; it always worked and no one ever gave it a moment’s thought.

I found the same kind of lock at a collector’s market in the southern province of Skåne in late July 2009. The proud YALE on the brass knob tugged at my memory and I bought it. It was just like the one from my childhood. Or so I thought. A month later I discovered another, similar lock. The same type, but not quite. The only thing that was really the same was the brass knob with the name. Of course I knew from the start that it was a door lock with a cylinder, designed in the United States by father and son Linus Yale, in the mid-19th century.

I began digging through the product catalogues of several companies, and soon discovered that some businesses imported these cylinders or manufactured them under license in Europe. Curiously, all of them used similar lock housings as those manufactured under license. My curiosity was piqued. I started searching for these locks at collectors’ markets, and found a large number of different varieties, even within a given company. I currently have over thirty locks, and I still don’t know how many varieties there are.

I had to collect a large number before I began to piece it all together, how they came about and what happened along the way. The next step was to describe the differences in the locks and how they developed over the years.

The final question is, what do I do with the collection now that I’ve written about it?  Who wants to acquire a heap of very similar locks? A museum, perhaps?

Collecting as a concept, by definition
The verb “collect” has several definitions. To gather, assemble or get together, to bring together in one place. “Collecting” is an elusive phenomenon.

When do possessions become a collection?
From historicallocks.com
It depends on what you collect. If your penchant is collecting rare, expensive things, then the quantity will naturally be less and you will have a collection with only a few objects. If you collect more common objects, such as stamps or matchboxes, a collection often consists of hundreds.

How do you go about collecting?
Locks that are worth collecting can sometimes be found at auctions, collectors’ fairs, and flea markets. To be successful at collecting, it’s a good idea to learn as much as possible about the objects you collect. Learn by studying museum exhibits, and take pictures of locks and keys to create your own reference library. This helps you avoid being defrauded with counterfeits or reconstructions of old locks. It is also important to keep track of your collection to avoid buying duplicates.

“The Great Collector” was an exhibition at Stockholm’s Nordic Museum in 2007

A compilation of the museum’s texts

What is it that brings out the collector in us, how do you start collecting things, what do you collect, and is it possible to stop collecting?

The exhibition consisted of a tiny fraction of everything that 63 big-time collectors from all over Sweden had collected. Old fishing lures, thimbles, elegant silk ties, citrus presses, animal figurines, handkerchiefs with and without embroidery, model ambulances, scented erasers, Kinder Surprise toys, PEZ dispensers, candy tins, old decks of cards, egg cups from around the world, flashlights, rat traps and collector’s items related to ABBA, watermelons, ships and Tintin.

People collect everything under the sun
Most people collect something; our general prosperity and need for relaxing leisure activities are surely some of the reasons for this. Collectibles are in the eye of the beholder – people collect everything under the sun. Many collect just one type of object, preferably little things that don’t take up much space or cost very much. Collecting, sorting, fleshing out the collection and organizing seem to have a great value in themselves.

Why do people collect things?
There are many reasons for collecting things, for example to remember and preserve. This is particularly true of toys and small items from childhood. Utility items and objects that are disappearing in modern society are other examples. Other reasons for collecting can be to keep up with the Joneses, to master something, or to exhibit your collection. Another reason might be for the sheer investment value. But for many of the collectors in the exhibition, collecting seems to be about creating order.

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