Magpies Squirrels and Thieves by Jacqueline Yallop

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So much of our lives are defined by the objects around us.

Like it or lump it, as a western society we are firmly snagged in a web of consumerism.Collecting, as a hobby, unflinchingly embraces this way of living in all it's good and bad elements. For every person pulled into a financial black hole under the weight of the ever-growing pile of objects, there is a person who scouts out a rare beauty that defines a time period or an emotion encapsulated in a treasure.

Now I love to sit down and faun at the objects that turn up on The Antiques Roadshow,Bargain Hunt and Flog it, and I may or may not even have a little mental wish list of historical objects I'd love to own in a mini museum should I ever win the lottery (First Edition signed copy of The Picture of Dorian Grey, I'm looking at you). It turns out that, in the Victorian period, more people than ever before took their new wealth and turned to collecting. Magpies, Squirrels and Thieves tells their story.

Yallop's writing is engaging and tells the history of several prominent Victorian collectors. Through her research and a creative flourish in her writing that steps us vibrantly into the past, she tells a story of these people's passions, adventure, ambitions, frustrations and fortune.

From the pompous career focused stubbornness of John Charles Robinson we learn about the developments of museums and the tension between the public and private spheres of collecting in Victorian society. Through the domestic adventure of Charlotte Schreiber and her husband we see a private adventure as they explored war-torn Europe on their quest for treasure, with Charlotte challenging the assumptions of her gender with her enthusiastic engagement and the knowledgeablity of her collecting. From the inspiring business sense of Murray Marks we learn the fashions of collecting and threats of forgeries. And through the story of the eager and modest curiosity of the doctor Stephen Wootton as he took up residence in peaking, China, we see how collecting could not only make the career of even an ordinary man, but also aid in the appreciation of a foreign culture beyond ethnic stereotypes and imperial ambition. Lovely.
With charming well-researched writing Yallop creates a wonderful history book that is both well-researched yet not intimidatingly academic. You’re sure to leave the book with a few more historical heros and heroines for your own collection.

On an interesting note, you can to this day still pick up Charlotte Schreiber's journals of her travels collecting ceramics.

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