EXPERT ADVICE

Collective Intelligence

Few travelers intend to become collectors. They see something they like and they buy it—and next thing you know, they're installing vitrines in the living room.

Paula Morgan of Nashville, Tenn., collects mortar and pestles

Diana Britt, Pasadena, Calif.

WHAT I COLLECT As a military kid, I never got out of the habit of wandering the earth and bringing home bits of it. My obsession with fans started in 1988 on a trip to Indonesia. I couldn't buy just one—which is why I have 80 now!

WHAT I'VE LEARNED... Some of my best pieces commemorate a location, including a fan from Greenwich, England, that looks like a clock. All time zones were once tied to Greenwich Mean Time because the area is at zero longitude.

If possible, I try to meet the person who made the fan. Near Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, I purchased a water-reed fan from an elderly man who had been crafting them for decades. I treasure my photograph of him holding the fan; it's sort of like a certificate of authenticity.

I have no problem buying more than one at the same spot. I went crazy at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain—in the gift shop, I bought half a dozen fans with wild patterns.

Paula Morgan, Nashville, Tenn.

WHAT I COLLECT My hobby began in 2003 when a striped mortar and pestle caught my eye in St. Augustine, Fla. After that, they just kept appearing to me whenever I was traveling.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED... When I was on a cruise to Turkey, the ship's staff chanted, "You see it, you like it, you buy it!" It has become my philosophy, because if you stumble upon something unusual, you can assume that you won't find another item like it.

The more valuable mortars and pestles have a story to tell. For instance, a green ceramic mortar that I bought in Athens, Greece, has ancient drawings on it, and the pestle says "Hygeia." It was the perfect find, because Hygeia was the Greek goddess of health, and Athens, Ga., is where I went to pharmacy school.

Also, ask others to collect for you. My mother got me a wooden set from a Shaker village in Kentucky. It's as plain and simple as the Shakers themselves.

Joan Loomis, Portland, Ore.

WHAT I COLLECT I got into cookbooks while working as a flight attendant in the 1980s. In Greece, I bit into an amazing lamb souvlaki at a food market. I had to learn how to make that dish just so that I could relive the moment.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED... Find cookbooks that will remind you of a scent. I was overcome by the Tabasco-saturated air on Avery Island, La.—there's a Tabasco factory in town—so I got The Tabasco Cookbook and mini bottles of the stuff to keep in my travel bag.

I also buy restaurant cookbooks. In Budapest, I had a revelation when I first tasted smoked liver at Gundel. The next day, I bought a copy of Gundel's Hungarian Cookbook and picked up some smoked paprika.

Don't be afraid of books with recipes you'll never cook. I'll never prepare pickled lampreys from Russian Cuisine, but the recipe is fun to read. The instructions say to "remove the head and mucus, which is sometimes poisonous."

Sue Morgan, Huntsville, Ala.

WHAT I COLLECT My mom gave me my first piggy bank when I turned 9, and I now have almost 500—maybe that's because I grew up in an era of save, save, save.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED... Piggy banks come in all shapes, sizes, and materials: cast iron, rubber, resin, coconut shells, and even cloth. I once bought a pig made of red mud in a village just outside Caracas, Venezuela. You won't find that in the U.S.!

Amateur collectors may not know this, but coin slots can be anywhere. One of my favorite banks is a Miss Piggy with a slot between her breasts. (I found her in Snohomish, Wash., on my first antiquing trip to the town.)

When your collection gets too big to remember what you do have, think about what you don't have. Musical and talking piggy banks, for example, add a new dimension. One of mine says, "A little change is good, but a lot of change is wonderful!" That pig definitely has attitude.

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