Collecting bug is 'just something that's in you'

Peter Marsh cannot explain his desire to collect, but says it is something that will never go away.

''It's just something that's in you, something in your system. I will never stop collecting.''

Born and raised in Oldham, near Manchester in the United Kingdom, he first started collecting stamps at the age of 5.

During World War 2 there was little else for children to do, he says.

The 77-year-old remembers swapping his stamps for collectables of a military nature.

''Near where we lived during the war there was a big area fenced off by barbed wire and in the middle were all kinds of army tanks. As kids we used to climb through the barbed wire and get periscopes, which we swapped.''

Mr Marsh still has his first stamp album, to which many others have been added over the years.

Another childhood pastime involved sitting at train stations and ''collecting'' the trains numbered in timetables.

Each train had a number, some were ''namers'', and they were each matched to those in the timetables as they whizzed by.

Today, Mr Marsh's collections comprise thousands of bottles, jars, stamps, phone cards, clay pipes and old chain toilet handles.

Natural treasures include precious gemstones, fossils, shells and minerals.

An amateur radio enthusiast, Mr Marsh also has an array of old morse code sounders and other transmitting equipment.

He keeps half a hand grenade next to ceramic ointment jars, marble bottles from the 1890s and clay whisky bottles in a custom-built treasure trove in his home.

Hundreds of coins adorn a desk top and cards from old cigarette packets hang in frames on the wall.

A selection of Chinese pottery ginger jars decorate the lounge, relics of early settlers seeking their fortune in Otago.

On a sill can be found an assortment of old bottles, pill containers and matchboxes and other packages with their original contents still inside.

Inkwells, bottle stoppers, pie steamers and candle snuffers are all neatly displayed.

Mr Marsh takes pride in his collection, using the limited space available to him.

''More would be on display if I could fit it all in the room.''

Thousands of pens, many containing people's names, are stored in boxes so other pieces can have their time in the limelight.

Mr Marsh and his wife, Mary, moved to New Zealand in 1964, settling in Dunedin where they raised three children.

Family picnics and weekend excursions often became scavenging missions as areas of reclaimed land, beaches and old building sites were searched for curios.

Mr Marsh acquired a metal detector, with which he found three rings in his first 10 attempts.

It also located coins and other items over the years.

Other successful methods of retrieval included wading through waist-deep water on the outskirts of Otago Harbour.

Mr Marsh has found many bottles thrown overboard from ships, including half a dozen ''marble bottles'' which once contained lemonade.

Most bottles were broken by people wanting the marbles inside, which is why they are hard to find whole, he says.

''I've spent hours in a canoe in the harbour basin, walked all around Broad Bay and Portobello and walked a long time in waders. One day I came across a depression in the sand and there at the bottom of the hole were six marble bottles - I could hardly believe my eyes.''

An

bottle of Dunedin ''blood mixture'' tonic dating the 1800s is one of his rarest items.

''At one time it was thought to be the only one in New Zealand, but I have since read it is one of two known to exist.''

Collecting has helped Mr Marsh and his family build up a history of Dunedin, as well as an appreciation of times gone by.

He hopes to see his collections maintained, preferably by family members as they are passed down.

''They represent a lot of hours.''

-rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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