Collector’s Corner — Olivia Todd-Standh, the Ultimate Collector


Collector's Corner — Olivia Todd-Standh, the Ultimate Collector

Here at Krrb Classifieds we love a good collection, especially one that’s unique. From where the collection began to the most significant item, we want to know the story behind it all. So we’re reaching out to collectors everywhere to find out what they collect and why!

Since we introduced this series, we’ve come across many dedicated collectors. Today we’re speaking with Olivia Todd-Standh, a Brooklyn-based UI designer who’s moving to Berlin, Germany. Olivia is a collector’s collector, having curated numerous collections over the years. Although apartment-style living isn’t conducive to amassing belongings but Olivia finds ways to display her various compilations. Read on to see what strikes Olivia’s interest when it comes to collecting.

Hi Olivia! First off, why did you start collecting?

Well, my “first off” to you is a thank you for interviewing me about my collections of collections! I bet there are a lot of other people who end up with mini collections of several things instead of having and hoarding just one or two things they love collecting. I’m not sure what my very first collection was, but when I was in elementary school I was into collecting stamps, coins, stickers, toy cars, tiny dolls, unicorns, teddy bear figurines, old bottles, paper dolls and more. Some of these collections I still have in storage! I also really got into Barbie dolls and have since given those to my niece.

My family has stories of my very earliest collecting when I was first learning to walk. At the end of the day, my pockets would be full of tiny bits of things I found on the ground. I would pick them up off the floor with my little hands and store them in my pocket for whatever reason—I have no memory of this. It’s like some people are wired from the get-go to keep stuff. Growing up, my family didn’t necessarily discourage this kind of collecting because they also enjoy holding on to things to varying degrees. We all try not to let it get out of hand (ha!), we’re very aware of making sure we don’t become hoarders or get burdened by our collections. It’s all about having fun.

Collections sort of find me. I love things that people think are trash or worthless.

How many collections do you have?

I’m not quite sure how many collections I have! Sometimes I don’t realize I have a collection of something, or I give a collection to someone else, so the numbers aren’t so important and I don’t keep track. I’m currently in the process of moving to Europe (in the last throes of relocating from New York City to Berlin) and just gave my collection of vintage rock band carnival mirrors from Long Island and the Jersey Shore to a friend who is into classic rock music. I also gave away my collection of early New York City photos, printed from online when the archives became available to everyone.

What’s the rarest item you have in your collection?

I have no idea! Maybe one of my risqué pulp books? I have some from the 1930’s. One time in 2008, I came across one of the rarest sleaze pulp books in the back of a used book store in Brooklyn Heights, but I didn’t know it at the time. I was just getting into these books because they were usually so cheap and the cover illustrations were bonkers. They were usually priced anywhere from 50 cents to $7. I only start collecting stuff no one really wants, or that I can afford, and this one book was going for $25 and I thought that was ridiculous. It was the original 1959 book Sex Gang by Paul Merchant (the pseudonym of Harlan Ellison who is a well-respected sci-fi writer). It has sold for a crazy sum on eBay before. I went back to the shop a few months later when I realized what I had passed up, but it was gone. I’m pretty sure my least rare items are my CD stickers from the 1990’s. You know those tiny promo stickers that would be on the outside of the shrink-wrapped plastic around a CD’s jewel case? You’re supposed to throw them away, however, I thought they were cool and started sticking them on my CD holder in college. I got quite a collection eventually.

Which collection has the most significance to you and why?

I love my cardboard CD longboxes from the 1990’s! They’re not worth anything to anyone, people threw them away back then (along with the stickers and shrink-wrap). Everybody realized the packaging was wasteful and nobody wanted these, they were such a design misstep. The original album cover layout that was specially and thoughtfully designed for the square record album format was being warped or shrunk down to fit this new, narrow format and it didn’t quite work most times. The record companies needed these tall in height and narrow in width boxes to keep the tiny CD case at the same height of records to fit on the preexisting shelves in stores, but after awhile it got too cumbersome and the misguided long box design wasn’t used anymore. I’m sure there’s a wiki about it. Oh my god, I just found this Youtube video about the packaging.

What do you look for when adding to your collection?

Collections sort of find me. I love things that people think are trash or worthless. I prefer collecting when it’s easy. I get turned off when I start getting into something and I realize there are rabid collectors who are competitive and get complete sets of particular thing. I don’t mean to be negative, but it seems sad and pointless, like it’s stripped of all joy. I don’t want that to be me, I want to have fun with collecting. I want it to always bring me happiness and not be a source of stress or feeling unfulfilled.

All of my collections are incomplete. I’m not into being the authority on vintage pulp books, CD long boxes, Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, cat print fabrics, or even collections of collections. The most dedicated I am is building shelves to showcase the items I collect. I did that with my pulp books and horror VHS’s. I loved the illustrations on the covers, but couldn’t view them when they’re on a typical shelf (all you see are the titles on the spines). So I built really thin shelves, like the kind people have for fancy porcelain plates.

Where do you go to find items?

Thrift stores, usually! I collect and wear vintage and have an Etsy shop where I sell vintage clothes, shoes and accessories. Next is eBay, Krrb and the vintage section of Etsy. In New York City there used to be more used book stores and junk shops, but those places aren’t as common. People throw out a lot of cool stuff on the street, too, but you have to worry about bed bugs, so I stopped taking and reusing what I would run across on the curb. The thrift stores way out on Long Island are pretty great, as are a few in New Jersey. I also used to do a lot of thrifting in Alabama where I grew up, it was incredibly cheap and exciting (and I had a car!).

What’s the most unique way you’ve obtained an item in your collection?

Oh wow, good question! I’m stumped. I have no idea for one specific item, but the slides used to make the curtain were obtained from a SoHo art gallery I worked at when I first moved to the city. They were moving over to a digital database and no longer needed the 35mm slides of artists’ work. I had to collect all the slides the artists no longer wanted from the drawers of files and throw them away in giant garbage bags. Instead of tossing the slides, I stapled them together in strips and made curtains. I was probably breaking laws, and now have an illegal curtain situation on my hands.

Sometimes I don’t realize I have a collection of something, or I give a collection to someone else, so the numbers aren’t so important and I don’t keep track.

Where do you store or display your collections?

Shelves, and then I conveniently and completely cover my walls with the little collections here and there. In these photos you can see my long boxes above the bathroom door, sushi menus on the kitchen wall (these are all from the same restaurant, they change their menu design every year to confuse people into thinking it’s a new restaurant in the neighborhood—genius!), 45’s on the wall above my bed, family photos above the couch, plants all over my front window area (and fire escape), CDs in jewel cases in shelves I built just for them, cartoon body arcade photos on Edward Gorey homemade wallpaper, and the giant wall of cut-out images and paper items (more homemade wallpaper). Lately I’ve been getting into enamel pins and patches lately. The enamel pins I display on a piece of cardboard I was going to throw out. Eventually I’ll need a cork board for them, but there’s nothing that great or reasonably priced, so I’ll probably end up making one.

Any fun collecting stories?

So many…maybe check back and we’ll chat again. I’ll share some crazy fun ones. I’m very excited to start collecting all throughout Europe and will definitely compare what that’s like with what I’ve experienced in the United States. I can’t wait for those adventures to begin.

Thanks Olivia!