Collections of Nothing
Author: William King
Nearly everyone collects something, even those who don’t think of themselves as collectors. William
Davies King, on the other hand, has devoted decades to collecting nothing—and a lot of it. Captivated by
the detritus of everyday life, King has spent a lifetime gathering a monumental mass of miscellany, from
cereal boxes to boulders to broken folding chairs. Junk, you might call it—and so might King, at times.
With Collections of Nothing, he takes a hard look at this habitual hoarding to see what truths it can reveal
about the impulse to accumulate. Part memoir, part reflection on the mania of acquisition, Collections of
Nothing begins with the stamp collection that King was given as a boy. Philatelism’s long-standing rules
governing the care and display of collections soon proved an oppressive burden in the midst of the family
chaos generated by his sister’s growing mental illness; choosing to ignore the rules, King began to
handle and display his collection according to his own desires—the first step in his search for an
unexplored, individual meaning in collecting. In the following years, rather than rarity or pedigree, he found
himself searching out the lowly and the lost, the cast-off and the undesired: objects that, merely by
gathering and retaining them, he could imbue with meaning, even value. As he relates the story of his
burgeoning collections, King also offers a fascinating meditation on the human urge to collect. Whether
it’s nondescript loops of wire and old food labels or more commonly prized objects like first editions or
baseball cards, our collections define us at least as much as we define them. This wry, funny, even
touching appreciation and dissection of the collector’s art as seen through the life of a most unusual
specimen will appeal to anyone who has ever felt the unappeasable power of that acquisitive fever.
William Davies King has explored numerous odd corners of theater history in books and articles,
including Henry Irving’s “Waterloo”, which won the Joe A. Calloway Prize. He is professor in the
Department of Theater and Dance at University of California, Santa Barbara.