Collectors Corner – Barry Harrison

Comments (0) Interviews

Finding two old brass vases at a car boot sale, then seeing them polished and returned to their former glory has led Barry on a hunt far and wide for more brass objects to work his magic on.




What do you collect?

I collect articles made of brass – in all shapes and sizes.

How long have you been collecting?

I lived in Coffs Harbour for twenty years up until 1959, when I married and moved to Sydney, where I stayed for fifty years. My wife died in 2009, after a long illness, and for nearly ten years I had been a full time carer. On my own, with my children scattered around the world, Sydney held no further interest for me, as I was retired. So, I sold the family home and came back to the Mid North Coast and bought a house at Bonville.

Moving to this wonderful Coffs Coast was one of the best decisions I ever made – I now had opportunities not possible previously, and setting up the new house was a challenging and rewarding experience, together with integrating back into the community I had left so long ago.  I needed to find something to occupy my time and started searching for community activities and groups for this purpose.

What prompted you to start collecting and why brass objects?

Soon after I had settled in, I found a car boot sale on the harbour foreshore and saw two very dirty, cobweb covered brass vases at one of the stalls, and I bought them for $1 each. I was curious to see how they would polish up and when I saw the result, I was hooked. Since then, I have been searching every nook and cranny for the odd and beautiful objects made of brass, so my collecting spree only started three years ago!

What different types of objects do you have?

Apart from about 20 vases, I have brass animals, such as deer, horses, dolphins, mice, a crocodile, and then there are cats, monkeys, rabbits, a giraffe, lizard, sheep, birds, bowls and urns, candlesticks and goblets, jugs and kettles, horse badges, a sundial, miners’ lamps, bells, irons and a coffee grinder, to name but a few.

How do you clean the objects, to keep them in top condition?

Many of the items are in poor condition when I get them, and I do spend some time in polishing them to the best finish I can get, depending on the quality and condition of the brass. I only ever polish an item once, as I spray each one with a protective coat of clear lacquer to maintain the condition.

Where do you source your brass objects?

I find I cannot drive past an antique store or a local market or car boot sale and often travel to different locations if I think there is the possibility of finding something to add to my collection. I recently found items in shops in Thirlmere, Laurieton, Kempsey, Moonee and Urunga.

A number of the stall holders in various local market places know me well enough, and because I see them so regularly, they keep their eyes out for anything they think might interest me. I know there are others who are also apparently collecting brass, as I have missed out on some notable objects. The recent Collectors’ and Antiques Fair at Coffs Harbour saw me walk away with more than ten pieces!

Is your collection still growing?

Yes, the collection is growing. I have had to buy additional display shelves – my daughters say I must either buy a new and larger house or give one piece away for every new piece I find – ‘collectors’ just don’t do that, do they?

The future problem is obviously one of space to display all the items. I have already taken over part of the dining room for my present display shelves – where to next? I may have to empty my bookshelves! There would be room for perhaps another hundred or so items! (Now, that bears thinking about!)

Do you have a favourite piece?

My favourite piece is a large brass coffee grinder. It was very dirty and the internal grinders were very rusty when I bought it. It took me about six weeks to restore and I had it valued recently and was surprised to find it was valued more than six times what I paid for it.

It is really hard to pick just one object; there are so many wonderful examples – I recently found a group of six brass statues of characters from Charles Dickens stories, including one of Oliver Twist, with his bowl and there is a brass sundial and a Welsh miner’s lamp and a 50 year perpetual calendar – the list goes on! It is very much like the Never Ending Story – I wonder when it will end!

What is unique about your collection?

I don’t know of any other brass collection in this area which is as large as mine, and the variety of objects sets it apart, although somebody else seems to be one step ahead of me sometimes. I missed out on a superb horse and cart one day – the buyer could not be identified, but I suspect he/she is a local.

To me, it is a delight to see and a passion which has taken over part of my life. There is always the thought that around the next bend, or in the next town or stall or antique store, I will find something absolutely extraordinary, How could I possibly stop looking … is that obsession?

Thanks Barry.

This story was published in issue 25 of the Coffs Coast Focus

Leave a Reply