To Have & To Hold displays selections of objects from 18 private collections. But what is principally on display here is ‘the hand' of the collector as To Have & To Hold sets out examine the activities and motives of these collectors. Why has the collection been formed, how has it been formed and what does it mean to them?
The responses to these questions are as diverse as the objects they collect which include; cars and contraceptives, tools and jewels, manufactured and studio ceramics, toys and tiki, handkerchiefs and designer sunglasses, collectibles and the handmade object. In assembling their collections these collectors adopt various roles ranging from archivist, connoisseur, curator, fashionista, historian, patron, philanthropist, professional, saviour and votary.
Based on the work of these collectors curator Philip Clarke contends that collectors blur the usual line between consumers of culture and cultural producers. A number of these collectors might be described as paragon, or exemplary, collectors, because not only do they possess significant collections but they are recognised for their possession of considerable expertise and knowledge and are respected for their willingness to share their knowledge and enthusiasms. Clarke contends that in the case of these paragons, "collectors who accumulate objects, as well as considerable expertise and knowledge, it seems unexceptionable to acknowledge them as cultural producers."
In valuing the discards of others, private collectors are often pioneers in the opening of new territories of knowledge. While collecting is commonly perceived as solely a private occupation the collectors of To Have & To Hold demonstrate something quite different. Even though their collections are privately owned much of the practice of these collectors has public dimensions in terms of the locations and subjects of their collecting. The frequent generosity of many collectors in sharing their accumulations, both objects and knowledge, (To Have & To Hold being on example) is an aspect of their long-term and public commitment to the territories they work. In view of these commitments and performances To Have & To Hold suggests that, "Rather than being a wholly enclosed, or private, pursuit these collectors demonstrate that collecting is a cultural practice that enlarges and enriches public life."