San Diego Home Garden & Lifestyles 2003

A Passion for Collecting


By Phyllis Van Doren • Photography By Carol Peerce

The first thing you notice about Lynne Merchant’s North County house is how small it is — 700 square feet, at most — with tiny rooms. Then you become aware that every square inch of wall and a lot of floor space is covered with collections. Merchant, a jewelry designer and teacher, does not collect in just one or two categories. In a fast calculation, she documented 35 categories. A thorough count might approach 50. She is fond of quoting an old Afghan saying: “Drop by drop a river is made.”


If you alphabetized Merchant’s collections, under the letter A would be antique purses of Victorian needlepoint, beads and such. B is for boudoir dolls, Borneo burden baskets, Balinese masks and buttons of all kinds. C is for cloisonne, corsages and candlesticks. At the end of the alphabet there are whistles, wooden spoons and whiskers from tigers, domestic cats and other animals.

As a child, Merchant, a San Diego native, collected skate keys, which she turned into necklaces. She studied printmaking at the California College of Arts and Crafts, traveled extensively and lived in Africa for two years. As a sort of itinerant artist she made leather sandals, then leather jewelry and buttons.

“I began collecting fabric and beads,” says Merchant. “I ended up with boxes of weird things and put the pieces together with leather.”

A six-month sojourn in Nepal and India led to Merchant collecting ethnic jewelry and soon her leather jewelry turned to working with twisted wire, a technique she uses today in her hand-fabricated jewelry designs.

Antique purses, boudoir dolls and Indonesian food trays filled with Indian, Afghan, Mexican, Russian and Tunisian bracelets decorate the living                                      room.

Some of Merchant’s Borneo burden baskets from the Dayak tribe were purchased in Bali. At one time they were used to hold fish and were dropped in the water to keep the fish fresh. Her Sumatran beaded baskets were used to present gifts and dowry items in wedding ceremonies. They have bottom indentations because they were carried on the head.

“I am interested in the old way of making things and often buy imperfect items on purpose. I always collect when I travel and I travel with a jeweler’s loupe for examining and a small polishing cloth for silver.”

Her favorite flea market in Paris is Porte de Vanves.