One New Orleanian collects fine French porcelains, exquisitely crafted more than a century ago. Another collects Chinese pottery, made in the countryside during varying centuries. Another collects vinyl records, featuring artists from the 1960s and ‘70s. Three collectors, all with the same driving force: a passion for seeking and owning objects that capture their hearts.

Collectors come in all sizes and shapes, interests and budgets. And all admit to being determined in their pursuits.

Possession Obsession“It’s good to find something you are interested in and then allow yourself to become possessed,” says Ralph Lupin, a local physician, who began collecting English furniture and Imari porcelains more than 50 years ago. As those collections grew, he added Lalique crystal and antique English glass. Today the focus
of his collection is Jacob Petit Old Paris porcelains.

Lupin, a French Quarter resident, began this most recent collection about 10 years ago with a purchase of two Jacob Petit cake stands in Paris. Today he owns more than 200 pieces of the artist’s work and plans to add more.

Another local collector, Sally O’Meallie, a businesswoman, collects Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Displayed throughout the den and kitchen of her Garden District home are elegantly placed jars, plates, chopstick holders and other primitive country pieces, a collection begun more than 20 years ago.

Possession ObsessionLocal public relations executive Larry Lovell has a collection of a different sort: vinyl records of jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock ’n’ roll from 1960 to the mid-1970s, a collection begun in earnest when he was a senior in high school that has continued for the past 20 years. At one time, Lovell owned more than 10,000 records, but he now has whittled his collection down to 4,000, all of which reside in specially made shelves in the guest room of his Bywater home.

Both Lupin and Lovell are constantly searching for the next addition –– on trips, through their network of other collectors and in local antique stores. Lupin is an avid auction attendee in New Orleans and elsewhere. Lovell finds many of his records on the Internet. Both admit that sometimes luck plays a big role.
On a recent trip to Paris, Lupin spotted a Jacob Petit clock at a flea market. “I saw it out of the corner of my eye, on a table with other clocks, and immediately bought it,” he says.

Lovell hit the mother lode of vinyl records at a garage sale. “I once bought a 7-inch extended-play record by Wynonie Harris in its original cover for 10 cents,” he says. “It’s probably worth $1,000 today.”

O’Meallie, by contrast, buys all of her porcelains at Orient Expressed Imports on Magazine Street, where she works. “I’m always the first to help unload the boxes,” she says.

All three collectors do copious research on their collections. “It’s important to read and learn as much as you can about the subject matter,” says Lupin. “It helps develop an ‘eye.’ That way when you stumble across an authentic piece unexpectedly –– as I did at the flea market –– you won’t hesitate.”

When starting a collection you plan to display, buy several items in the beginning and live with them awhile, suggests O’Meallie. If you don’t get tired of them over time, add to the collection. “Buying one Chinese blue-and-white doesn’t make sense,” she says. “Buy several, and make a statement. Then add pieces as you can.”

None of the collectors began the pursuit with the thought of making an investment, but all agree that over time, their collections increased in value.

Finally, all say that it’s wise to let go of a collection, or parts of it, when the necessity arises. When Lupin and his late wife, Freda, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, they donated 120 pieces of their Imari collection to the New Orleans Museum of Art. That exhibit has now traveled to six other United States museums, where countless art aficionados have enjoyed the beauty of their collection.

Recently Lovell moved to a new home and downsized his vinyl record collection. He donated many to Goodwill and the Salvation Army. He sold some on consignment at a French Quarter record shop and on eBay.

O’Meallie hasn’t parted with any of the pieces she collects. “I still have every piece,” she says. “I buy fewer because, quite frankly, they’re rarer and thus more expensive. But I love each piece. To me, they’re as beautiful as the day bought them. I feel good just having them around to look at. ”

And thus, her passion for collecting continues.