Recently I was, for various reasons, moved to sell my Hammersley Victorian Violets breakfast set. I still loved it (that much must be surely obvious considering that I spent ten long years of my life collecting the myriad pieces for it) but it was time to let go.
Hammersley made collectable pieces, not sets, so when I decided to create a breakfast set, it was something born of my own imagination. The task was made more difficult by the fact that the Hammersley company had been out of business for several decades. More difficult still was the fact that I had to do all my searching and purchasing online since you just can't find good old English Hammersley here in Mississippi, or at least I have never seen a single piece of it in my small town--no one here, not even the antiques dealers, had heard of it.
But the truth is that when I originally decided that I wanted a breakfast set, my heart was caught by the sets made by Royal Winton Grimwades. Now those truly were created as sets--small winsome things as a breakfast for one. The matching pieces were always the same (tray, teapot, cup, cream & sugar, toast rack) but the lovely china patterns were different--Sweet Pea, Tiger Lily, Summertime, Stratford Tulip, oh so many pretty things. And unbelievably expensive! These small sets regularly go for $400, and it is not unusual for some to sell in the thousands.
How can anyone justify using something that costs so much money? I can't. What if something should break?! That's why I hate true sets even though I admire looking at them--one mistake, one chip, one crack, one break and everything is ruined. That is just too much pressure and no happiness! And that's why I decided to create a "set" I could really use with Hammersley.....but the harder the pieces were to collect, the more worried I became and the more certain I was that I should never allow myself to use them. That's one major reason that I decided to let the Hammersley set go. Instead of the lovely unicorn I wove in my imagination, it had become a millstone.
But there was another reason as well. While I was collecting the Hammersley, I found a chipped Royal Winton Grimwades breakfast tray. Since it was flawed, I picked it up for perhaps a tenth of the value a perfect one might have. That fired my imagination. I could use the chipped tray without worry. Maybe I could collect a set of "orphan" Winton pieces! I was delighted with the notion, I set a very low budget (no item could be priced over $20), I determined that the pieces should be harmonious go-togethers, and I set forth searching. Over the course of a year, I collected a patchwork orphan set. All of the pieces, except the tray, were perfect; they just didn't match. This was something I could use without worry. So I have used it, and I have enjoyed it. To me, it's much more charming than a matched set.
Recently I wondered if I should sell the perfect pieces (one of the perils of being an eBay lister). They certainly had a much higher value than the prices I paid, which were mostly auction errors and listing flukes. But every time I thought about selling my Winton, I got a nervous eyelid twitch that just wouldn't quit. That's when I realized that I felt completely calm about selling the Hammersley (no twitching!), and thus I've listed most of the rest of my fairly extensive Hammersley collection as well. I may even let even more of it go before all is said and done.
But the Winton orphan set stays. It makes me smile (besides, keeping it means that I can avoid that unpleasant nervous twitch). I'm planning to use it again for my Christmas morning breakfast and for New Year's, too--it makes an event of a very simple meal.
At the end of the day, the issue is not so much the matter of the "money value" of things; it's their true innate worth and their usefulness to you. If you feel too worried to use something, then it owns you instead of the other way round. And that's something I neither want nor need.
Now, I have a new idea for collecting a patchwork orphan teaset. (I've gotta fill all that newly empty space in my English Victorian vitrine!) It's gonna take awhile, it definitely will NOT have matching pieces, and the budget will be microscopic but that's part of the fun; it's a challenge. I'm looking forward to the hunt! And I've already bought the first piece.