Collections of Nothing

collections of nothing
Collections of Nothing

Nearly everyone collects something, even those who don’t think of themselves as collectors. William Davies King, on the other hand, has devoted decades to collecting nothing—and a lot of it. With Collections of Nothing, he takes a hard look at this habitual hoarding to see what truths it can reveal about the impulse to accumulate.

Read more about Collections of Nothing at the University of Chicago Press(link is external).

Find the book on Amazon(link is external).

Check out a mostly complete list of reviews, feature stories, interviews, and other things that grew from this publication.

yoga lady
envelope linings
21 Collections: Every Object Tells a Story

My envelope linings were on display in a huge exhibition of collecting at the downtown Los Angeles Library, sponsored by the LA Library Foundation. Todd Lerew was the intrepid collector of collecting, who contacted me and about 500 other collectors in the area. He chose my volume of envelope linings for the show, along with the typewriters of Tom Hanks and the candy wrappers of Darlene Lacey, and many other things. The show was called 21 Collectors: Every Object Has a Story

Here is a link to the page:

This is a fun podcast about the show by the Kitchen Sisters:

And here is a story about the show in LA Magazine (I'm quoted):

accordion player
envelope linings
List of collections


Many collections:

  • Product labels (specializing in cereal boxes, crackers, soup can labels, tuna fish, beans, olives, berries, water, cheese, toothpaste, but much else besides)
  • “Place Stamp Here” squares (from return envelopes)
  • Envelope linings (some call them security seals)
  • Business cards, plastic cards
  • Kitchen collection (the most eph of ephemera, such as PLU stickers, tea bag tags, etc.)
  • Chain and scam letters
  • Netflix flaps
  • Postcards
  • Dross,
  • Etc.
two characters with cut strips of colorful paper between them
leaf from kitchen collection
The Kitchen Collection, 1999-

Since about 1999, I have amassed what I call my "kitchen collection," which consists of the lowest sort of ephemera, stuff that might in most people's lives go into the (kitchen) trash bin, like the little stickers (PLUs--"price look-ups") that you find on fruit. I previously kept scrapbooks of pieces of ephemera that I liked, but I wanted this collection to be sensitive to and discriminatory at a level closer to actual nothingness.

I hung two framed pieces of blank paper on either side of my kitchen sink, and as I encountered something of this sort, almost anything but staying away from duplicates, I stuck it on the paper. When the page filled, I put it in a binder and hung up a new piece of blank paper. A couple of decades later, I have three thick binders full of these pages in plastic sleeves. 

What you will see in the gallery below is a sample of pages.

I have a fantasy of finding a large gallery or a museum wall-- a few hundred square feet--where I could mount this entire collection. After the A side of each sleeve has been on display for a while, I would turn the page so that the B side could be on display for a while. I did a small version of this in the exhibit called The Creative Edge of Collecting, which is discussed elsewhere on this website. It was dazzling. A larger display would be exponentially more so.

yoga man
blueberry label
Fresh blueberries

There are some sections among my enormous collection of product labels that I especially like, and one is fresh blueberries. Unlike some other categories of fresh fruit, where the product is sold by a consortium like Minute Maid or Driscoll's, blueberries still get sold with labels from the separate growers, so you are likely to see a much wider variety for sale in a store. The beautiful blue of the berry shows through the plastic container, and the small label does what it can to enhance that appeal.

I keep them in a special binder, usually one label per page.

I have almost 300. See a sample below.


cos girl
water labels log
Log of labels

This is my "log of labels," a twenty-year accumulation of water labels, six hundred or so. I like that the "bark" of all those plastic bottles now occupies the parched, acid-heavy pages of an old ledger book. It bulges with the weight/wet.

cos girl
envelope linings
Envelope linings

I write about the water labels collection, and others, in an essay collected in a recent anthology of essays about collecting: Contemporary Collecting: Objects, Practices, and the Fate of Things, edited by Kevin M. Moist and David Banash, just out from Scarecrow. is external)

One of the editors, David Banash, has also written about my envelope linings collection in his book, Collage Culture: Readymades, Meaning, and the Fate of Things, just out from Rodopi is external)

cos girl