Some collectors need a little inspiration

The question ''What shall I collect?'' is not one that many collectors have need to ponder. Their acquisitiveness arises naturally out of a special interest: perhaps a fascination with a particular aspect of history, their occupation or profession, or a topographical association.

But what of those would-be collectors who have no grand obsession and who still wait to be inspired? Should they forever be denied the pleasures of collecting?

Not everyone can or wants to make a definitive statement with a collection. Perhaps some wish simply to find expression for their own tastes. Rejecting the constraints of choosing a single theme, these individuals may find that a wide variety of objects can come together to form a coherent whole, having only their appeal to their owner's taste in common.

Sotheby's in London recently dispersed a splendid example of such a collection. The late Paul Wallraf came originally from Cologne, West Germany, but spent most of his life in London.

Set within Mr. Wallraf's framework of 18th- and 19th-century French furniture and works of art were groups within groups. A troupe of tortoises (boxes made from their shells, some modeled naturalistically and mounted in silver) livened up a small collection of snuff boxes. A setting of gilt bronze cabinet figures was the focal point of a collection of Renaissance and later bronzes. Medallions and plaquettes provided an interesting contrast of scale to larger sculpture and relief panels. And outshining many pieces of greater value was the central feature of this ''garden of delight'' - a menagerie.

Mr. Wallraf's cosmopolitan group included Egyptian bronze cats of the Saite period, 664 to 525 BC (the oldest); a Roman marble goat, 1st century AD (the most valuable, (STR)6,000 - $8,000); a 17th-century Flemish bronze bull (the most magnificent); a 16th-century Paduan bronze horse (the noblest); and elephants and tortoises from Japan, birds and horses from China, lions and camels from Italy, and dogs from most everywhere.

All your favorite animals and birds under one roof; no noise, no feeding, no exercising, just an occasional dusting (and insuring). Now there's a thought!

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