Collecting is a childhood hobby for some, but for others it’s a pursuit that develops later in life. Richard Spark, now 75 years old, started his collection in 1982 and since then has acquired an enormous variety of items detailing New Zealand’s social history from the turn of the 20th century. Kathy Catton spoke with Richard to uncover the delight of this man and his museum.

Sometimes in life, you meet characters that fill you with wonder. Richard Spark is one such individual. At 75 years old, he appears on first impression like a friendly dairy-farmer-type, doing the best he can to support his family. He keeps busy in retirement running the popular Rossburn Receptions function centre on his property just outside Rangiora, North Canterbury. However, after spending some time with Richard and visiting his Northbrook Colonial Museum, my eyes were opened to the incredible enthusiasm and dedication of this one man.

Richard Spark and his father’s jacket from the war

The story starts in a fairly ordinary fashion. In 1982 at the age of 38, Richard decided that he wanted to find himself a hobby.

“I didn’t want to play golf or go to the pub. With six children, I had to find something I could do at home,” says Richard. “So I decided to start collecting milk bottles. It may seem a little strange, but I was interested in them. There were so many variations and colours and moulds. I started by storing them on top of the piano at home, but I soon realised I needed more space.”

Clocks as they used to be

The ‘trouble’ really started when he got into collecting preserving jars. “That’s when I decided I was going to collect everything,” states Richard.

Little did he know (and nor was it ever his goal) that within 20 years he would have amassed a collection of well over 200,000 artefacts. An array not only of milk bottles and preserving jars, but almost every imaginable household item relating to New Zealand’s social history. From knitting machines and knife polishers to tobacco boxes and razor blades, Richard’s museum has it all. Spread over 2000 square metres within four purpose-built sheds, his collection is eccentricity at its best.

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