Collecting is in our bones: our youngest exhibitor shares his story

Collecting is in our bones: our youngest exhibitor shares his story

From tin toys to antique Chinese wood figures, Star Wars memorabilia and elephants – for the past 18 years, Te Papa has displayed peoples’ precious collections in Inspiration Station, one of four children’s discovery centres in the museum.

But this summer will be the last chance for visitors to see items collected by the public on display (currently Tanya Marriot’s My Little Pony exhibit), as the level four space closes on 23 January 2017 to allow construction to begin on an exciting new art space.

The rest of the museum, including the three other discovery spaces, will remain open throughout the changes.

In 2009, 8-year-old Eric London became one of Te Papa’s youngest collectors to exhibit in Inspiration Station, when he loaned 88 items from his dinosaur collection.

Eric and his mum in Inspiration Station, 2016. Te Papa

Now 15 years old and a student at Wellington’s Rongotai College, Eric takes a look back at his collection and the experience of exhibiting in New Zealand’s national museum.

When I was three, I remember walking into a bookshop with my parents and I saw this book with a T-Rex on the front. I really liked the cover, so my mum bought it for me. At the time it seemed like an enormous book – it was 250 pages – but I read it all and memorised all the names. I really wanted to know more about dinosaurs.

From then on, I started collecting dinosaur toys from anywhere I could find them – from department stores, garage sales, everywhere. I even remember making up my own story when I was 4, which Mum wrote down. It was a non-fiction story, about a dinosaur I made up – a ‘Konontosaurusgontus’ – with the dinosaur’s habitat, everything.

I used to watch Walking with Dinosaurs on TV – which showed me that dinosaurs lived in different time periods. From then on, I kept my collection organised in these time periods – Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous. They all had to go with others of the same era so it all made sense.

When I was eight, Te Papa found my dinosaurs while they were in the children’s display case at the local library in Kilbirnie. At the time, I didn’t quite realise how big a deal is was to exhibit in the national museum. To me, it was just really cool for other people to see how much I liked dinosaurs. It felt really exciting.

Eric with some of his dinosaur collection, 2016. Te Papa

The display looked great. They had the biggest dinosaurs on the bottom, smallest ones at the top, and the Pterodactyls were hanging on nylon wires. All my family went to see it, and it was amazing that other people were interested in it too.

The museum took really good care of my dinosaurs – each was individually wrapped, and they were all insured. Being part of the whole process was pretty amazing.

Growing up, I wanted to be a paleontologist and discover new kinds of dinosaurs. Now, I’m not so sure – but I definitely want to do something in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics.

I still think dinosaurs are really cool, they’re something you never truly grow out of. My next door neighbour is three, and he loves them – whenever he comes over, I get out the dinosaurs for him to play with. It’s nice to see that he likes dinosaurs as much as I did.

– Eric London, Te Papa exhibition contributor, 2009-2010


  1. Eric gave me my first dinosaur lesion. I was 55yrs old and had flown long haul from NZ to London. Eric woke me at some ungodly hour to give me Dinosaurs 101. I learned more about them in that half hour sleep deprived session than I had learned in a life time.
    Eric, you inspired me then and continue to inspire me as you have got older.


  2. A great story Eric. You must feel very rewarded for sharing your collection with others, particularly family and the young boy next door. You never know where an interest in Dinosaurs may lead you, or maybe even your neighbour in the future. There is an art in the work of displaying collections and interesting to hear the Pterodactyls were hanging on fine nylon thread to represent flying as they would have been when they were alive. Good luck in the future.

  3. wonderful that a young age can start off a collection… I am now in my 70s, and still have some of my childhood books, toys and ice skates, last used in Streatham. London when I was in my teens and living at home there! Think I am a hoarder as nowadays I collect treasures.. like 1897 Daily Mail about Queen Victoria Jubilee, and in mint condition bought in Carterton NZ for $20 some years back.. Tea Caddies. Thermos Flasks, the real Thermos. and books… like Warwick Lawrence Three Mile Bush signed twice by him, first when he was 18 years old, when he wrote it and later when I asked him to resign for me, think he has in it, in his 90th year. he died a few years back!
    keep collecting folk.. never know when you hit gold!!!

  4. Wow! Wonderful to hear from Eric and his thoughts about his dinosaur collection being on display in Te Papa. It will be sad to say goodbye to Inspiration Station.

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