Why We Collect

Why We Collect

Hey collectors out there!  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

What do you actually DO with all that stuff?!  If you’re not actively using it, then sell it, donate it, or throw it away!”

What about this one?

You said a few boxes of books.  Ten is not “a few.”  No, I don’t care that it used to be twenty boxes.”

Or this classic.

The only thing you’re collecting is dust!

Collections: the bane of our loved ones’ collective existence.  Whether in preparation for a move or just taking up space in your mom’s linen closet, collections become burdens for everyone.  Yet, every time we say to ourselves “Self, that’s it.  I won’t collect [insert your vice here] anymore!” we always end up with more than we started with.  Every one item purged means we somehow acquire two more.  So if it’s all headaches and playing Tetris in your closet, then why do we even bother in the first place?

That question has a complicated answer.  No two collections or collectors are the same, but we tend to fall into the same few categories.

The Investor

“I don’t throw it away because it’ll be worth millions one day!”

We all know this person.  Boxes and boxes of unopened Magic: The Gathering product sit in their basement and/or garage.  All of their comics go to the CGC for grading and preservation.  They’re on a first-name basis with all of the local post office workers and have over 5,000 five-star ratings on eBay.  These folks collect for speculation.  They analyze the market, predict trends, buy up bulk stock, and try to turn a profit.  To a certain extent, collecting is a not a “hobby” as many of us define the word; it’s more of a means to make money in a niche market.

A necessary part of being an Investor is a certain detachment from the typical enthusiasm for collecting.  That’s not to say that every Investor doesn’t care about their fandom; investing their time demonstrates tremendous care for the fandom and fuels the market for collectors.  Secondary markets are extremely important in collecting and the Investor is a big part of that.  However, there is some part of an Investor’s brain that necessarily must be detached from sentiment & nostalgia and instead focuses on curating a collection that maximizes earning potential.  Their collection is not devoid of sentiment, but it typically carries a lot of weight in dollars and cents.  They care, but maybe not in a way that everyone else does and that’s fine.

The Hoarder

I don’t throw it away because it’s mine, dammit!”

The Hoarder is oftentimes the messiest of the bunch.  Their house has a little bit of everything in it: a Star Wars lava lamp sits atop a stack of four copies of The Silmarillion, all in different languages, none of which are English.  Different posters from different fandoms adorn the walls, and they own more novelty tee shirts than they know what to do with.  When asked, they usually say “I just love all [insert vice here].”  Their collection is organized in piles, and they know exactly in which pile everything belongs.

These folks (typically) have no real rhyme or reason with what goes in the collection.  They just want it all, or rather they want anything that strikes their fancy; if it’s cool, they buy it.  Hoarders love their collections dearly, and parting with things is usually quite difficult.  They found that collector’s edition Star Trek TOS tin lunch box at a tag sale in Hoboken, New Jersey back in 1986 and it will go with them to their grave.  The Investor looks at their collection in terms of dollars and cents, but the Hoarder is all about sentiment.  Every item has a story or a reason why it’s in the house.  Whether or not it’s a reason that makes sense to anyone else is a moot point.

The Curator

“Why would I throw it away?  Do you know how hard I worked on this?”

Imagine a scene.  This basement isn’t a basement.  Instead, it’s a shrine.  The Curator meticulously handles, carefully arranges, and properly preserves every item.  Your friend says that you can’t touch a thing, but if you ask then they will appropriately handle the item for you.  This is the realm of The Curator.  For them, the display and preservation of pieces is tantamount to the act of collecting itself.  Curators tend to be as meticulous in item selection as they are in preserving and storing.  Only a “Good” rating on Amazing Spider-Man #252?  I’m sorry, but I only settle for Near Mint.  That 9.8 CGC grade won’t earn itself.

Curators love their collections.  Maybe they love them a little too much.  However, the time dedicated to their craft is second to none.  We might make fun of the latex gloves, humidity controls, and dust-free glass cases, but secretly we all admire it.  This level of care is not easy to accomplish, nor is it easy to maintain for years on end.  The preservation is an art form and a science, and a skill that grows with their collection.  These collectors are important to the history and heritage of their chosen fandom…even if that history takes decades to find a museum.

The Accidental

“Ummm…listen this isn’t my fault.  I didn’t mean to fall in love with this.”

It always starts out innocent enough.  You buy a collectible pin of Maleficent because she’s your favorite character, and an Elsa pin for your sibling’s kid.  After proudly displaying Maleficent on your jacket lapel for months, someone gifts you a Jafar pin on your birthday.  You decide, “Well, let’s just see if I can get a small collection of Disney villains. After that, I’ll call it quits.”  Five shadowboxes and 150 pins later, you don’t know where you went wrong.

Most of the Accidental collectors never meant to start, but when you ask them they all say the same thing.  “I really just don’t know.”  However, Accidentals develop a love and affection for their fandom unlike many other collectors.  Sure, sometimes they look at the collection and say “Why did I get into this?”  But there are so many people who organically fell in love with collecting something they found by chance or circumstance.  You find a lot of Accidentals whose origin story is that they started collecting with their kid or a friend who lost interest, but the Accidental kept going.  These folks are where new generations of fans start.  They may not be fans from childhood, but new fans are what keep fandoms running.  It really doesn’t matter why you started collecting; as long as you enjoy it, then you belong in the fold.

The Seeker

“I flew 1,500 miles for this!  One does not simply throw it away!”

There is one thing that The Seeker hates more than anything: holes in their collection.  They trekked out to San Diego for the Comic-Con exclusive Megazord Funko Pop.  They waited in line for 5 hours, but inventory ran out five spots before their turn.  It’s a matter of seconds before The Seeker is in an eBay bidding war for twice the MSRP.  The Seeker does not suffer incompletion.  Price ceilings are typically loftier for Seekers than they are for the rest of us, because the completeness of the collection is priceless.

Unlike Curators, Seekers aren’t selective about the items that enter their collections.  If they eye a finite set, Seekers hunt down every last piece.  If it’s an ever-growing set (e.g. ongoing comic titles, complete works of an actively publishing author), Seekers are the first to sign up for mailing lists and notifications when the next piece debuts. Seekers dedicate themselves to their pieces the same way that Curators dedicate themselves to their craft.  Condition of the piece is secondary to possession of the piece.  Seekers also drive secondary markets in their fields; they provide the dedicated customer base for savvy Investors at trade shows or eBay storefronts.

The Fashionista

“That’s an EMA FORCE OF WILL IN FOIL! Do you know that people would kill for this?!” 

Who cares about completion?  Or for that matter, who cares about keeping everything in a glass case?  The Fashionista cares about one thing and one thing only: bling.  The collection doesn’t need to be comprehensive, so long as it looks baller.  Alternate art, exclusive promos, and those god-awful 90’s foil comic book covers.  Fashionistas love the shinies, and go out of their way to acquire them.    Why get the action figure with the basic matte paint job when you could buy the glossy, exclusive version?  Fashionistas are here to chew gum and make statements with the visual spectacle that is their collection.

Fashionistas are somewhat like Hoarders.  They tend to have less of a rhyme and reason in collecting beyond “it looks great.”  Sequences, themes, and unifying motifs play second fiddle to the material component of collection.  If the piece doesn’t look good, there is no point in owning it.  Now, Fashionistas are not necessarily shallow, but they do hold high standards.  Most folks will buy the paperback, individually sold volumes of Sandman. Fashionistas want the glossy, high-res, oversized 25th anniversary hardcover box set with the exclusive Dave McKean slipcase.  Fashionistas, whether they admit it or not, all have some sort of showmanship in their personality.  These folks are the fashion industry of the collecting world they inhabit.  Budget is typically a non-factor for them, and they display the pinnacle of creative glitz.    Fans come into collecting because of those highly visible Fashionistas, the icons of their collecting world.

The Nostalgic

“My parents bought me that when I was seven.  I can’t throw it away.”

We all know this person.  They started collecting way back when they were a kid.  Maybe it was something they did with their parents or used as an escape during holiday parties.  The emotional attachment to and sentiment for their collection define The Nostalgic.  For them, the collection brings them back to the good ol’ days.  It keeps the person young at heart and involved with collection maintenance.  Typically, these kinds of collectors do not actively collect except to replace lost pieces or fill holes if they feel inclined.  They finished the collection years ago and keep it around like an old photo album.  Things rarely enter the collection, and items barely ever leave.  Shoeboxes of baseball cards, vintage video games, or a series of books that they loved when they were a kid all represent typical collections of Nostalgics.

Nostalgics do not care about value, condition, or preservation.  What matters to them is the sentiment and emotion behind the items.  If they do not form a personal bond with the item, it won’t enter the collection.  Likewise, Nostalgics can sever their feelings to certain items or an entire collection if something severs the emotional bond.  Every collector loves their collections, but the Nostalgics have it in spades.

What Keeps Your Collection Intact?

Whatever the reason, the point is that we all have a reason.  Hopefully, these archetypes give you a talking point when relatives ask you questions about your collection at the Winter Holiday of Your Choosing Celebration Slash Non-Denominational December Family Togetherness Event.  In order to effectively argue for your collection, it helps to know your motivations.  Important note: this article isn’t the Sorting Hat for collectors.  You might see yourself reflected in multiple archetypes based on your various collections.  We collectors tend to have multiple collections, and not all collections hold equal spots in our eyes.

What kind of collector are you?  Hoarder?  Fashionista?  A little of both?  Did I miss any archetypes?  Let us know down in the comments and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for all Geek Embassy updates, news, articles, and videos!

2 Comments

  1. Hmmmm… I’m a little bit a couple of these, but I’d call myself more a hedonist/completer. I love things that *feel* good to me – I like the shape of them, or the memory they invoke (a little different from nostalgia). I look up, see them, and it pleases me. And sometimes, once I start collecting them, I am driven to complete the collection. Not something that’s open-ended, mind you (I mean, who can collect ALL the Wonder Woman figurines, eh?) But if there is an endgame in sight, I might go for it.

    For example, I have complete collections of all the Lord of the Rings TCG releases. All of them. And again, all of them – in foil. I used the justification of “The Investor”, but I honestly knew they would be worth nothing eventually. I just wanted them. Yes, for nostalgia, because they were woven into my family’s gaming and geek dynamic, and yes, as “Curator” because it is a shrine – but my own personal shrine. I know, and accept, and am okay with those three ring binders that are mainly now a platform to put other things on by my desk mean nothing to anyone but me. But I see them there, all dusty now, not opened for years – and they make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. And no one can have too much of that, eh?

  2. I would say that there is a category you missed, and this is the utilitarian (name pending usefulness and accuracy). At least in the gaming world, there are those who love their variants, but that itself plays second fiddle to how useful it is in the arena.

    Your Bloodbowl goblin is yellow instead of the traditional green? Hey, as long as it’s within the rules and I can use it in my local league, I’ll keep it on the roster.

    Oh, I have a NM Chinese Rhystic Study? I don’t really need it for a deck, may as well sell it for something I really want/need.

    Yeah I have a few issues of the first iteration of Ghost Rider, but I don’t want to sell them because I don’t know how the story ends.

    At least for me, something has value as long as it has a place in my personal network. Collector’s editions are cool, and the eventual value of such a thing is neat, but I still won’t open my mint copy of the Star Wars comic books until I have the preceding and following copies to fully explain the story.

    If it’s useable, I will use it. But that’s just me.

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