Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Personal treasures

Reading a recent news item about people who collect old license plates got me thinking about the whole business of collecting, who does it, and why they do it.

Personally, I've never been much of a collector. As a youngster, I tried stamp collecting at the urging of my mother. I recall that you could send off for a starter kit of a dozen stamps from around the world. It was probably some sort of product promotion. I've long forgotten the product.

Stamp collecting works best if you have sources of foreign stamps, like relatives who travel abroad, pen pals in faraway places, or a stamp club where you can trade. I had none of those, so the whole stamp thing petered out pretty quickly.

You name it, somebody is collecting it.

The mom of one of my chums had a vast collection of teaspoons, impressively displayed in specially-designed, felt-lined chests. Another collected egg cups. A man once proudly took me through his impressive array of beer cans.

To qualify as a collection, some organization of the collectibles is required. If you're just throwing stuff into the shed or the attic, it's junk.

One of the advantages of collections is that it greatly simplifies gift-giving, but that can also get out of control, with the stuff still pouring in long after one's initial enthusiasm has waned.

Literally anything may be collected --- insects, photographs, birds' eggs, wine, guns, fishing flies, antique cars, navel lint, surgical instruments, airsick bags, baseball cards, hood ornaments, dolls, phonograph records, old bottles, matchbooks, stuffed animals --- the list is endless.

Why do people do it? Freudians say that a sense of ownership and control comes from possession of these items, starting with the stuffed animals and toys of childhood. Jungians think that it goes back to the collecting of nuts and berries by our early ancestors.

Could be.

While some people who lived through the Great Depression hold on to mundane things, often treating them with great reverence, such behaviour runs counter to the mainstream of today's culture of disposability, where everyday objects are tossed immediately after use.

When collecting becomes compulsive, and begins to interfere with living a normal life, it has become pathological and is called hoarding.

Unusual collections include mouse skulls collected from regurgitated barn owl pellets, tattooed heads, and toast.

What are you collecting?


  1. I'm a real half-assed collector. I start collecting something but as soon as it starts taking up too much space or is too easy to find new items for, I lose interest and it peters out. So now I only collect things that are either (a) extremely hard to find or (b) that have strict parameters around when I will purchase something for the collection. At the moment my active collections are Goddess statues and maneki neko beckoning cats. I have a wonderful collection of spiritual 3D and wiggle pictures too but they're too easy to find now and it's getting expensive, so I think that particular collecting bug is about to peter out.

  2. When I was a teenager, I collected matchbooks from every business I walked into. Smoking was popular back then, so you found some really cool ones. I accumulated loads, and some of them were very nice. Then one day, I kept them in a box in my room, and then one day, I got it into my head that they might light up and burn my parents house down. I'm not sure where I got this idea --- whether it was from an over active imagination, or I'd seen something in a movie that got me thinking about this. No matter, out the matchbooks went! And then I didn't collect anything for years. But at one point, I started collecting shot glasses, and have been doing so ever since. They don't take up much space. This is important for someone like me who is a minimalist. I don't like clutter and shot glasses are small, and also fit into cases that you can mount on the wall and out of the way. I buy shot glasses from places I visit, and only if they appeal to me. Other people have also brought me shot glasses form vacations they go to, which is always a thrill. And that's all the collecting I do!