What Makes People Into Collectors?

When we were kids, we all collected things. Baseball cards and comic books and action figures. But it wasn’t collecting. It was just stuff. Okay, maybe we didn’t all collect things. Maybe it was just us boys. Frankly, I think that girls collected things too, it was just different. Being that I wasn’t one of them, I don’t know what it was. I’d be likely to say dolls and ponies and shoes or something. If you knew the right kind of girls – or perhaps the wrong kinds of girls – then they would have collected boys.

But the point is, at the time, we had those things because we enjoyed them (especially those girls I was talking about). At some point along the line, it all changed. Rather than just having things that we liked to have around so we could use them, take them out and play with them – and at this point I’m going to stop talking about those girls – we became collectors. At least some of us did. Here, I’ll also probably need to stop including myself in the analogy, because I don’t really consider myself a collector of things. This point is where those treasures became objects that we thought might be worth something to people other than ourselves, and that is when our lives became just a little more jaded.

There was even an episode of Amazing Stories that starred Mark Hamill that dealt with collecting. It was called Gather Ye Acorns and dealt with the very issue. Young Jonathan Quick (Hamill) was enamored with his comic books, and of course his parents didn’t want him to be quite so interested in them. I remember seeing it long ago. Perhaps when it first aired (yes, it was 1986 – I am really that old!).

But Jonathan, on the advice of a troll, had decided that he would continue collecting – not just his comics, but everything. Unfortunately it made him rather miserable. Until some years later, when he is filling the gas tank on his classic car. A woman notices a mug that he has and offers to buy it from him. Since it has been a very long time since he has seen the troll, and he’s just about to throw it all in, he decides that he will part with one of his precious treasures. Only then does he find out that she didn’t want to give him a few dollars. She wanted to give him a few thousand dollars.

So he takes his car, his comics, everything, into town, and finds that he is indeed rich beyond his wildest dreams – he has the first appearance of every major comic-book character, and a number of collectibles beyond comics. Of course the car itself is some sort of antique that is worth a gazillion dollars. But at what cost? He gave up his entire life to get to this point. After forty years of wandering in the dessert (and he looked the part), he finally came into the riches – and it’s only a decent amount of luck that what he happened to still have in his car was worth anything.

Had he decided to collect something worthless, then those decades that he spent a hermit and collecting things that no one else was interested in would have ended very badly indeed. The other day we went to the coin show, and there were tables upon tables of people who collect coins. I’m left to wonder if they are trying to be Jonathan Quick – did they start to collect coins at a young age, only to find out that they were left with the remnants of a life that they didn’t want? Very few of them seemed to really enjoy it. Only a couple really get into the life. Most seem to just sit there and watch you pass by, hoping to collect a few dollars for some coin or another, and as closing time comes, they pack up their stuff.

What is the point? I really don’t know. I just have to wonder about it all – we start with toys that we all love, most of us aren’t lucky enough to have trolls as advisers, and lots of us end up collecting things, but for most of us it seems to end pretty badly. Surely there are a few that may get a Honus Wagner or something, but for the rest there are boxes upon boxes of items that no one else really wants. So is all the collecting really worth it?