Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why people collect things

Lots of people collect things as a hobby. The items people collect are probably as extensive as the number of collectors in the world.

I have often considered why people collect, and have come across very few explanations that are satisfying to me. Mostly, articles on the subject end up simply talking about THINGS one can collect, or talk about profit motives. That doesn't interest me. I am interested in the underlying reason for the gratification of collecting. Obviously there is some sort of gratification if one does it for fun.

Coins, stamps and the like can be "completed", and so I suppose the goal of completing one's collection is gratifying in a sad way. But butterflies or rocks can't be completed, so the joy there must be in accumulating the most examples of variations and varieties.

What about people like me who like BIG things? I like old steam locomotives and ocean liners. These things are hard to collect (and even harder to store, by god) especially if one is a small dog on a limited writer's income. This obstacle is easy enough to overcome by just collecting images of steam locomotives and ocean liners. Photographs, postcards, old advertisements, company propaganda. When I visit museums which contain steam locomotives (Henry Ford was an obsessive collector of things, and his collection ended up in the Henry Ford Museum, even huge locomotives and other mighty things with huge flywheels, like steam dynamos) I use the opportunity to take pictures of them. Mostly, though, I collect picture books of these things.

The final resting place of the chair Lincoln was sitting in at the theater when he was offed, and (coincidentally?) the limousine Kennedy was riding in when HE was offed are also in Henry's magnificent collection, the latter collected on his behalf, apparently, long after his death. Henry Ford also collected houses and buildings and had them transported to and reconstructed at his Greenfield Village, out behind his museum in Dearborn. Churches. Edison's laboratory. Ford's childhood home. An ancient carousel in a building. A glockenspiel Henry apparently got a kick out of watching. The bicycle workshop of the Wright Brothers of airplane fame, brung on up from Dayton. Henry liked a lot of things. Most collectors don't have as much money as Henry Ford had, though.

Psychologists say part of the urge to collect is the desire to stimulate pleasant memories. I don't know. That doesn't explain why some people collect war memorabilia. If you collect souvenirs and brochures from past vacations, I suppose the reason might be to stimulate past pleasant memories. If the trip were pleasant.

Some people collect ticket stubs, autographs, old musical instruments, postcards, vials of dirt. I once read about some guy who claimed to have a vial of dirt from every state. Well, jesus god, you know. How does one prove that, I'm thinking.

Some people collect sea shells. My mother used to collect stones. She didn't collect them because they were an example of this or that geological variety, or because she was completing a set. She collected them because they were pretty to her in some way. That is as good an explanation as I've found: collect because the object brings you joy.


  1. I don't know why people collect things. I mean, I collect books but only because I'm a rereader and want to have the book I want to read close at hand. There's no rhyme and reason to the books I own, except I like 'em (I do tend to want all the books in a series if I'm reading a series). I collect movies for the same reason.

    I do not, however, collect first edition books or classic movies (unless I like them and happen to get a first edition). I don't have pretentious art in my house. I don't have any real attachment to stuff, either an ancestor's item or something picked up from somewhere.

    If I pick up souvenirs, it's for others, not myself.

    All of which I said just to say, I have no idea what makes up a collector. I've known a few (and it makes it easier to know what to buy them). I like dragons and faeries, but I don't "collect" them per se.

    I have things around me that I think are useful, serve a purpose or that I like.

    Maybe collectors do that, too. Just in a different way.

  2. I think you said it all with "because the object brings you joy". And the joy it brings can be achieved about it many ways: beauty, goal driven, order, information, memoroes.

  3. I love to collect things... it helps to remember an event that was special, once I see the object the memory floods through taking me back in time.


  4. @Stephanie Barr - Well, not everybody is a collector, I guess. Sometimes you don't realize it though until you just end up with a lot of sheet music or audio tapes. :)

    Or books...

    In addition to collecting steam locomotives and ocean liners, heh, I have a fascination for some reason with certain periods of history and I begin collecting books about that period or event. I seem to have a lot of books about the civil war now and I really didn't understand it at all when I was in high school American History class. I sort of grasp it now, at least enough to realize the South was right. I was brought up in the North.

    @A. - Information and memories. Memories. That's it.

    @Jeff King - Yes, you've got it. I'm sure that's the real reason (or the right reason) to collect. I have always been interested in photography since I was a boy, and I think the reason is that a photograph is sort of like time travel. When you take the picture, you are freezing a piece of time. You really are. And years later, you can travel back in time and see people when they were younger and like that. It is a kind of cosmic ownership. That's pretty deep, huh?

  5. Hrrm, collecting things. I collect an awful lot. In small quantities. Vintage cameras, notebooks, books, pens, dolphin things, rocks, photographs, art, and well not much else.

    Why collect? Well hell I dunno. I like knick knacks, and like to have 'personality' in my collections. I collect cameras and art, because I love photography. Taking the photos, making art or admiring other people's photos/art. I'm more partial to conceptual photography, and abstract art.

    Notebooks, pens, and books, I collect because I love to read and write. I don't write stories like I read. Journaling is what I do best. Either writing about daily life, or dabbling with poetry. With a new notebook, it's like a fresh canvas to put my work on.

    Collecting dolphins, is rooted from my mum. She collected seashells and lighthouses. So naturally I began to love ocean stuff too, and began to love orcas and dolphins. It was my way of enjoying what she enjoyed in a different way.

    Rocks sort of go in hand with the prior. Rocks came from an uncle when I was 9, really pretty polished rocks. Then it stemmed into me digging up rocks out of my backyard that I liked, and saving them. Granted I don't have those anymore, but I like rocks. When I met my husband, I found out his mother rock hunts. She's found crystals, jaspers, and arrowheads. in turn, it has became a tradition of my husband and the kiddos to go rock hunting too. It's a great way to teach them about the earth.

    Alas, I end my post here, because damn my fingers hurt. Don't think I forgot about you little one. I'm still read you all the time. Take care kid... ;)

  6. I collect dust. Does that count?

  7. Ki Hell. It's nice to finally see an old friend show up at the godforsaken blog and actually read the post. You've never done that to my knowledge. :)


  8. Hi Angelika. It's nice to finally see an old friend show up at the godforsaken blog and actually read ...

    Sorry. That was for Kelly.

    Ummm... dust? I guess collecting dust is better than drawing flies. Maybe.

    I thought you had run off with what's his face when he got his show cancelled. So where have you been?

  9. @Kelly - Dolphins? You said dolphins, right? You collect football players?????

  10. Yah I stack them up in the back of my hub's pickup, it's better then hay for weight in the winter. I tried to use them for garden compost once, and well nothing grew but the flies were godawful.

  11. I collect things, too, like sports jerseys, baseball caps, Chicago Street Signs(vintage Chicago Street Signs, that is)Old vintage Chicago Transit Authority badges(I don't work for the Chicago Transit Authority per se)and so on and so forth! People collect things because it makes the happy and they enjoy it!

  12. I think you're right, Keith. Thank you for your comment.



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