The Psychology of Collecting

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The Psychology of Collecting
By Mark B. McKinley (OH)
Everybody is a Collector Everybody collects something! Whether it be photographs of a person‟s vacation, ticket stubs from ballgames, souvenirs of trips, pictures of one‟s children, athletes‟ trophies, kids report cards, and those who collect “junk” (pack-rats) and dispose of it in garage sales. The Evolution of Collecting On the more formal side of “collecting,” it does seem that growing up as “kids,” we all collected something we made into a hobby. It could have begun with baseball cards, marbles, or stamps. Then it moved on: to antique books, Longaberger baskets, state quarters, or Atmos clocks. For others it was collecting the really unusual that worked best for them. People actually collect: bad poetry, barbed wire, knock-knock jokes, wax paper liners out of cereal boxes, swizzle sticks, string, mouse pads, phone books, type fonts, clothing of famous people, or Mersenne primes (prime numbers). Indeed, some collectors even collect collecting guides! And, speaking of the unusual, what about the names for the people who collect things? An archtophilist collects teddy bears, a deltiologist collects postcards, a numismatist collects coins, a vecturist collects subway tokens, and a clock collector is a horologist. Horologists are Special A note on being a horologist, it‟s tough. Compared with the collectibles noted prior, collecting clocks requires that consideration be given not to just what is seen, but what is also on the inside, the mechanical stuff, and whether or not it “works!” As a case in point, the Hiller Talking Clock (circa 1911), to work needs a celluloid tape. Of the known Hiller clocks only one has the accompanying tape. Indeed, even the two Hillers in the NAWCC Museum, nor the two Hillers in the authors collection, “run.” The author, who collects talking clocks, not only deals with the passive display of time, but the clock has to literally “tell” (talk) the time, and in many instances, the container (box) the clock came in is a valued addition to one‟s collection. Supreme Consumers Surely, people who collect “things” are at the apex of consumerism. While many persons see “shopping” as a chore, something to be endured, many collectors are just the opposite. Spending the weekend combing garage sales, antique stores, and “marts” provides an escape into another world that is both exciting and pleasurable---it gets the adrenaline flowing when a “find” is made. Today, with the advent of the Internet, one can pursue collectibles from the world over and do it from the comfort of home. Acquisitive pastimes characterize not just ordinary folks but include the “rich and famous.” Sharon Stone has collected vintage cashmere sweaters, Jane Seymore collects tea pots; Jenna Elfman collects Indian and Tibetan rugs; Kelsey Grammer has a passion for first edition, rare books; and Tom Hanks has a collection of old typewriters.1 Possibly Noah was the most famous collector of all. After all, he collected two of every living animal and housed them in one place! Beyond the merely “rich and famous,” during the 1700s and 1800s there were aristocratic collectors, the landed gentry, who roamed the world in search of fossils, shells, zoological specimens, works of art, and books. The collected artifacts were then kept in special rooms (“cabinets of curiosities”) for safekeeping and private viewing. A “cabinet” was, in part, a symbolic display of the collector‟s power and wealth. It was these collectors who established the first museums in Europe, and to a lesser extent in America. Such aristocratic collectors included

Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francesco I de Medici, Archduke Ferdinand, and Emperor Rudolf II (Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna).2 Today, institutions have supplanted the individual aristocratic collectors of the past, and the focus of collecting has broadened greatly, from the dinosaurs to rocks from distant planets. The Motivations to Collect Why do we...
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