A Collector’s Life Part 1: What Makes Us Collect Things?

This new series of articles and features, begining here on the Infinite Frontiers website and continuing here and on both the Vita Player and Auto Assembly sites, takes an ongoing look at the world of collectors and collecting. We’ll be delving deeply into what drives us as well as talking to individuals about their passions and what they collect. We also want to hear from YOU so if you want to share your collections with our readers, drop us an email…

If there’s one thing that unites geeks all over the world, regardless of what we are passionate about, is that almost all of us are collectors in one way or another. I’d wager that most of you reading this are – in all likelihood – surrounded by one collection or another related to one or more of your geekly passions, whether it is a library of comics, shelves laden with action figures, bookcases overloaded with decades worth of retro video games… I could go on. It’s not just something confined to us self-appointed geeks though – there are people in all walks of life, of all ages and social/cultural backgrounds, who collect all manner of things – but just why do we collect things and are we always set in our ways when we go about doing it?

Everyone is different, but there are similarities that link our passions when it comes to the way we spend money feeding the desires of our inner geek. What we buy specifically does vary depending on the type of interests you follow, but initially much of it stems from when your main hobbies/interests first manifested themselves in your life and how they appealed to you.

When I Was Young…

A lot of our enthusiasm for collecting stems from our childhood. Certainly, when it comes to having an affinity for television shows, comics, or movies much of this started when we were children. While some of us moved on to other things or our interests changed over the years, many still remained as passionate now as we were when we were younger, but now we’re just more affluent. Instead of relying on a limited amount of pocket money and only being able to buy what wasn’t always the greatest range of merchandise back in our youth, now we have more freedom and the sales outlets to access everything either through online stores, conventions, collectors fairs and the vastness that is ebay. For those able to, we can even buy those long sought-after toys and other delights that we were never able to own as a child. We can truly return to a time when our childhood memories are brought right back to life.

While much of this is just wallowing in nostalgia, especially for franchises that are long gone and forgotten, in many ways it’s a chance to reconnect with what was obviously a joyful time in their lives. A time that was less stressful, where life was all about fun and not about worrying about every little aspect of daily life. When life was just about having fun and if collecting all of this brings back those memories, is that really a bad thing?

Shouldn’t We Just Grow Up?

That’s something my father always used to say to me. He saw my Star Trek action figure collection and later my developing interest in Transformers not to mention my lifelong passion for video games and he’d always tell me that I was “too old” for that sort of thing and should get rid of them; that they were for children and that I should “act my age”. Collecting anything isn’t about how old you are and there certainly isn’t an upper age limit to when you can or can’t collect things. The perception that we have to become more mature when we reach adulthood and that we are not “allowed” to collect any geek paraphernalia is absurd. Whether the notion that we can’t embrace our inner child and have fun in life while still being serious when life calls for it is an exclusively British trait or not I don’t know but it does seem to be more socially acceptable in some coutries than others to let your “inner geek” free unto the world.

What I always found quite ironic every time my father said this to me though was that he was a collector himself! Not of anything remotely geek related but of model cars, replicas of old working vehicles from the early part of the 20th century and over time he’d amassed a collection of well over a hundred that he had on show in hand-made display units. Whenever he challenged my collecting habits, I referred him to his cars and the conversation quickly moved on to another subject altogether…

Keeping The Faith…

Childhood aside, others see collecting as a way of showing their support or loyalty to a franchise, actor, or creative talent. For some, owning a large merchandise collection can be a way of reaffirming their own appreciation of something. For example, a Star Wars fan owning a large collection of books, figures, comics, miscellaneous items etc may do so not just for what the items are but specifically because they are Star Wars and nothing else. Owning them confirms the strength of their enthusiasm for the saga, and helps validate that to others as well. For others, it’s simply a case of being able to claim bragging rights over others in terms of who has the largest collection and ergo who is the “biggest fan”. The logic behind that level of brand loyalty can also be extended further with some fans feeling that they are showing their support directly to the creators.

Certainly when it comes to fans of those working directly in the creative industries it’s easier to see how becoming a collector can be a way of showing your support. If you’re a fan of a particular comic artist and then actively seek out some of their original artwork, or even purchase original sketches from them in person at a convention then there’s no better way you could support them and show what their work means to you. With larger film and television franchises however, no matter what you say or do, no matter how much you buy, the owners of that IP are seldom going to care what you think of them and even if you made the decision to stop supporting them, sadly the chances are that they wouldn’t care.

We Are Not Alone

One thing I have found as a collector is that regardless of what you collect, you immediately become part of a wider community. You quickly find others with a shared passion – whether it’s through going to collector’s fairs and chatting to traders or other fans looking for the same bargains as you are or online looking for collectors groups. Knowing that there are other people out there just like you can help bring people together and it it adds an extra dimension to the collecting. It’s no longer a case of filling shelves with whatever you are buying. You can share experiences with others, trade with other people and connect with like minded people. Being part of that is something pretty special. For some time, I’d been a fan and collector of retro video games published by the UK company Mastertronic. I knew there were other people out there like me but I’d only had contact with a few of them, either directly or through some Facebook video games sales groups but knowing that there must be more out there, it spurred me on to setting up a dedicated Mastertronic Collectors Group on Facebook. Since launching it, its ended up with members all over the world and even reached out to former game developers and ex-company staff creating an incredible community and it’s given everyone a boost to their passion for collecting.

Times Change…

But what about the collectors who decide later on in life that it’s time to sell their collections. To move on to something new or simply to give up collecting altogether? Fans do this for a wide range of reasons and we’ll be talking to individuals in the coming months who have done just this, but what prompts people to actually bring their collections to an end, sometimes collections that have been built up over an entire lifetime?

There is no single factor that drives all collectors to make the decison to move on to what is, for them at least, bigger and better things in their lives. For some, real life simply comes along and takes priority. As some of us get older our priorities simply change. We grow up, get married, have children and not only do we have less spare cash at the end of each month to be able to treat ourselves, when we do spare funds being a parent changes the way you think about that money. You’ll put your children, your partner, your household and everything else first before spending money on your hobbies. Yes, it’s great if you still have anything left to be able to treat yourself afterwards, but certainly many don’t have the resources that they used to when they were younger. At the same time space becomes an issue. Regardless of what you collect, there will come a point where your living space becomes taken over with your collection and you have to draw the line between living in a toy shop or a home. You may be happy living like that, but are the people you share the house with? There has to be a compromise and many reach a point where collections are trimmed purely for physical space reasons. That or your “man cave” has to go to make way for baby’s new bedroom!

I may joke about the lack of space for collections, but it happens to all of us at some point and depending on what you collect and how focused you are, this can be a very serious issue. The problem is that – and certainly this is the case when it comes to licenced merchandise and toys – franchise owners don’t seem to know when to stop when it comes to allowing what can and can’t be produced to link into their product and that leads to a severe case of overkill. Fans who set out to collect everything associated with a particular product range quickly find themselves running out of storage and display space and soon find parts of their collection being relegated to the garage or the attic, out of sight and never to be seen again. That’s no way to own a collection and that’s the stage where many fans accept that they are not going to be able to collect everything and start to scale back.

It Just Ain’t My Thing…

Some other, more simple reasons for people moving their collections on is that they have just tired of what they have collected. Some may have set themselves a collecting goal and once that has been reached feel that there is nothing more left for them and just want to move on to another challenge, others just find that their interests have changed over time and they are no longer as excited or as interested as they once were and have simply moved on to other pastimes.

One of the most saddening, and drastic reasons for people parting with their collections is more as a result of the external pressures of the fandom that they associate themselves with. While as a whole sci-fi and fantasy fandom (and all forms of geek culture for that matter) is incredibly open and welcoming, there are times when groups and communities can become strained and secular. It’s times like these that can leave some feeling rather disillusioned and despondent to the point that they simply feel that they no longer wish to be a part of the wider community and even decide to move onto other things completely.

While I won’t go into specifics as I don’t want to come across as being overly critical about one fandom or another, over the years I’ve seen different groups of fans enter into what can only be described as a state of inner turmoil. These individual fandoms have ended up splitting into groups, cliqués, rivalries breaking out and even to the point where petty arguments have broken out and the entire fandom has been divided making it an unpleasant and uncomfortable place to be. I’ve seen fan clubs and conventions turn on each other and try their utmost to see each other close down, some even taking delight when it happens. Others trying to spread unfounded rumours simply to hurt others regardless of what their intentions are and its spread to the modern era with arguments and petty bickering continuing on forums, Facebook, Twitter and so on. It makes you feel at times that you’ve either regressed to your childhood and you’re back in the school playground… or you’re sitting there watching politicians in one of their typical debates. No matter what though, it makes being part of a fandom difficult and many do feel that they no longer want to be a part of it and the first casualty is often a collection that has taken years to assemble. It’s been the same in some corners of the retro gaming community and if it’s something that you do find yourself caught up in, it’s very easy to develop feelings of despair and wanting to simply sell up and walk away completely. Even if you’re not affected personally, it does affect your enjoyment of what is meant to be a fun hobby.

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It’s not all doom and gloom though. Collecting as I said can be an incredibly fun, albeit expensive hobby. It can help fans connect all over the world and can add an incredible new dimension to enjoying franchises and passions that you already have in ways that you could never imagine. We all have our own quirky, weird and wonderful collections, and diverse views on what our collections mean and we’ll be talking to a lot of fans about them in the coming months across all of our sites, so stay tuned…

About Simon Plumbe 213 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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