or, "So I do a few paperbacks now and then. I can handle it."
This piece may seem slightly out of place in Sensation! but it affects me, possibly your editor and at least three other subbers so I figured I'd get it into the open. Please excuse me if it has been done before. The subject is collecting. I will go on to explain the details, but what we are dealing with is sometimes rather upsetting, nothing serious, but nevertheless a worry. The article is intentionally without answers and analysis because I wanted to avoid the rather tacky sociologist approach. I was also hoping some of you might respond and discuss the subject.
Let me explain this from my angle. I am referring to collecting as a hobby, for itself or as part of another broader hobby, ie one presumably collects games in order to play them. So, what do I collect? Sportsgames, financial games, railway games, boardgames, books in general but specifically on: baseball, bonsai, Philip K Dick, computer graphics, science fiction, finance, sport, military history, ice hockey, basketball, games, computers, fractal mathematics, railways, chart analysis and history. I collect magazines on some of the above and on other subjects. I currently buy over 20 periodicals monthly. I collect quality TV programmes on video (120+ tapes), bonsai trees (which often die), programmes and tickets for events I attend, Victorian photographs, enamel signs, Tamiya catalogues and Woody Allen and Gerry Anderson videos. I would like to collect: netsuke, baseball cards, banknotes, share certificates, wine labels and enamel badges but my floorboards are already creaking. (I am serious here, one of my walls has sunk an inch under the weight). I have never collected train numbers.
How do I collect these items? By visiting numerous scruffy back street shops and markets and by writing off to those funny little ads in the specialist press. The shops always seem to be full of those rather odd collector types who are presumably similar to me in some way. The shop owners never seem to mind about our strange requests, after all they make their living from it. As a rule, I enjoy shopping of any sort and will regularly head up to town for a day's browsing. I even did it in the States and I wondered why I couldn't carry my cases home.
Why do I collect? The crunch question. There are sides to collecting that are pure enjoyment. There is an undeniable pleasure in the searching and initial acquisition, of finding some long-sought item, of completing a set, of looking at, reading or displaying the collection. Many of the items, by their very nature, have a high aesthetic appeal which in itself could be considered enough. The other side is that there is a definite presence of compulsion, of wanting, that does not always seem wholesome. Other views, solicited from known 'sufferers', include the feeling that a set of something is worthless with one or some items missing, that it is nice to have something very few people have and that in many cases, the items are highly educational.
I can relate to most of those, especially the latter. It doesn't bother me too much if I am missing one book from an author's work but it does grate a bit when one has all fifty two issues of a part work apart from issue three. I would go to great lengths to get hold of that missing issue. Another instance is related to the above example. I have in the past bought games with no intention of playing them, purely because I would like to have them in my collection, to read the rules and thus to somehow credit the designer. If a game design looks conceptually interesting I will probably buy it, even if the period or subject holds little apparent appeal. The education angle is very interesting. If nothing else, collecting always gives you something to talk about to people and there is no doubt that certain collectibles, especially books, are a fund of knowledge.
The other perspective, and one that the cynics might suggest, is that all collecting is done for profit, real or imagined. This could well be true of dealers and others who rely on the industry for income. It is these people with whom I refuse to deal because in the end I enjoy the things for their value to me, not because a dealer prices it at a certain level. For this reason, I am not a strict collector of first editions or hardbacks, a paperback in nice condition will do me fine. It still represents the author's work. Neither will I pay the grossly inflated prices asked by some outlets. I much prefer to find the item tucked away in some old bookstore or wherever, even if it means a long wait. In the end, the financial angle is academic because I wouldn't want, with few exceptions, to part with my collections. Sure, I value them in money terms but mainly to insure them against the possibility of fire or damage ruining them and to keep a track on what I spend.
But, if I am honest, there are piles of magazines that gather dust, games that I may never play and books that, despite best intentions, I may never get round to reading. Nevertheless, I enjoy simply having them. Hunter Davies in Punch, another collector, indicated recently that the main reason for collecting is the acquiring in the first place. I see his point. After acquisition, the item is 'in' the collection and becomes part of the whole and it is a whole that is not easily sold or disposed of without, in my case, some emotional distress. It is here that the hoarder instinct takes over, which perhaps is another subject. I normally, within reason, keep everything. This is ostensibly because I may just need it at some time in the future. (I speak as a man who in his younger days threw out a complete collection of TV21 comics. I could probably have retired by now on the auction proceeds.) You will observe, correctly, that there is a flaw in this way of life.
I appreciate that I am extremely lucky in that I currently have the spare cash to support these foibles. If I didn't have, and marriage or house purchase would soon see to that, I would have no choice but to stop. I would like to think I could stop anyway but there is a sneaking suspicion of needing something concrete like, say, a 60k mortgage to assist me. Am I alone? I think not. Is it a 'problem' in the usual sense? Probably not. Luckily, and one of the reasons I write this, is that at last I see an end to my acquisitive nature with regard to my present collections. The lists of wants are gradually decreasing but sadly so is my living space. Whether I will be able to resist that first piece of netsuke or that GEC share certificate is another matter.
Having poured out my 'problems', I am all too aware of the other side, of people who have no such compulsions when confronted with collectibles. One good friend in particular semi-secretly regards me as having a few tiles loose. He has never collected anything at all, not even stamps as a lad. When pressed by researchers (well, me) he claimed not to know why. So, do we have a contrast; collectors and non-collectors? Perhaps not. After a few moments thought, my friend admitted, 'Perhaps there is one thing I collect. Money.'
Mike Siggins. 7/2/88. With thanks to Steve Harvey and Craig Poynter.
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