Riding The Horse – Part Six – The Collector’s Edition

If anyone ever meets you on the road and tells you that the only reason they collect something – whether it be stamps, coins, or matchbook covers – is for the investment value of them, you must treat them like Buddha. You must kill them. Because they are either telling you the truth or a lie…and neither one is acceptable.

The collection urge is a basic part of the human psyche – and there are studies that show it to be something that other animals do as well. Unfortunately there have not been enough funded studies employing perpetual students that have concentrated upon the animal part of it – we still do not know why crows and magpies collect junk bonds. But as far as people go, everyone has a latent collector inside them.

The classical collections involve art, antiquities, coins, postage stamps, china and porcelain, and silver and gold objects. These have an intrinsic value in themselves  – with the possible exception of outdated postage stamps – and can be turned into a current in the income stream of the collector. Of course most turn out to be money sinks, but that is the nature of the con game.

The actual objects to be collected is immaterial – it is the amassing of a group of them that forms the gratification. If they can be supported by specialist shops, publications, scholarly works, fairs, and auctions…so much the better. Sometimes they run afoul of laws, as in the collection of weapons and firearms, but that’s never stopped any keen enthusiast that I’ve ever met. The man with the working anti-tank gun is ample evidence of this. In any case no real collector lets anything – money, law, or good sense – stand in his way. The only irksome part for him may be the necessity to keep the collection hidden.

Can there be too many things in a collection? Not according to the collectors. Can the collection be too wide in scope? Again, no. Can it be too narrow? Well, I met a proud collector who concentrated his efforts upon a toy plastic boat that was produced as a promotional giveaway in the 80’s and he has found enough variants in it to base his entire happiness upon. All the items look the same until he tells you the minute history of them and lets you examine them carefully with a magnifying glass. At that point you wish you were a gun collector…

Can the objets de collection be too expensive? Well they can be so for the average person, and that for a number of reasons, but for the unlimited budget person, nothing is too dear. They are the explorers after El Dorado that poison the land for all the rest – they elevate prices and depress common sense in any field they enter. And yet. And yet…

Remember our first paragraph. In every collector’s heart is a small section that really does want their beloved collection of dried goat udders to be the secret desire of a fabulously-wealthy sheik…who will pay an enormous price for them. This small portion of the heart is known as the Jesse James valve, and it flutters in the presence of loose money. 

Collectors are easy meat for the purveyors of dreck – see the back of any woman’s magazine for the porcelain figures of the Royal Plumbers Of Tonga at only $ 256 each in a signed edition. They are also the natural fodder for makers of collection cases, display shelves, storage books, and fanciful catalogues. They can be seen at all sorts of trade shows, secondhand fairs, and repulsive little shops cruising for the bargains. The shopkeepers know ‘em in a minute and it is all they can do from salivating visibly.

Is there any harm in being a collector? No, if you do not go so far down the rabbit hole that you find the subject has collected you. This is the sad fate of several of the gun collectors I know who’ve sacrificed money, property, and good sense to serve their masters…the guns. It is not possible to bring them to their senses, but they are mostly harmless. The fate of many collectors is to find that their friends and family avoid them – at least when they start to talk about The Collection.