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Two kinds of collectors. March 14, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is an inveterate collector. From earliest childhood collections of fossils, cacti, and books to current collections of Pueblo pottery, vintage chess pieces, and heirloom quilts and coverlets (and, of course, fossils, cacti, and books–God forbid I should ever stop collecting anything), if it’s aesthetic or interesting, our friend Ben has at least considered collecting it. (Affordable is also a consideration, but I never let that get in the way of a good imagination.) Even if I would run screaming from a particular type of collectible if I encountered it in my home (Disney and Hallmark fans, cover your eyes), our friend Ben has complete sympathy with those who cherish these collectibles. Passion is passion, whatever form it takes.

All of which is to say that our friend Ben has spent a not inconsiderable amount of time pondering the nature of collectors and the collector mentality. And at last, I’ve come to a conclusion: When all is said and done, there are only two kinds of collectors.

But wait, you say: There are infinite kinds of collectors. To you I would say, no, there are infinite kinds of collections. Let’s use iris as an example. Someone might collect species iris, or all the cultivars of a single species of iris, or bearded iris, or a certain height of bearded iris, or bearded iris cultivars produced before 1890, or every white iris cultivar known to humanity, or iris that have won the Dykes Medal, or iris bred by Currier McEwan, or… Trust me, I have not even scraped the surface of the possibilities. And that’s just for iris.

Moving on to inanimate objects, there are folks who collect things as–they tell themselves or their spouses, anyway–investments, folks who collect things because they’re trendy (Manolos, anyone?), folks who collect things in pursuit of knowledge or while working on a project, folks who collect things that contribute to their hobby (as yarns, beads, fabric, wood, tools), and folks who collect things for love. But despite the many motives that may compel someone to collect, there are still just two kinds of collectors.

At the end of the day, our friend Ben thinks it all boils down to this: There are collectors who can parlay parts or all of their collections into profits, and there are those who can’t. For example, our hypothetical iris grower might want to divide his or her bearded iris rhizomes and end up with extras. Our Pueblo pottery fanatic might discover that his or her taste had changed considerably since s/he began collecting, and want to offload some of the early pieces to have cash to buy others.  An Audubon print collector might have learned that some of the first prints he or she bought are commonly available, and might decide to trade up for rarer versions. You yourself might realize that, though you loved that opal and diamond ring when you bought it, you’ve never really worn it. Maybe you could sell it and buy a piece of Imari. But can you?

Our friend Ben has concluded that the world divides neatly into buyers and sellers. Some collectors are able to buy, sell, and trade with finesse. Others, like (heavy sigh) our friend Ben, are incapable of striking a bargain. Not because we don’t want to sell something, but because it seems we can’t. In our friend Ben’s case, it’s tempting to blame it on a classical Southern upbringing where attempting to “push” something, dicker, or bargain was considered rude, boorish, completely unacceptable behavior. (Our friend Ben was raised to keep whatever someone gave me, however disgusting, tacky, or inappropriate, because returning it to the store was vulgar. For that matter, anything smacking of “the shop” was vulgar, along with an interminable laundry list of other things.) Yet our friend Ben knows any number of Southerners who are more canny about these matters than anyone else, and it would not occur to anyone to think of them as vulgar.

So the whys and wherefores remain a mystery. Some people upgrade their collections or move on to other collections on the profits of previous ones. Others, like our friend Ben, stare sadly at items they no longer love but cannot for the life of them offload: collector clutter.

Not that I haven’t tried. From time to time, I’ll gather one or a clutch of objects and take them to a venue that specializes in that particular type, or to an antiques store, or a flea-market stall, or even an eBay store. The owners will eye the object(s), then eye our friend Ben, with that particular sort of eye that says louder than words “Oh, you poor sheep.” Then they’ll tell me that no, they couldn’t possibly sell that. And they don’t know of anyone or anyplace else that could or would sell that. Even if I bought that particular that from this very vendor; even if I’ve been buying these thats from them for decades. Must be the luck of the English/Irish/Scottish/Norman/German/Austro-Hungarian. (Can you say “hybrid vigor”?)

Is there a lesson in this? What would my mentor, the great Dr. Franklin, say? I’m sure old Ben would put it more memorably, and work some humor in, too. But I can only sound a warning to my fellow collectors (you know who you are): Before you put your money down, know which of the two you are. And if you fall into our friend Ben’s can’t-sell-it-to-save-your-life camp, think very hard before you whip out that blazing checkbook or credit card. Whatever you’re about to buy will be with you for the rest of your life.   

  

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