08 Oct Collections – Why Do People Collect Things?
There were seashells everywhere. The room was furnished with couches and chairs with a seashell pattern on the upholstery.There were lamps with shades covered with shells. Sculptures made of shells and books about seashells sat on the tables. Family photos in seashell- encrusted frames lined the shelves. A curio cabinet was filled with more shells. I was visiting the home of a new acquaintance. She collects seashells. A special room in her home was dedicated to shells. There were shells from all over the world everywhere in that room. Even the business card she gave me was decorated with a photo of a large shell.
People have a natural tendency to collect things. Seashells may not be their passion but whether its coins, stamps, postcards, spoons, or more bizarre things like teabags, chocolate bar wrappers or traffic signs we human beings seem inclined to be collectors. Dr. Steve Anderson, a neurologist at the University of Iowa says our need to collect may harken back to an earlier point in our evolution, since many animals hoard things, especially food.
According to Susan Pearce, author of the book Interpreting Objects and Collections one in three North Americans collects something. There are many different kinds of collections and collectors.
Some collections are souvenirs or mementos of a place. I once visited the home of a couple who collect masks every time they travel. One wall of their dining room is covered with traditional painted masks from South Africa, Egypt, Vietnam, the Philippines and dozens of other places. When they are on a trip they never have to stop and think about what to buy as a souvenir. They just look for a mask to add to their collection.
Some collections are gifts. I know a man who gives his mother a china plate every Mother’s Day with a message or saying about mothers on it. He hunts through antique stores and curio shops, often for weeks, until he finds a plate and a design that he hasn’t already purchased. His mother has more than twenty such plates in her collection.
Some collections are of practical use. I have friends who are world travelers and collect Starbucks Coffee mugs from every place they visit. There are Starbucks franchises in more than forty countries. Our friends don’t have forty different mugs but certainly enough for a fairly large group of coffee drinking guests.
The desire to learn new things can also be the impetus behind a collection. I know someone who collects military artifacts from the World Wars. He has uniforms, machinery, vehicles, sheet music, maps, books, flags and photographs. His collection has helped him learn a great deal about military history.
Some people collect things because of their monetary value. I used to work with a woman who collected Barbie Dolls. She assured me someday she would sell her collection and make a mint of money.
Susan Pearce says there are some collections which she terms ‘magic’. There is no rhyme or reason for collecting them but they have a certain appeal or attraction for the collector. I imagine this might apply to a collection of snow globes or a large collection of Superman memorabilia.
Collections can remind us of positive experiences and important people in our lives. They can help us learn new things. They can be practical or magical. If you’re not a collector you might want to think about becoming one. Collections can enrich our lives.