Everyone collects for different reasons. A while back, we offered an encyclopedia of sorts of the various types of collectors out there. From trophy hunters to bargain hunters, we covered them all. Of course, that was tongue-in-cheek (sort of). There are, in reality, a wide range of reasons that folks collect, and why you collect is, in many ways, as important as what you collect. In fact, we believe that you should think long and hard about why you collect, or want to collect. Knowing the why can help you better develop the what and can help make collecting more enjoyable.
For example, I (Andrew) am a history collector. In other words, I look for objects that have a story, a known past, a connection to an important event or person. Or I look for objects that help me fill in a piece of the puzzle in my research--identifying a stenciled motif on a Midwestern German blanket chest or a type of inlay on a southern Ohio chest of drawers.
Hollie, on the other hand, is more of an aesthetic collector. She looks for objects that, quite simply, she likes to look at. Age, origin, etc. don't matter as much to her, so long as she likes how it looks. She regularly tells me that our house would look a whole lot different if she were filling it by herself. From William Gedney photographs to Vermont painted furniture, Hollie wants to live with things that make her smile just to look at them.
In my work at Garth's, I usually try to determine why a potential consignor collected what they did. It can help me establish a good rapport with them, and often makes the consignment process more enjoyable for all involved.
In our upcoming firearms and militaria auction, there is a collection of 20th century items (uniforms, patches, buttons, etc.) that come from a central Ohio collector. Honestly, it's not big dollar stuff...not the rarest stuff, but I was immediately struck by the encyclopedic nature of it. There are complete field AND dress uniforms from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Additionally, there is a darn near complete collection of headgear (helmets and hats). Hundreds of patches, dozens of medals and badges, and, though some might not like it, a thorough assemblage of Nazi armbands. Clearly this is a collection that was put together carefully and thoughtfully. But, of course, I wondered why?
As it turns out, the collector was an addict. Fortunately, he got help and completed his 12 steps and got sober. But he found that he needed to keep himself occupied to stay that way. So, he threw himself into collecting 20th century American militaria. Flea markets, surplus stores, antique shops...a patch here, a helmet there, probably never spent more than $100 at a shot. But over the years, he amassed an impressive collection. But now, 20-some odd years later, he's still sober and has decided to move on and sell his collection.
The "why" of collecting is different for each collector, just like the "what" is. And that's okay. If we all collected the same things for the same reasons, auctions and shows would be pretty boring. Diversity is a good thing; it keeps the marketplace interesting. And an ever-widening range of motives for collecting can only help bring more collectors to shows and auctions. And that's a very good thing.