“I need you to find me a Scarborough Castle siege piece, or else I’ll never close the siege piece collection so do keep an eye out” equally “I have a die letter A Halfpenny of 1862 and require B and C by the lighthouse, the grade should be around extremely fine. A good 1860/59 Copper Penny also.” Alternatively, a question I am consistently asked by a client in dulcet tones, who has been acquiring coins since before I had been born in the early eighties, and has forgotten more than I know about numismatics, “Is it good enough for me condition wise, send it on approval please.” Lastly, from another seasoned distinguished collector, “I am looking to continue the chronology and depth, the grade matters, but not when juxtaposed by the chronology. Like the Stewartby collection, it needs to be linear. The story matters.”
The story always matters.
Why do people collect? There have been several schools of thought that have been put in place for this loaded question, many are cliched underestimations of the human condition. Some existential explorations of the self, quoting Freud et cetera, many half accurate and some just a case of cause and effect, nearer the truth? One does not need to consult ‘The World as Will and Representation’ by Schopenhauer to understand why people collect or amass, nevertheless it is more than a base impulse or slap-dash compulsion. Ultimately, it may be no different to a man or woman who love their garden. Getting the right balance of beauty, understanding the light, spending the correct money, creating a safe space, getting the colour scheme accurate, letting some of it grow out wild, a few show pieces, continuing till it is complete. A car, book, stamp, coin, button or fountain pen collection and so on, are all tied to similar sets of principles. It could be something as primordial as appreciation. Appreciating something one has created.
As Voltaire put it (with far more power and gusto in his pen than mine) ‘Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.’
Creating order in a world which is, however one wants to cut the odds, no more than organised chaos. Acquiring, curating, grading, holding, touching, feeling may evoke a nostalgic schoolboy reaction, the search for innocence and simpler times, perhaps, perhaps not. Partly twee evocations of yesteryear and part the pursuit of excellence. Humans are complicated creatures of habit, obsessive, knee-jerk in our decision making, neurotic, childlike, erratic; equally disciplined, logical, stoical, discerning, sharp, brave and passionate, all before breakfast.
A collection is, when stripped down to its lowest common denominator an everlasting perpetual red letter day for the eccentric; it provides clarity, solace and refuge for the unwavering academic. Pride of ownership, the impulse to wax lyrical about the latest purchase at a dinner party, and a good return will also bookmark or underpin some of the above. None of the above are mutually exclusive, it is impossible to pigeon hole the human experience into a balance sheet of emotions or requirements. Collecting is also a long term pursuit, a quest, a fitting starting point can then live on for decades before completion, it can even be handed down to an heir apparent or friends. Life does not have a beginning a middle and an end, anything can happen. Collecting fortunately does have a timeline.