Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blog Bat Around - Why do we collect?

I find the psychology of collecting fascinating. What drives human beings to spend time and money stockpiling things that have little to no real value (isn't that what we really mean when we say something is priceless) - things that are not essential to everyday survival. Art, cars, baseball cards, coins, books, rocks, stuffed animals. We clutter our houses, our lives with these purposeless pursuits. Sure collecting is fun and serves as a distraction from the everyday pressures of life, but is that what really drives us to collect? Or is it the thrill of the chase; the feeling of satisfaction when a long sought after piece is finally attained; the hope that the items we hoard will become valuable? Why do I, a (relatively) normal man of 32 years old, store thousands of cardboard rectangles depicting others playing a game in boxes, binders and specially designed plastic sheaths in my closet?

When I was younger I collected every type of card imaginable – baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and even non-sports cards. In 1982, the year I started collecting, there were approximately 50 baseball card products issued, including small run and regional releases. No one I knew labeled themselves as a player collector, or a set collector. We didn’t have to. We were just card collectors. By the mid-1990’s there were six times the number of products being issued. As a collector, I could no longer keep up with the quantity of products being issued. I also couldn’t afford my collection habit any more, as the early 1990’s saw the genesis of high end products. It was depressing to not be able to afford the best looking and most desirable cards being produced, so I stopped.


Fast forward 15 years. While the number of manufacturers has decreased (RIP Donruss), the number of card products has continued to rise exponentially. In 2007, there were over 700 baseball products, including parallels, inserts and 1 of 1s, issued (granted this is a marked improvement from over 2,100 products in 2005, the year before MLBPA contracted to two manufacturers). It is impossible to collect everything unless you are lucky enough to have nearly unlimited resources. As a result, we as collectors have to limit what it is we collect. The type collector is a product of today’s sports card industry more than anything else. We are forced to limit our collecting to one team, to one player, or even to one type of card (
game used for example) to make collecting manageable. This is the hobby I returned to in 2008. I’ve come to realize that my original collecting goal (to collect one Red Sox card from every set ever produced) is laughable in its impossibility and that I need some guidelines to keep from getting in over my head. These are my new Collecting Rules of Engagement:

1. I will only collect baseball cards
2. I will only collect (1) base product, inserts not included, per year (I picked Topps since that’s what I collected most when I was younger)
3. I will only collect 2-3 additional products per year (I picked Topps Chrome – what can I say, I like shiny – and UD Masterpieces this year)
4. I will only collect Red Sox cards only of all other products


Basically, I’ve decided that I want to collect as a set builder who dabbles as a team collector on the side. To me, this model is as close as I can get to how I collected when I was younger (I’m sure this says something on a psychological level about why I collect baseball cards). Also, as I noted in my first post on this blog, I find that set building feeds my love of baseball's history. In the end though, no matter what label we as collector's use to identify ourselves, be it set collector, team collector or autograph collector, it all goes back to the psychology of collecting. We all have the same itch, the same addiction - to fill our closets with rectangular pieces of cardboard!

8 comments:

Dave said...

Great post - and good luck with your new blog! I'll be checking in and reading what you have to say - even though you are a Red Sox fan...

Scott C. said...

Thanks for checking out Green Monster. I'm having fun writing it! I'm afraid that my team allegiance was predestined. My entire family hails from central Massachusetts and are devout Red Sox fans. Despite that, I hope you enjoy the blog!
Scott C.

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