The Collectors 11 May, 2023 – Posted in: Articles, Books – Tags: ,

Readers tend to be collectors. This is often quite by accident. The average reader is drawn to bookshops and bookshelves so readers are enticed into picking up books To Be Read.

This tendency to collect books comes on so slowly readers usually don’t notice it happening. You find a book you enjoy and since you enjoy it you think “I’ll get another of their books to read”. If the author has any sort of successful career there could be anywhere from several to hundreds of books to choose from. This is the thin edge of the wedge. One book becomes two, two become a handful, and soon you’re a collector.

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.

– Desiderius Erasmus

Types of Collectors

I would categorise collectors into three general types; the Completist, the Surveyor, and the Aristocrat.

The Completist

The Completist is probably the easiest type of collector to spot. They focus on something and seek to find every edition, every variation, and in every language possible. Condition is usually of little importance to the Completist. The important thing is to have one of everything. I have seen this several time in the case of Philip K. Dick collectors. Dick inspires a type of collecting that could be called obsessive or more aptly, otaku.

The Surveyor

The Surveyor takes a broader view of things. They tend to collect widely and broadly. They don’t focus on a single thing or even a few things. Condition may be more important to them than the Completist, but it isn’t a prime motivator. The Surveyor is usually all about more. They have the largest and broadest libraries and are great people to borrow books from. If they will let you.

The Aristocrat

The Aristocrat is focused on not having the biggest collection, but rather the best in quality. The condition of an item is paramount to the Aristocrat and they will spend years looking for that certain book and edition in the best possible state. I confess I have tendencies to the Aristocrat but fall more closely in line with the Surveyor.

The Collectors haunt. Used bookshop, interior.


The Point of Collecting

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

-Bertrand Russell

I’m not sure there is a point to collecting anything other than it’s something collectors enjoy. More often than not it’s not about the having but of the searching and finding. When you do find that certain book, or edition, or cover, or whatever it is, there is a little thrill in completing a quest we have set for ourselves. And once one quest is completed we can start another. And another. Author, William Gibson, explains in his Wired article how he became a collector:

When I was a young man, traversing the ’70s in whatever post-hippie, pre-slacker mode I could manage, I made a substantial part of my living, such as it was, in a myriad of minuscule supply-and-demand gaps that have now largely closed. I was what antique dealers call a “picker,” a semi-savvy haunter of Salvation Army thrift shops, from which I would extract objects of obscure desire that I knew were up-marketable to specialist dealers, who sold in turn to collectors. To this day I am often unable to resist a professionally quick, carefully dispassionate scan over the contents of any thrift shop, though I almost never buy anything there.

-William Gibson from Wired article

Collecting is also a community activity. The idea that a collector sits alone hunting for some rare item is false. A real collector gets out in the world to talk with other people like them and discuss their love of what it is they’re collecting. It makes the collector part of a community – however small or large – and allows them to grow. And growth is central to human experience.

Whether you are looking for that rare Battletech book, collect rocks, or flowers, or vintage Rolling Stones t-shirts, the act of collecting what you love only deepens your enjoyment of that thing. We need to spend more time enjoying and sharing enjoyment with friends, family, and strangers. It can only bring people together and make the world a better place.

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