Is There A Mania To Collecting?
Back in the early 90’s when I was a regular dealer on the Long Island baseball card show scene I’d see the same faces week to week. Sometimes I’d see the same faces multiple times per week. I had my favorites and then there were those I’d hope passed my table by.
One of my favorite faces, earning that title as a regular paying customer, of course, was a gentleman with whom my conversation typically never went beyond my naming my price and telling him thank you after he handed me the money. No, he wasn’t a favorite simply because he was regularly paying me. Despite the lack of any conversation he was quite the personality.
He was a little fellow, a bit past middle-age, unlike many who made their weekend ventures a father-son bonding session, he was always alone. I suspect he went home to an empty house as well, but that’s just my own projection. For all I know he was Mr. Personality off the card show floor, though I doubt it.
What especially interested me about this quiet shopper was the little notebook he always carried. It contained his lists. He hovered over my boxes of cards sorting through 1950’s and 60’s Topps commons for hours on end looking for those last few numbers he needed to complete his baseball card sets. When he’d find something he’d make a small mark in his book, a mark I always assumed would be emboldened upon his arriving home to mix his new found treasures into his existing collection.
More then a decade earlier when I’d collected my first baseball card set, 1979 Topps, I recall a weekend Summer afternoon spent on the back porch with my father sorting through my stacks of cards. Youth rendered condition irrelevant and so Dad carefully marked off the ’79 Topps pink checklists with a super sharp pencil tip just like he’d done decades before with his own favorite sets, the 1956 and ’59 Topps issues.
On the weekends Dad would work the card shows with me he slowly but surely put those 1950’s sets back together. This time he didn’t mark the checklists, the 56’s went for a couple hundred bucks each at the time, but he crossed the card numbers off his own list handwritten on a pad of paper.
As a full time dealer today I don’t really collect cards in the physical sense anymore. Everything that comes in is meant to be moved out. Most of my best baseball cards are long gone, though I still have my original box of ’79’s, the ones with the scuffs, creases and marked checklists. Today I specialize in early movie trading and tobacco cards as well as other ephemeral issues relating to classic film stars.
I collect them online today. I show the sets off, piece by piece. When I was a kid I sorted my baseball cards by set. If I got bored I’d sort them again by team. I’d sit in front of a ballgame on TV and spread out that day’s lineups in front of me on the carpet and play out the game on a sort of virtual, or at least ephemeral, scorecard. I’d sort the singles and doubles and my favorites from the scrubs. Then I’d put them back in numbered order.
Today, even after something has sold, I sort my movie images online by set. I add a tag and sort them by star. Another tag can group together casts of classic movies. I turn these galleries into web pages and I sort them alphabetically on pages headed by star, film, or set. The possibilities seem endless. Even seeming random disorder brings an order of sorts as I group together a seemingly unrelated group of film stars who shared only their profession and a date of birth.
There’s a mania to collecting. Any item which is truly collected comes with potential for sorting and ordering, though trading cards seem to cry out for some sort of shuffling. After all, a collection is comprised of more than one and when there’s more than one, something has to come first.
The pieces we choose to acquire for our collections make a statement about who we are, but the further sorting and ordering of those pieces add a taste of how we are.