January 28, 2011
We can debate whether the mythic gene is transmissible, but the manifestation of the collecting gene is plainly obvious to all of us involved in collecting. While remarkably few people understand and accept the nature of the “collecting gene,” the CBS Sunday Morning report touched on every important concept.
Collecting is about searching for and acquiring “one of everything” within targeted specialties. Collectors who carry the collecting gene:
1) clearly and absolutely define their specialties, and
2) find a method of determining what items they seek to acquire.
While Jerry Green’s quest of collecting model trains and accessories is quite common, his execution is not. He precisely defined his acquisition goals through the use of vintage manufacturers’ catalogs. Green started with the Bing catalog, marking off every item he acquired until he had no more targets. Then he moved on to different manufacturers.
Ultimately, he ran out of manufacturers.
Green was fortunate to have started early and was able to fuel his passion with large sums of disposable cash. Today, his collection is worth multiple tens of millions of dollars. However, value was most assuredly not his primary goal. This is another defining quality of the collecting gene and one I cannot stress enough.
3) The goal of collecting is pursuit, not ownership.
Yes, acquisition is necessary. Items are not collected until they are owned. But once owned, individual items quickly lose their previous allure. This is the point that confuses non-collectors rather terribly. They think that collectors’ pleasure comes from ownership. Nay, nay, nay! It is the pursuit, pure and simple.
Sure, ownership is nice. Certainly fulfilling. Yet, once items are acquired, their previous importance dims, replaced almost immediately by new quests. Non-collectors will never grasp the concept that the next quest is greatly more important than any previous success.
Jerry Green’s indescribable collection made it onto TV because of its size and the fact that Sotheby’s is offering it for sale. The report got me thinking about how easy it is to spot non-collectors. Profit is always the main concern of non-collectors. Mr. Green and his heirs will surely profit from the sale of his collection, but financial reward is hardly the reason for disposal. As Green told Teichner, “I definitely will collect something else.” Every collector knew the answer the moment Teichner asked Green whether he’d fill up his collecting rooms again. “Absolutely! I’m a collector. I would have to. That’s the fun.”
4) Profit is not the goal of collecting.
In the last twenty years, I cannot tell you how few times I’ve heard collectors talk about intended profit. In my role as advisor, I rather wish this weren’t so true. I deeply wish collectors would consider their heirs more than they do. I often wish collectors would consider their purchases with a little more thought of profit. But profit is simply not in their vocabulary.
Few of us ordinary mortals have the monetary resources of Mr. Jerry Green and other big, big names in collecting. The beauty of collecting, though, is that we can all pursue collecting in our own way. We may need to temper our goals with financial reality, but that does not mean we can’t enjoy the chase.
Of all the things we can say about collecting, of all the psychological mumbo-jumbo we could argue, one clear point repeats itself time and time again. Collecting, like exploration, hunting, game-playing and numerous other hobbies, is purely and simply about the pursuit.
5) No pursuit, no hobby.
Posted by Terry Cox at 1:13 PM