A Sad Tale for all Collectors

Peter Symes

I have a friend, and this friend has a problem! No it's not me, it's my friend, my very good friend, and he has recently made a difficult and disturbing confession to me. It would have been easy for my friend to confess that he was an alcoholic, a gambler, or a purveyor of questionable magazines, but no! It is much worse than that ... he is addicted to collecting.

            To realise how my friend's life was ruined by this affliction, one needs to go back to the beginning, at least to his youth. When he was a child, his father gave him a few stamps to start a collection, just like any other kid (seems innocuous enough), but then he became aware of other collectibles like bubble-gum cards, match-box lids, and comics — the rot had set in.

            He should have seen the writing on the wall when he started sending for those coins and bank notes that were advertised on the back of comics, but he was a mere boy and could not see the tell-tale signs of an addiction to collecting. But his loss is the gain for others who are prepared to heed the warning of this sad tale.

            Shrouded as it is in respectability, there are many people who see no harm in having an ‘innocent’ hobby of collecting, but little do they know what all true collecting addicts go through. First of all there are the lies!

            My friend often told his wife that he had ‘lost his wallet’, or was ‘repaying old debts’, or even that he was saving for a ‘rainy day’, just to explain the ‘missing’ money that was in reality squandered on his collection. My friend was always looking through the financial section of the newspaper hoping to find some ‘advice’ to invest in collectibles, just so that he could justify the expenses his wife knew went towards the collection. And of course the items that were shown to his wife were always grossly under-stated as to their acquisition cost. But his wife wasn't the only dupe. He was forever telling his mother that he worked in houses of ill-repute and posed nude for pornographic magazines just to explain his odd behaviour, anything but admitting his addiction.

            My friend became bitter that his wife wanted to spend money on clothes, food, and home improvements, instead of using that valuable wealth to swell the collection. The only reason that many a married collector doesn't divorce their wife is that they fear losing half their collection in the inevitable settlement. So we collectors stay married and spend what money we can on expanding the collection.

            When my friend tells acquaintances that he collects bank notes, they wittily reply that they do too ... ‘To spend!’ (How droll.) Unlike these wits the true collector spends his ready cash (and his credit) on the collection. How many collectors spend their pay before they receive it?

            If you ever want to know how to survive on social security payments, just ask an addicted collector. Collectors have been keeping body and soul together on the small change from their addiction for years, while gaining some strange sustenance by watching their collection grow.

            Of course you can tell the really troubled collectors — they are the ones who have their collections hidden away in safe deposit boxes and never show them to anyone, never setting up a display, never joining a club, and never entering a competition. It's not that they're scared of being robbed, or have a fear of displaying an inadequate collection. It’s because they are afraid of being recognised as a ‘collector’, and having their addiction displayed before one and all.

            Have you noticed how most ‘serious’ collectors are either independently wealthy or are not married? The independently wealthy have a constant source of income to invest in their madness (and are able to hide their madness behind the veil of ‘eccentricity’); while the single man has been able to determine his priorities early in his life — collection first, women second.

            Unfortunately there are others who deluded ourselves that we could sustain a normal relationship, with a wife and family taking precedence over the ‘collection’. But, as the years passed, we found the desire to collect overtook our concern for our family. We started to spend nights studying the collection away from our offspring, we started to ignore social events to visit our dealer or attend fairs, and we continued to lie about how much we were spending on the collection.

            As each week and each month passes by we put ourselves further into debt, and as each dealer's list falls into our hands we sink further, but always with an excuse of ‘I've never seen it advertised before ...’, or ‘It will complete the set!’, or ‘At that price, I can't pass up the chance.’ And after getting ourselves into debt we still kid ourselves that one day we could sell it all if we ever needed the money. Sell it! Oh no, what a relapse!

            I know that the only rule about collecting is that whoever has the best collection when they die is the winner. This is a well established dictum, but what has confused my friend is how can he determine the ‘best’ collection? Over the past few months he's been waking up in a cold sweat, unable to sleep, trying to decide whether the ‘best’ collection is the biggest or the highest quality collection?

            Although my friend is in a bad way I believe that he's on his way to curing himself. Only the other day he went to his first ‘C.A.’ (Collectors Anonymous) meeting. There he stood before the assembled misery and made that declaration: ‘I am addicted to collecting!’, the hardest few words that he ever spoke.

            But the meetings have made us realise that there are people worse off than ourselves. I have always understood the desire to collect the bank notes of a country by date (or even serial prefix), the collecting of phone-cards, and even Franklin Mint products, but at ‘Collectors Anonymous’ there were guys collecting Australia Post pre-stamped envelopes, merchandise from Note Printing Australia (including questionable Kuwaiti issues), and (believe it or not) there were even some poor unfortunates who collected products from the Royal Australian Mint.

            While I feel that my friend's restoration is under way, and there is hope for all collectors who face up to their problem, there is one group of people I would like to draw your attention to. This is the cruel cartel of people who feed on the helpless and hapless collector, these are the dealers — dealers of misery, dealers of poverty, and dealers of all things collectible.

            They know how each collector hangs by the letterbox waiting for the next list so that their habit can be fed. Dealers' lists are the opium of collectors. And now their insidious grip is aided by modern technology, with their computer printed listings, their databases of your purchases and needs, and of course their access to your credit rating so that they can tell what you can really afford. It won't be long before your paymaster can arrange a direct debit into your dealer's bank account!

            And then there is the world of genetics. It is only a matter of time before scientists isolate the gene which makes people into collectors, and once the dealers discover that you have the relevant gene you will be targeted for the rest of your life. (If you don't understand the seriousness of this, I can only say that it will be worse than having your name on the ‘Reader's Digest’ mailing list!)

            Of course it won't stop with the discovery of the gene, because soon after the discovery we will find the dealers' cartel sponsoring the genetic engineering of babies so that more and more children will be (quite literally) born collectors. This is the brave new world facing us all!

            In an effort to remove this threat of world domination by the dealers, my friend and I have formed a fighting fund to which we implore all collectors to join. Foundation members will be awarded limited edition certificates (adorned with a stamp from Liechtenstein and postmarked ‘Montevideo’), and for a slight premium there will be a Krugerrand (nowadays they are politically correct) encased in perspex with a certificate of authenticity signed by Oliver North, and for generous donations we will produce an overprinted five dollar plastic note from Note Printing Australia.

            There is no need to be dominated by your oppressive dealer, as there is a revolution coming and a new world order is arriving with it. You (the collector) have nothing to lose in this revolution but your addiction. You have a collection of world notes to gain. Collectors of the world, unite!

This article was completed in December 2003
© Peter Symes