Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Six Stages of Collecting

I've been thinking about this, and it seems to me that there are six distinct stages of collecting. Of course, every collector will have his or her own personal experiences, but the first three definitely apply to me, and every collector I've spoken to seems to agree that, in broad terms at least, these stages are accurate and applicable.

I'm not sure what you're supposed to take away from this post, except that it might be some tasty food for thought. Or... Maybe I'm too lazy to take photographs tonight and this provides some convenient text-only content. Ahem. Anyway, without further ado:

Doc Atomic's Six Stages of Collecting

The collector stumbles upon something new and infatuation ensues. The collector begins to hunt down any and all information about this new object of desire. Photos, essays, buyer's guides, online forums -- the collector can't get enough of them. In the discovery stage, the collector might buy one or two of whatever it is that's caught his eye.

The collector buys three or four more items. The purchasing is indiscriminate -- if it's one of these great new things, the collector has to own it. It's about building mass and developing density. Shelves quickly buckle under the weight of so much new stuff.

The collector realizes that, while he might have many of these new things, none of them are particularly special. The collector has learned more about his new obsession and has begun to identify the examples that really get his blood pumping. He decides to go after those particular pieces. In doing so, he also discovers that some of the older stuff is just getting in the way of the better things, and he begins to sell off some of the overflow. The signal to noise ration begins to improve.

At stage three, collections take shape and begin to reflect the tastes of those who own them. Most collectors linger on this stage the longest. And if the collector's area of interest is large enough -- or expensive enough -- then it's possible to never get everything; the collector stays at stage three forever. Stage three is, for many people, the most enjoyable part of the collecting life cycle.

The collector owns every piece he wants to own. There aren't many new discoveries. His shelves have remained unchanged for a while. The hunt has ended, but the collector feels a sense of peace and contentment. He gets enjoyment from looking at the collection he's built, and he's proud of his accomplishments within the hobby.

For some collectors, during stage four, the individual pieces of their collection become less important than the collection as a whole -- it begins to feel like a singular object, and can even be admired as a giant work of art.

By the way, the collection doesn't need to be large or contain every piece ever made. For some collectors, it's enough to own the ones they love -- even if there are only three or four on their shelves.

For many collectors, this is the inevitable end of stage four. The collection is no longer interesting. The objects become part of the background, barely noticed and rarely engaged. Not every collector experiences stage five -- some people go to their graves with a deep appreciation and lingering infatuation for their stuff. But for the rest, they've returned to eBay, only this time they're not hunting for additions to their collections... they're researching prices to figure out what their collection might be worth.

The magic has left the collection and the collector has decided to sell. Maybe something new has caught his eye and moving the collection will raise the necessary funds to pursue this new interest. Maybe he just wants to clear space. Whatever the reason, the collection is dispersed back into the ether from which it sprung, perhaps fueling some other collector who is, at that very moment, entering the first stages of his newfound love affair.

Rinse. Shake. Repeat.


  1. I’m a victim of what is referred to as the “collector gene” and have been through many many cycles of your Six Stages of Collecting. I’ve been a collector of stuff throughout my life and have only recently tried to focus on robots and space toys…although I’ve been really focusing on space toys in the recent past, mostly 50’s plastic. For me, my age is a factor and the driving force behind the re-focus effort, which currently falls between your Stage #2 and #3. If all goes well, I’ll be in Stage #3 for the remainder of my days!

  2. Well, I can promise that robots and space toys will definitely keep you busy at Stage #3 for a looooong time! Especially space toys -- I keep learning about new (old) ones every day.

    A great resource for space toys -- especially plastic ones -- is the book Future Toys, by Antoni Emchowicz. Many photos.

    I'd also recommend ordering a catalog from Smith House Toys from their recent Alan Rosen auction (#74). It was almost exclusively space toys, though more tin than plastic. Pretty much the only reference to focus on these toy (with very few robots -- though the second Rosen auction will be mostly 'bots). (Smith House Toys:

    Best of luck and happy collecting!

  3. I'm in a sort of refinement stage with one of my biggest collections, where I sell off all the pieces that aren't special to me. This way I'm only left with the figures that mean a lot to me, which makes me appreciate my collection much more.


Doc Atomic wants to hear from you!