hat our deal is: We collect things. The only requirement for membership is a collection of one thousand things. More is fine. More is better. Our preference is for collections of just one type of thing, but we are not exclusive in this way. Our members are not just one thing, why should our collections be?
Some of us collect the usual: stamps, coins, rocks, toys, baseball cards, lunch boxes, salt and pepper shakers, snow globes, thimbles, spoons, paperweights, matchbooks, hot sauces, license plates, bells, whistles, Barbies, butterflies, insects, wind-up toys, instruments, vintage purses, potato mashers!, cameras, teapots, royal commemorative mugs (royal everything), action figures, figurines (ceramic, vinyl, historic, pack animals only), bobbleheads, erasers, pencils, pens (fountain, float), pennies (wheat, smashed), buttons (political, notions, and otherwise), watches (pocket, wrist), magazines (Life, Look, TV Guide, MAD), Jesus things, Elvis things, presidential busts (small, large), Mold-a-ramas, autographs, comic books, rocks, robots, refrigerator magnets, snuff boxes, shot glasses, typewriters, sewing machines, Pez dispensers, marbles, Jew’s harps, velvet paintings, miniature anything and everything, transit memorabilia, bottles shaped like things, serving dishes shaped like the food you serve them in, owls, cows, anything with an owl or a cow (or a cow print) on it.
Some of us get super-specific: vintage Ouija-board planchettes pre-1950, velvet dog paintings, postcards postmarked from a certain state, vintage sheet music printed only in a certain state, many and various specific items relating to a certain state, loose parts to the game of Operation (no tweezers), square-shaped moist towelettes, green fishing lures, turquoise vintage hair dryers, blue things (and red things and pink things and every color things but blue is the biggest of the color things), pretty much anything you can think of in only a certain shape or color, mini-cacti all propagated from a single mini-cactus, mini–troll dolls wearing eyeglasses and hand-made dresses, mini–teddy bears wearing crewneck sweaters, bird’s nests found in Eastern seaboard states, white marble doorknobs, five-sided shards of pottery, Polaroids of strangers at parties with writing on the bottom, dried flowers that came from someone’s wedding, Eiffel Towers/Empire State Buildings/Leaning Towers of Pisa/Great Pyramids and Sphinxes under six inches in height, burnt matches (unbroken), mix tapes that include “I Never Knew Love Like This Before,” by Stephanie Mills (far below a thousand, but her devotion to this song touched us), handwritten pink receipts for office supplies, vintage round fluorescent kitchen lightbulbs, sneakers that once hung on electrical wires in the Bronx.
Some of us collect things that you can get for free: the little plastic tags that come on the end of your bread (the collectors call these bread tags, but for our purposes we won’t assume you know that names even exist for half of the things we collect), grocery lists left behind in shopping carts, ticket stubs, fabric scraps, takeout menus, fortune-cookie fortunes, business cards, feathers, rocks shaped like hearts, rocks shaped like things, shells, beach glass, driftwood, plastic items found on the beach (combs are big), ketchup packets, salt packets, sweetener packets (packets are big), ticket stubs, paint chips, pencils that have been used and sharpened down to where they can no longer be sharpened. Lids. Just lids. Plastic, metal, glass, just lids.
There are things that people collect that a lot of people collect that are more like just things you have a lot of, like books and records. So we ask that book and record collectors who wish to join think more specifically. First editions. Autographed books. Phone books. Miniature books. Books with “Love” in the title. Books with any same word in the title. Books with fancy endpapers. Moby-Dick that has someone else’s notes and underlines inside. Cylindrical records. Record adapters. Grateful Dead concert bootlegs (tapes only). Springsteen concert bootlegs (tapes only, recorded in New Jersey only). Records or recordings made by or somehow involving Robert Pollard.
Basically, if a thing exists, someone out there has a collection of it.
We hope you will understand if your collection was not noted here. There is simply not the space here for a comprehensive list. Should you be interested, please see Dave in Membership.
Regarding displays: It really depends on what you collect. Small things can be displayed on shelves. Shelves can be customized. Flat things can be displayed in files and drawers, but we require easy access and complete cataloguing. Larger collections may require larger wall space or larger homes, but there are all kinds of creative ways to display things, and we love visiting one another’s homes both to see collections and for inspiration. Bigger things require bigger places in which to display them, so if you have it in your mind to build a collection of something like farming machinery, vintage campers, or automobiles, we advise caution. That such collections are prohibitively costly does not seem to prohibit some of us, and that is but one pitfall of your large-item collecting.
You may already know that there are entire conventions dedicated to some of these collections, Legos, Hummels, Disney, comic books, salt and pepper shakers, it goes on. We always ask if you’re sure that isn’t what you’d prefer, though we feel we offer a broader experience. But it’s not either/or.
We are not in the collectible business. We do not sell our items, unless under duress. We do encourage trades.
s we grew, we had occasion to call some meetings. We held a meeting once, because some people tried to join with collections that were frankly kind of disgusting. There was a lengthy discussion about what was disgusting and what wasn’t and how do we determine that. Finally we voted. We voted on voting when any new members joined, even if their collections were very obviously not disgusting, like Hello Kitty collections or whatever. There was one anti–Hello Kitty argument based on the disgustingness of capitalism, but these types are not our kind, plus if you put a Hello Kitty in someone’s sight line, you could call us annoying, but most likely she will have made our point for us. Take your capitalism beefs to the Birkin-bag collectors, who think they’re too good for us. We ruled out a few things. People collect animals. We decided: No live things, no dead things. No to bodily fluids. (You can take that from there.) Taxidermy was a close vote, but it was in. Haunted dolls were another close vote, though we voted them in because most of us didn’t really believe in ghosts. Nazi or KKK memorabilia or anything like it was a no way no how. Mammies came up for discussion again and again; it’s hard to find a way to acknowledge our history in a sensitive way, so we try to clarify motives. Let’s just say that if you’re Caucasian and you’ve got a collection of mammy dolls, it is not going to suffice for you to proclaim yourself a historian, and if you call us reverse racists we will show you to the door. Yes, this is sometimes dodgy, but keep in mind that we are not trying to tell you not to collect these things, simply that this invites a type of controversy we are not interested in dealing with. There are other groups for you with their doors wide open.
The real trouble comes in when we come upon a collection that is broad enough to be able to include one or two of these items. It should go without saying that people are constantly adding to their collections (very little culling ever occurs, though we have great admiration for those collectors who are able to do so), and that there are sometimes items about which we are unaware. We aim for an atmosphere of trust, but you know how that sometimes goes.
We had big discussions about pornography and ultimately voted against all of it, hoping to be clear that it didn’t mean we were against porn altogether. Mainly, we feared there were too many unknowns regarding production, especially with child porn sneaking in there, and our only member who was into porn more than casually was reluctant to be assigned to the task of investigating. Guns and ammo were voted in by an extremely narrow margin. We are very, very careful with guns and ammo collectors. There are guidelines and restrictions that we don’t have time to outline here, but the big one is that you may collect one or the other but not both. We feel strongly that keeping these two things separate solves a lot of potential problems and addresses many fears. Obviously, there are those guns and ammo enthusiasts who can no more separate these two things than they could themselves separate H from 2-O, and are affronted if we suggest they try. So if you are a collector of guns or ammo, we usually suggest other groups first. But if you feel you’re a collector before you’re a guns or ammo person, Bunny in Restrictions and Checks will see you now. Be prepared to wait.
Has it been pointed out to us that these two choices, when considered together, indicate that we are anti-sex and pro-violence? Yes. Yes it has. Here we invite you to visit with our numerous collectors of various kinds of sex toys, blow-up dolls and Frederick’s of Hollywood cut-out lingerie; Sandy Q’s delightful collection of pink stimulators is highly recommended, and we have countless collections relating to the Summer of Love, Woodstock, and every imaginable type of peace sign as well. Ulla’s collection of Gandhi memorabilia has caught the attention of several notable historians. Just sayin’.
People collect grudges. Do you have a thousand grudges? We asked. Some of them did. Did we want people with a thousand grudges? Did we want to send them away with a thousand and one? What about slights? Could we accommodate a thousand slights? Would the weight of a thousand slights add up to a grudge?
People collect ideas. Were we to exclude these people? It didn’t feel like what a lot of us were about. How do you display an idea? Display was everything to us. Surely there was another group for people with ideas. We weren’t against ideas. They just weren’t our thing. Plus how could we decide what ideas were legitimate to collect and what weren’t? We argued amongst ourselves about this. Violence was clearly a bad idea. We agreed on that. If you collected violent ideas, we would have to say no, and gently suggest getting help. Political ideas? No thank you. On this we agreed as well. We didn’t care if your political ideas aligned with ours, and we certainly welcomed collections of political memorabilia across party lines. But these are things that represent ideas, and there is a distinction. Abstract ideas? Too abstract, can’t decide, probably not.
Do you realize how many obviously bad ideas some people collect? Some of these idea people were certain we were the right group for them. If you had good ideas for products or things that would make the world a better place, okay then. If you had good ideas for art projects but you weren’t an artist, you were in. (On both of these, we were pleased with ourselves for providing options for people who knew how to develop ideas but didn’t actually have any.) We decided that when it came to ideas, we would vote. Could you find a way to display your ideas, a way that itself was not abstract? Could your idea be framed, pinned, or shelved? (This led to further discussion: One guy collected shelved ideas. We told him if he could literally shelve his shelved ideas, he was good to go.) We let those people in.
Clichés? One of our own tried to make his case against clichés by saying he didn’t want to rock the boat but that he felt we should avoid clichés like the plague. Adages and aphorisms? Several adage collectors were not fond of aphorists, who they believed were not as rooted in the tradition of proverb and therefore less worthy. But we voted them all in, and let maxims in as well.
Metaphors? Similes? There were some among us (English teachers, mostly) who squabbled about the need for both metaphors and similes, and on a related note, one left us in a huff altogether over the suggestion that anything could ever truly be like anything else (her argument that we were all as unique as snowflakes was perhaps ill-considered), but to these we voted yes. If you can display them, sure. This isn’t about need.
E came upon a real problem. We’re not above gossip, and it went around that there was a Nazi button in one of the button collections. There are hundreds of button collectors. Bunny from Restrictions and Checks worked overtime to locate it. Gerry made his case that it was not a collection of Nazi memorabilia, that he was not a Nazi, did not support Nazis in any way, that he rather took offense to the suggestion that he did, that this was a historic button like all his buttons. As we noted, items are added or slip in on occasion. Gerry threatened a think piece. We threatened response pieces. We are not afraid of a think piece. (Been there.) We told him it was him or the button. We are not sure we did the right thing. Gerry’s think piece did not make us look worse than he did, but Charlene went ahead with her response piece, to which Gerry responded, all of which was followed by a Twitter war, hashtag #teamGerry and #teamCharlene, as well as numerous response pieces to the whole affair in some high-profile outlets. Eventually, we were forced to run interference with a publicist, which was costly. We might have done better to let the whole thing blow over after Gerry opened his big trap. But as Charlene pointed out, our arguments were essentially the same: Both sides were accusing the other of exclusivity, and it may well be that we all were, but this is the kind of thing that sometimes gets the better of us. Our numbers dwindled for a time in the wake of The Great Think/Response Debacle.
We strongly suggest making provisions in your wills and discussing them with your loved ones in advance. We have seen what happens when we don’t. More often than not, our relatives have strongly negative feelings about our things. If your son or daughter suggests to you that they will burn your beloved Beanie Babies in a bonfire on the beach the moment you meet your maker, believe them. Bonfires are real. One of our fellows, while in hospice, was made aware of a bonfire of his vast collection of vintage paper popcorn buckets, and upon seeing photos, nearly died right then. (This was a particularly cruel incident, one we’ve come to think of as our driver’s-ed movie, the bad accident we share to alarm you into action if we feel you are unconvinced.) Please note, however, that when planned for and under controlled circumstances, a bonfire can provide a beautiful send-off for the right kind of collection, and can be part of a moving and necessary ceremony for those left behind. Most family members could not accommodate a fraction of what they might inherit even if they were interested; most others simply take a few cherished items to remember their loved one by and donate the rest.
The hard truth is that many of our close friends and relatives will not want any part of our collections; this information usually comes to us unsolicited, well before the subject of inheritance is ever raised, and it has been proven, disastrously so, that we ourselves cannot absorb other collections. Goodwill and the like are invariably forced to trash most of what is donated, collection-wise. We’ll let you sit with that for a minute. But there are more options than it may seem.
One among us has requested in writing that upon her death, her collection of rocks be thrown into Lake Michigan. We find this to be a beautiful thing to imagine, family and friends on a boat or on the shore, returning the stones of their loved ones to the world in this way. (Bird nests as well, though they tend to float, so we suggest setting them down gently on the water’s edge and watching them drift away.) Please note this as an option for you to consider if you are a collector of such items from nature—rocks, sea glass, shells. For obvious reasons, we urge you to refrain from throwing anything else into the sea. And we urge you to be realistic. We are aware of how we are often seen by non-collectors. We suggest researching museums, archives, as well as talking with other collectors younger than you who might be interested. We can also refer you to counselors who specialize in talking you through your fears about such things.
he media often take an interest in us. We’re not opposed to this. Aside from the Gerry fiasco, which did get some coverage, they tend to be the folksy, charming little feel-good stories at the end of the nightly or local news. Oh look at these cute people with their hobbies. Sometimes, we get asked about how we can afford our collections, why we don’t spend our money in “better” ways. So judgy, some of us say. We work, others of us say. Most of us aren’t wealthy. We just know what we like. We have been asked what the difference between collecting and hoarding is. We know it’s sometimes a fine line, sometimes not.
There are those among us who have bought properties to store and display their collections. We ask you to consider if your health is affected. Do you want people to visit? We do like to visit. Those are questions we ask any new member. We ask about health, visits, displays. If the answers are right, we send people out. We have guidelines, but we’re not the hoarder police. We care. We talk to family members. We have seen people cross the line. We try to tell ourselves it could not happen to us, but we don’t like to think about it. One of our dearest was killed when an unsecured bookcase toppled onto her and pinned her beneath her lifetime of journals. (Then near eighty, Bernice had filled several hundred volumes and of course she also collected blank ones for future use, though it would have taken her several more lifetimes to fill the ones in the future-use category.)
This was a grim discovery, as evidence suggested that she died not of injuries sustained but of starvation, and when some among us began reading her deadly oeuvre, ugly revelations came to light suggesting our dear friend had not thought quite so dearly of us in return. We had more than a few discussions of ethics after this, but the bigger upshot was that some of us became worried that Bernice wasn’t the only one of us with so much hidden ill will. This was less due to specific incidents or names cited in Bernice’s texts than it was the strength of her conviction that there was widespread malice and envy among our members. Accusations emerged, several members fell away, and longtime friendships broke apart over what was mostly just paranoia. We have since implemented a detailed list of suggested guidelines for good citizenship and securing your collections, but we simply can’t monitor people, and we still rely greatly on your good judgment. We do call the authorities, sometimes. We don’t like to. We get asked where it ends. It doesn’t, we say. It ends when we run out of shelving. Usually we just make more shelving. We’re prepared to build into the sky, if necessary.