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  April 12, 2008

In France, an interesting collection of assorted pebbles are discovered in a cave home to early humans some 800 centuries ago. Collections of small glass objects were uncovered from a house in the city of Pompeii, long buried from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. During the Renaissance in 16th century Holland, wunderkammer or 'Cabinets of Curiosities' were assembled by the wealthy and remained in vogue for over two hundred years.

Collecting has been in our blood since time immemorial.

For centuries, most collectors were found among royalty or those of means who satisfied their basic needs and had wealth to spare for gathering things of beauty or interest. In more recent times, however, as social classes have grown closer together, collecting has become a hobby to anyone, with no limit to what can be collected or whether it remains a pastime for an individual, or an obsession. As wealth increased, many types of collectibles began to experience particularization, as they became separated into varieties, production limits and grading levels. This further fed on the desire to collect, in this case the pursuit of the rarest or in the finest condition.

What is it that motivates a person to collect? Is it for the pleasure or prestige that we get from gathering things to display or to share our knowledge about? Could it be our search for order among the chaos of society or memory by lining up related items? Perhaps it's a dysfunctional gene that some of us possess that directs us to accumulate a 'set' of something? The answers are not that easy to find.

Fundamentally, collecting is the consumption of non-essential luxuries. It satisfies a need, but not one that in any way affects our survival - only our need for happiness. It is our personal, hedonistic pleasure that is one key motivator to collect, in spite of what may be our lofty philanthropic goals for the future.

From another psychological standpoint, the collector has a deep desire to cherish. Not unlike the attraction of a mate, the collector is captured when viewing a thing of beauty as determined in the mind of the beholder, but then must possess their sisters and relatives of equal or similar allure or intrigue.

The behavior of the collector may border on irrational and could very well be beyond our control. The subconscious mind plays the key role in our drive to gather related items into a collection. Fear of the impending end to all human existence causes the mind to rebel by preserving creations of man and nature for posterity, as well as to prove our benefit to the earth. After all, we are important.aren't we?

Thus, the instinctual emotions of pleasure, possession and fear are at the root of why we build collections. We may feel there are other motivations, whether they be economic or philanthropic, but our fundamental desire is still based on emotions we share with that creature in the cave in France.

  Dennis Nowicki
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