Collecting is an obsession that has its roots in our childhood. In our youth, we amassed postcards, marbles, Barbies, cigarette packs, movie stars’ photos and autographs. We kept toys, premium items, bottle caps and comic books. As adults, we hoarded souvenir items from our travels: ash trays, matches, bells, spoons and figurines. To a great extent then, collecting takes a lifetime. As one inveterate collector said: “I know I will collect for as long as I live because I never stop looking for things”.
I like to think that we collect not for economic reasons alone/ We want to enrich our life by surrounding ourselves with these objects which we alone think are valuable, interesting an beautiful. To a real collector, it is not often the material value that matters but the personal meaning of the object to him. Such an item may be linked to his past. Its acquisition, therefore, may evoke pleasant memories of “the good old days”. On the other hand, it may just be a source of plain amusement, an object that will help him evolve his own ideas of beauty and value.
I remember, for instance, a doll that my eldest sister used to own. It was a 1950s doll of hard plastic, and, in our hands, underwent countless horrible ordeals. In our boisterous games, this doll was kicked, tied and hung, tossed in the air, rolled down the stairs and defaced with crayons until the garbage dump claimed the poor thing. As the years passed, the doll was quickly forgotten and my sister eventually married, settled in the States and we all grew up and led separate lives.
One day, however, while I was having a picture framed in an art gallery, I noticed a doll sitting on a shelf with the familiar auburn hair, close-open eyes and smiling mouth. It was an exact duplicate of the doll my sister had. One look and I knew, I just had to have it. Fortunately, the gallery owner didn’t care too much about the doll, and so a little cajoling and a few hundred pesos later, the doll was mine. More than just a plaything, I now realize that this doll represented a piece of our family’s past, a most happy time in our youth long gone, but never forgotten. Thus began my insatiable life-long hunt for lost childhood keepsakes---in the form of toys, dolls, action figures, gameboards and other kidstuff.
Then again, the other fulfilling aspect of collecting is that it can lead you to strange, wonderful adventures. In one day, you can go from an artsy antique shoppe to a cramped, hole-in-the-wall thrift shop. I have scoured places in Vigan, intruded the privacy of an Ilongga’s mother home, crawled on all fours in Angeles U.S. surplus stores, visited Makati tag sales thrice on a given day in my quest to satisfy my obsession.
I have gone from New York to Kamuning, Portobello Road to Pasay, Chatuchak to Quiapo, Jonker Street in Malacca to Marikina Shoe Expo, in search of the stuff of my dreams, often not knowing what to buy, until I see it: a rusty pedal car, a Partridge Family coloring book, a Batman lunchbox or if I’m lucky, an Alien figure.
Indeed, collecting is a risky yet an irresistible game. It is a study in trial and error and it brings the gambling spirit in all of us. As we seek, so shall we find---fabulous finds one day, expensive mistakes the next. It is the joy of the hunt that fuels us on, the thrill of pursuing our links to the past and the ever-present possibility of unearthing Cleopatra’s jewels among glass baubles.