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Collecting my thoughts on collecting

Collecting my thoughts on collecting

If you’re a collector of a specific object, chances are that there’s a name for you.

While enjoying a recent browse at one of my favorite antique stores, I stopped to admire a display of thimbles. I have no personal interest in thimbles, but I was for several minutes entranced by them. Arranged on a velvet-lined shelf and locked inside a glass case, they left me a tad breathless. Not quite the Crown Jewels, I know, but nonetheless an elegant collection. As I studied these little treasures—made of such varied materials as porcelain, glass, ivory, wood, silver, gold—I was intrigued by the intricacy and elaboration of some of the designs, which made me wonder if people began collecting thimbles because of their artistic diversity, or if thimbles were made to be artistically diverse because people had begun collecting them. Either way, I thought, this particular group of thimbles would be a digitabulist’s delight.

I can’t remember my neighbor’s name, but the word “digitabulist” comes trippingly out of my brain

Digitabulist? To tell you the truth, I was surprised when this word meaning “a person who collects thimbles” popped into my head! Driving home that day, I couldn’t shake the whole idea of digitabulism and I found myself thinking how interesting the phenomenon of collecting thimbles and—well, anything—really is. And I do suppose that anyone could in fact become a collector of anything, but certain collections are remarkably common—at least common enough to have generated words to identify the collector.

No collection is worth a pair of black lungs

Even the most familiar sort of collecting may have a given name that is much less familiar. For example, it’s not unusual to know someone who collects dolls, but did you know that these collectors are known as plangonologists? When I was a kid, several of my friends and I would swap matchbook covers for our collections, but I doubt any of us knew that we were phillumenists. I also didn’t know that I was briefly a brandophilist (a collector of cigar bands), but it’s just as well—my supplier was my dad, who smoked only two brands of stogies, so the collection was not exactly museum-worthy. The actor Edward G. Robinson, who was a fervent brandophilist, once said, “My father and uncles and all their friends turned their lungs black trying to satisfy my collector’s zeal”—another good reason to forgo such a collection. . . and be grateful that my dad eventually kicked the filthy habit.

Keep an eye on those helixophiles at your next wine party

Over the years, I’ve known people who have collected shells (conchologists), butterflies (lepidopterists), recipes (receptarists), books (bibliophilists), coins (numismatists), stamps (philatelists), beer coasters (tegestologists), teddy bears (arctophilists), autographs (philographists), and flags (vexillologists). None of these collections seems particularly unusual, and a few of them may even have a familiar name, but I was surprised to learn that a childhood friend’s fascination with sugar packets is an interest shared by many serious collectors who call themselves sucrologists. I can also admit to not knowing about heortologists, who collect religious calendars, or helixophiles, who collect corkscrews, but at one time I was a rather enthusiastic deltiologist (collector of postcards), which seems more fulfilling to me than telegery, the modern activity of collecting phone cards.

To collect or not to collect. . .

With the seemingly limitless number of things that someone could start collecting, it provokes the question of what it is that makes collectors out of so many of us. And what is it that compels us to collect the specific things we’ve chosen to collect? I’ve never had the slightest attraction to key rings—if I get a new one, I toss the old one—but something about them struck my daughter when she was a child, and by middle school, the multitude of key rings attached to her backpack nearly outweighed the pack and all its contents. In the language of collectors, she was an avid copoclephilist, although her passion for key rings disappeared overnight a few years later. I have never seen a hint of “the collector” in her since, so I’m somewhat doubtful of her ever becoming a lexiconophilist, which means my prodigious collection of dictionaries will be a very disappointing inheritance!

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