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By Staff | Apr 22, 2011

“You know what we should write about sometime?” said my wife recently. “Collecting. A lot of people like to collect a lot of different things.”

“‘We?'” I replied. “Since when do ‘we’ write? I’ve never seen you sit at the keyboard and peck out a column!”

“You know darn well what I mean!” she said. “Think about it. I’ve just given you the opening sentences of a column, haven’t I?”

She was right, of course. On both counts.

You name it and someone probably collects it. From beehives to beehive jugs; from bizarre rocks to stoneware crocks; from shopping carts to hospital gurneys, there are people who are passionate aficionados of that item.

The main problem with collecting is that it can easily get out of hand. When does “avid collector” slip-slide into “demented hoarder?” I don’t know, but it probably has to do with one’s income level.

A wealthy crazy person is deemed “eccentric” while the same guy, sans money, would simply be known as “a nut job.”

For some, a seemingly harmless collecting hobby can swiftly spiral into a full-blown addiction. One clue that you’ve developed a collecting compulsion would be if your wife is constantly telling you that your acquisition fanaticism has gotten out of hand and you would like to inform her that she’s mistaken, but you can’t locate her amidst all your stuff.

Should that happen, perhaps it’s time to de-acquire a few items. Or else add more space to hold more stuff.

An additional issue regards what might actually be collectible. Certainly there would be some value in collecting antique bowling pins, but what about old bobby pins? Some may have a passion for music anthologies, but what about those who, like me, yearn to accumulate the recorded soundtracks from a variety of seashells?

It’s a given that an elegant gown worn by Liz Taylor in the movie “Cleopatra” would be highly collectible, but what about the protective cup worn by Russell Crowe during the filming of “Gladiator?”

My wife and I recently attended an auction that promised “a variety of toys, antiques, and collectibles.” We weren’t really looking to acquire any specific thing, but that didn’t deter us. A person often doesn’t know what he or she wants until they want it.

The auction started off with a vast assortment of toys. Many of them were farm toys, and the majority of those were John Deere. Fifty years ago I would have committed any number of high crimes or misdemeanors just to be in the presence of such a huge assembly of farm toys.

The auctioneer also sold an immense muddle of other toys, including a tiresomely large quantity of Barbie dolls. I had no idea that there were so many different Barbies! There was the Malibu Barbie, of course, and several examples of the Holiday Barbie – who, apparently, is all dolled up for either a Christmas party or a Hanukkah celebration.

Judging by their worn and shabby duds, there were also several Homeless Person Barbies. I know nothing about Barbies and could only surmise that they were from the Real Life lineup of Barbie dolls, which includes such models as the I’m Feeling Really Bloated Today Barbie and the Bad Hair Day Barbie.

They finally began to auction off the good stuff, by which I mean “items that weren’t toys.” We were soon caught up in the exciting auction atmosphere, which led to some absurd deliberations.

For instance, one box of assorted junk held a gleaming cigarette lighter. We don’t smoke, but what if the lighter is made of sterling sliver? The heart leaped to the throat as the bidding on that particular box soared past three dollars before finally selling for six bucks. Too rich for our blood!

Seemingly at random, my wife spent seven smackers for a box that contained a hodgepodge of assorted china. A later Internet search seems to indicate that her acquisition wasn’t at all random, as the box held a Royal Stafford teacup and saucer that are worth several multiples of seven.

And so it went. We purchased an ancient salt-glazed Red Wing crock for a fraction (again, according to the Internet) of its full value. I was able to win a couple of old John Deere wrenches for about half of their asked-for price on eBay.

One box of stuff that we trundled home included a jack for a Model A Ford.

“What will we ever do with this?” I wondered as I held up the jack.

“That’s easy,” replied my wife. “We just have to keep on going to auctions until we get the rest of the car!”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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