In the mind of a collector

The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself”, is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias. The phrase was later advanced by the philosopher Socrates who taught that: The unexamined life is not worth living.

how much is too much?
How many is too many?

I collect diecast cars, my collection really began when I moved to Tbilisi, Georgia in 2009. I feel the need to analyse this. I came to Georgia with just two suitcases in which were maybe a dozen diecast cars along with the rest of my worldly possessions. Now I don’t know how many diecast cars I have, around 1 400 at a guess. There are too may to display, you can see above the shelves are very cluttered and that is just the tip of the iceberg, many more cars are in boxes, not on display.

I have a separate blog for posting about this hobby: my diecast blog (click this link).

I am very lucky to have a tolerant wife, who tolerates my hobby even if she doesn’t understand it. Once she gave me a diecast car as a present, a BMW X5 by Kinsmart. I appreciated the gesture but this isn’t the kind of model I collect. I’m not a fan of BMWs, it is also a larger size than my preferred (3″/1:64) collecting size. I do have a few BMW models but they tend to be older models and sports cars or coupes.

BMW x5

I have had small diecast cars for as long as I can remember.  On my first birthday cake was a Matchbox racing car, so I’m told. Then there was a Matchbox Pickford’s Removal Van with sweets in the back, occasionally restocked by my mother. My earliest actual memory is being on a train holding a Matchbox Racing Car Transporter, I would have been three at the time. Collecting model cars…toy cars…is fine as a child but as an adult?

For most people toy cars are just for kids, especially for boys from 3 to 10 years; I get that. I think part of my collecting is a subconscious desire to connect with my childhood self, I notice my collecting greatly increased after my father died in 2011.

Nostalgia can be stimulated not just by the toy cars of my childhood but also by other items, I recently found a copy of “The Cat in the Hat” a Dr Seuss book, I had another copy,  when I was learning to read. Smells and tastes can also evoke the past, the smell of TCP an antiseptic will take me back to the school playground where I often would fall and have my cuts treated with TCP.

the cat in the hat and breakdown truck
The cat in the Hat and the Matchbox Breakdown Truck both evoke childhood memories

As a child my interest in toys cars waned when I was thirteen or fourteen and I got into music, my pocket money was then spent on records instead of toy cars. Later in my twenties a lot of my energy was channeled into going to gigs and travelling.

I left my records behind when I moved to Tbilisi, if I want to hear music now I usually go to Youtube, I no longer spend money on music. The Internet has changed many of my habits.

Here in Georgia, I haven’t met any other collectors of toy cars, there are a few sellers at Dry Bridge Market, who may also collect, but there is a language barrier (my struggles with the Georgian language are the subject of a third blog : the Reluctant Georgian Learner). Even more than in UK, here people see toy cars as just a plaything for children.

Facebook however and other social media let me connect with adult collectors all over the world, so I don’t feel such an oddity. I am on several Facebook groups related to collecting diecast cars. I have many Facebook “friends” in countries such as the Netherlands, Philippines, USA, UK and Estonia, who have vast collections of toy cars. Occasionally we have exchanged models, I don’t buy models online because the postal service here is not great. Most of the models are found locally, I regularly visit Dry Bridge Market and hunt through the secondhand toy shops near the central station. The thrill of the hunt is part of the reason I collect. Collecting is much like a quest, a lifelong pursuit which can never be complete. Once the prize is actually obtained, the nucleus accumbens ( the primitive pleasure center in the brain ) shows less activity. The anticipation of the reward is more exciting to our pleasure centre than having it.

On Monday, I found eight models in the secondhand shops to add to my collection.

dilemma of choice
Monday’s haul…on the left those I was very happy to find

The models on the left, I’m really pleased to have but those on the right I could have left. I asked my wife, which four of the eight she thought I liked the best and she was half right.

My wife chose the four on the left as the ones she thought I’d be most happy with

If I were to create an algorithm, there would be many criteria to be weighted in the selection equation… price, size, style, diecast brand, car make, age, country of manufacture…a Matchbox sports car produced between 1968 and 1972, would get me most excited, providing the price wasn’t too extortionate. None of the eight above, although being secondhand, are particularly old, although the Mustang, Beetle and Anglia are reproductions of cars from the sixties and have some of that nostalgia buzz I crave.

There is a thin line between healthy collecting and unhealthy hoarding, I could probably lose half the collection and still be happy. I tried selling some at Dry Bridge Market last summer, I didn’t make a lot of money, that was not the objective. The value of my collection is not monetary, but it is emotionally valuable—I’m not looking to profit from the sale of the cars. I usually take the cars out of their blister packs, which would reduce their value if I was looking to resell, but I want to hold the car to feel it in my hand and look at it from different angles.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to evolve my hobby. I don’t wish to just collect but do something more with the collection like restoring older broken models (but I don’t as yet have the tools or practical skills) or make some stop frame animation videos with the models. My collecting already ties in with my other hobbies of writing and photography.

There are many reasons collectors, whether wealthy or not, collect. But there is one common underlying motivation for all—pleasure. Other secondary motivators include  “bragging rights,” (when you land a bargain) a sense of history and creating a legacy, as well as intellectual stimulation, social rewards, and crafting a sense of order.



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