Why We Collect: 10 Reasons Behind the Collectibles Hype

Updated: Sep 22, 2021



If you identify more as an investor than a collector, you may think of "collectibles" first and foremost as assets to be flipped for short-term profits or held for years or decades for long-term capital gains.


Speculation is by no means the only reason why people collect things though, and some do it solely for their own personal pleasure. Understanding these reasons, even if you're only in it for the money, can help you understand the market and market participants you're dealing with.


Digging through studies and articles online, I've found 10 common reasons behind people's desire to collect. They're by no means mutually exclusive and most collectors are motivated by several if not all of them. A collector's motivation may also change over time, or vary from one collection nto the next. They may begin a collection for one reason, and keep collecting for another.


See if you recognise some of these in yourself 👇



1. Speculation


Let's just get speculation out of the way. Acquiring collectibles with the aim of seeing them appreciate in value over time is certainly a common and hugely important motivational factor in the field. And one with a proven track record.


The goal of making money as a collector can come in many different forms. Some buy collectibles to immediately flip them for a profit and can barely be considered collectors but rather traders or "flippers". Others buy and hold for years or decades before cashing in, and some even build collections to pass on to their children or donate to institutions and are thus not interested in profits for their own sake.


And while some collectors don't care about money at all, it's arguably most who sit somewhere in between this and the pure speculator: They enjoy collecting for various emotional reasons that we'll cover below while simultaneously appreciating the fact that their collection may work as a savings account and long-term investment.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


2. Nostalgia and memories


Feeling nostalgic and reliving memories with certain items is probably something many people can relate to. It may be the signed jerseys you keep, reminding you of those great sports events. It may be Pokémon cards or comic books, reminding you of your childhood when you were playing and reading with your friends. It may be the postcards you've picked up over the years, bringing back the memories of all those amazing destinations you've visited. Or it may be a collection passed down from your grandparents. Whatever it is, nostalgia and memories certainly play a big role for many collectors.


Photo by Thimo Pedersen on Unsplash

3. Historical significance


Some collectors are interested in specific historic time periods or events, such as The Viking Age, World War II, or less dramatic events in sports, politics, or culture. Finding and collecting physical items associated with these historical times or events can not only help them learn, which is important in and of itself, but they can also facilitate a more immersive experience and make the past more relatable than just reading or hearing about it ever can.



4. Knowledge and learning


Knowledge and learning go beyond the topics of mainstream historical significance. Some people may love learning about Japanese tea ceremonies and start collecting tea sets, or geek out on how and where wine is made and create a collection of fine wines. Or perhaps it's the study of geology and rocks and minerals that gets someone excited. The common trait is that these people collect because of a genuine interest in the underlying topic itself.


Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash


5. Aesthetics


Many people simply just enjoy looking at or holding their collectibles. It's often related to the beauty or quirkiness of the items, which in some cases also double as decorations in the home. The aesthetic appreciation is obvious for things like candle holders, vases, or even model cars or dolls put on display, but can also apply to digital collectibles which have seen a huge boom with the recent NFT hype.



6. Thrill of the hunt


If you've ever been hunting for hidden gems at a flea market or on eBay, you know what I'm talking about here. It's the excitement of searching for something, without a guarantee you'll find it or in what condition or how many or how much you'll have to pay for it. For many collectors, the act of collecting is just as important as the collection itself.


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash


7. Sense of completion and order


Now, here's one that many collectors experience once they get started. If there's a fixed number of the collectibles you're interested in - think a series of stamps, coins, or sports cards - you'll likely experience the desire to get the ones you're missing. This desire to create order and complete something we started is a fundamental human trait. It becomes very apparent in the world of collectibles though, and can really fuel people's dedication to continue collecting.



8. Social connections and competition


Collectors of the same items often connect over their shared hobby, and some types of collectibles have strong communities around them. In addition to engaging conversations and shared experiences, these social groups also foster friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) competition. Social status and pride comes with the largest collection or the rarest items.


Photo by Karen Vardazaryan on Unsplash


9. The "endowment effect"


The Endowment Effect describes a trait of human psychology that makes us more likely to retain an object we own than acquire that same object when we don't own it. Put another way, we're likely to like something simply because we own it. Combined with some of the motivational factors described above, for instance the desire to complete things, you see how owning a few things - even if we didn't intentionally acquire them ourselves - can turn someone into a dedicated collector. That handful of Pokémon cards you have lying around from when you were a child... Perhaps it's time to start collecting and complete the set?



10. "Contagion"


Some collectors believe, whether they say so or are even aware of it, that the qualities of the previous owner of an item is transferred to the new owner. This phenomenon is referred to as contagion and helps explain the popularity of celebrity and athlete memorabilia.


You may not consider yourself superstitious or really believe any of this. But seriously, wouldn't it be pretty cool to own something that belonged to your biggest idol, whether it be Beyoncé, LeBron James, Richard Branson, or Michelle Obama?




Takeaways


People collect all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. Most collectors will experience certain emotions related to their hobby, whether they're feelings of nostalgia, curiosity, connection, immersion, or excitement. Many of these people will also acknowledge an underlying interest in seeing a financial return on their investment. This can also be a great argument for dedicating the amount of time and money to a hobby that some collectors do.


Whether or not you see yourself as a pure speculator or recognise some of the other motivations in yourself, it helps to know who your fellow market participants are.