Collecting for Collecting Sake: Confessions of a Collector-Turned-Accumulator

Accumulator and collector are not synonymous. While there are some similarities, the differences far outweigh them.

The accumulator and collector are committed to the joy of collecting. They are passionate and enthusiastic, bound by the act of collecting and not what they collected. There is no limit to or prejudice toward what is collected. Watermelon-theme objects are as acceptable as antiques and collectibles. It is all égale.

The concept of collecting as a form of monetary reward is absent. Accumulators and collectors buy with no intent to resell. Their purchases are not part of their retirement plan or a hedge against inflation. Their objects will remain with them through their lifetime unless an unforeseen disaster occurs.

Harry RinkerThe accumulator and collector are rooted individuals. Moving is the farthest thing from their minds. The collector invests in display equipment and archival storage material. The accumulator buys or rents sufficient space and shelving to house his purchases. Whereas the collector eventually may find time to categorize and display his material, the accumulator constantly postpones this process. He plans to do it someday, but someday never arrives.

The accumulator and collector fall in love with what they buy. Objects are family, as important, sometimes more so, than a spouse or siblings. The love is unrequited. The accumulator and collector expect nothing in return. Possession is enough.

An accumulator buys whatever amuses him. It is that simple. His interest is universal. An accumulator has no need to justify a purchase. The only buying motivation he requires is a desire to own an object. An accumulator may not see the objects he buys for years, even decades. He does not care. He knows what he owns and, if necessity dictates, can find it, albeit some searches take hours.

I am an accumulator.

A collector focuses on what he collects. He is not attracted to objects that fall outside his collecting interests. A collector’s purchase enhances or upgrades an object in his collection. While a collector may own multiple collections, his limit is fewer than 10. Research literature, packaging, advertising memorabilia, catalogs and other paper ephemera, and additional secondary support material expand each collection. Although a collector may store some material, especially duplicates, his most ardent desire is to see what he owns.

I was a collector, but I crossed the invisible line that separates collector from accumulator. Once crossed, there is no return.

The accumulator is an introvert, the collector an extrovert. The accumulator prefers a quiet approach. Although known to advanced collectors, his outside contacts are minimal. He devotes his time to accumulating, not cataloging and displaying. He guards his sources and his research. While he may plan to share at some point, the day never arrives.

The collector enjoys showing his collection to others, especially other collectors. He often champions his collecting interest by participating in a collectors club, writing articles and books, and lecturing. His activities play an essential role in attracting new collectors to his favorite collecting categories.

Nature abhors a vacuum is an idiom. If it was a scientific fact, our universe would be sucked into a black hole. The accumulator abhors a vacuum. This is a scientific truth. The accumulator never has enough space. There is a symbiotic relationship between space and the accumulator. Once partnered, the two are inseparable. The accumulator’s mission is to fill space. While there is no timetable, quicker is better.

The accumulator creates piles. He layers objects and boxes on top of each other until the height of the piles exceeds that of the owner. The space between piles is so narrow the owner is required to walk sideways rather than straight ahead.

The collector confines his collections to a fixed space. While they can and do expand over time, they never invade an entire apartment or home. There is always a space where the collector gets away from his collections. The accumulator cannot fathom being away from his collection for a second.

The accumulator dreams of his next find. It makes no difference what it is. If the accumulator does not own an example, the find is an ideal excuse to start a new collection. An accumulator reaches nirvana when he buys at least one new object everyday. His bliss level increases when he acquires multiple objects on the same day. Multiple purchases do not create a day or more of grace. Each day begins with a blank buying slate.

The collector dreams about assembling a complete collection. Yet, he acknowledges its impossibility. No collector can ever own one of every example made, even the narrowest niche collection. This does not reduce his drive and determination. There is always a new discovery waiting to be found. The collector is inexplicably committed to the hunt. The story of the find becomes an integral part of an object’s history and adds to its perceived value.

The accumulator is driven, albeit he occasionally loses control. When the price is right (meaning cheap), he will buy multiples of the same object even though he has no plan to resell or trade the duplicates. An accumulator often ships objects home because he miscalculated the space available in his suitcase or car trunk. Serious accumulators have a collection of unopened shipped-home boxes.

Ask A Worthologist“Addictive,” “obsessive-compulsive,” and similar terms have been used to describe the accumulator. These have a negative connotation and suggest the accumulator is delusional or mentally deranged. Nothing is further from the truth. The accumulator is a normal, rational human being, not a candidate for the loony bin (a phrase I realize is politically incorrect, but I am using it to make a universally understood point).

Author’s Aside: Since I am an accumulator, this argument is self-serving. At the moment, there are no medical restrictions on my ability to mingle in polite society. Because of my highly opinionated nature, my wife Linda has placed verbal restrictions upon me when I interact with members of her academic community, lest my remarks offend some of the piled higher and deeper crowd.

A collector is driven, but in control. He focuses on long-term goals. Historically, when a collector developed an interest in a collecting category, he spent the balance of his lifetime collecting it. Few of today’s new collectors make a lifetime commitment to a specific collecting category, but they do make a lifetime commitment to collecting. Unlike the accumulator, who assembles dozens of collections, the new collector’s final number falls between five and 10.

The accumulator and collector have great difficulty parting with objects, albeit the collector is better able to do it than the accumulator. Each has no qualms about making collection disposal a problem for their heirs.

Difficulty arises when the accumulator or collector is forced to move. The decision alone causes mental anguish. The moving process is traumatic—packing, deciding what to keep, disposing of what is not being kept, finding a home or multiple homes for the objects that are retained, and planning and engineering the physical move. Contemplating how to deal with what is moved and being able to find an object once it is moved results in mind overload.

“Now for the rest of the story,” borrowing Paul Harvey’s famous signature line. Linda and I sold 5093 Vera Cruz Road in Vera Cruz, Emmaus, the former Vera Cruz Elementary School, our home and headquarters for Rinker Enterprises, Inc. The 14,000-plus-square-foot building contains 50,000 objects ranging from reference books to collections. I have less than a month and a half to complete my packing process. Linda will finish her effort in another week or two. Our new rental home in Connecticut is a little over 2,500 square feet. You do not have to be a mathematical genius to see the problem.

By the time we settle, I suspect I should have a much better understanding of Hell.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site:

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected letters will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5093 Vera Cruz Road, Emmaus, PA 18049. You also can e-mail your questions to Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2009

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