Collect Now or Later?

Collecting. Potentially one of the most expensive habits any one person can partake in, it has gladly assumed its throne in this consumer-based society. Just think of the collecting fads that have taken over the past couple of decades: cuddly Ty Beanie Babies, movie memorabilia, classic comic books, epic action figures, the timeless stamp collection and most currently—and perhaps irritatingly— Silly Bandz.

Despite American consumerism and the status associated with the ownership of items, The Story of Stuff Project brings up a good point: many of the items mass produced in our society will not last for long. As a consumer culture, we have to keep buying things in order to support our economy. Even those more thrifty individuals out there who are not so easily swayed by current trends are pressured into participating in this consumption because items are simply not made to last. How many of us have heard our older relatives lament, “They don’t make them like they used to!”? Cars, clothing, electronics. Everything is made to be disposable!

With this in mind, how many of our current collectibles will last into the future? How many people will hold onto their childhood assemblages of silicone-based Silly Bandz?  Will our valuables end up in museum collections or will they be destined to float around on the Pacific Trash Vortex?

Undoubtedly, many museums are taking this issue into consideration when forming and modifying their collections. For example, the collections committee at Mackinac State Historic Parks maintains an ongoing collection by accessioning or archiving items from current events surrounding the community and institution. The Corning Museum of Glass also has an ongoing collection in order to provide samples for future museum curators to learn from and use to educate their publics.

Even though people will collect items of personal or financial value as long as there are materials to obtain, associating objects with happiness maybe an ideology on the decline. Recent findings, including those found in Stephanie Rosenbloom’s article “But Will It Make You Happy?”, suggest that people who spend more on experiences get more bang for their buck than those who splurge on items. Therefore, museums have an opportunity to appeal to these populations that are focusing on enrichment activities for themselves and their families. People, perhaps more than ever, are clear about their expectations in visiting museums.

Material culture will always have something to say about a community. What did people of a particular population value? How do individuals use collections as a sign of status or a way of fulfillment? The materials offer information, but perhaps nothing more than collections themselves can provide insight into the motives and psychology of the individual.

But for the mean time, let’s enjoy one of the most current spoofs of the collecting phenomenon:


Sources utilized in this post:

Blackburn, Roderick, Remembrance of Patria: Dutch arts and culture in colonial America, 1609-1776, Albany, NY: Produced by the Publishing Center for Cultural Resources for the Albany Institute of History and Art, 1988. Forward by Norman S.

Dilworth, Leah, Acts of Possession: Collecting in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Kania, John J. “Bread for Baskets: the Ammann collection of Chemehuevi baskets,” American Indian Art Vol 33, No 1. Winter 2007.

Rosenbloom, Stephanie, “But will it make you happy?”


The Story of Stuff


Comic Courtesy of: Cartoon Stock


A special thank you goes out to Jane S. Spillman of the Corning Museum of Glass for her time and insights.

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2 Responses to Collect Now or Later?

  1. Erik Mason says:

    Museums play a curious role in the “stuff vs. Experience” debate. When a museum puts something into its collection, that act transforms the object’s purpose from whatever it was originally intended for, to a new purpose based around the visitor or researcher. In essence, museums transmute stuff into experiences.

    • That is an excellent point to understanding the museum visitor’s experience. I think it is one that museums have been putting to use, especially when focusing their missions more on audiences and education rather than on the preservation and acquisition of their collections. In this case, the artifacts that have served their purposes in prior cultures are now being recycled in our society.

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