An Obsession With Collections
June 25th, 2016 by Lori Tobias
Mike Haley with the antique stoves and hard coal baseburners he collects with Jan Daggett. “Mike’s my best friend,” Jan says. “He finds the stoves, I pay for them and he fixes them up. He’s responsible for my addiction.”

Mike Haley with the antique stoves and hard coal baseburners he collects with Jan Daggett. “Mike’s my best friend,” Jan says. “He finds the stoves, I pay for them and he fixes them up. He’s responsible for my addiction.”

Whether motivated by sentimental attachment or potential financial gain, it is in our nature to collect

Whether motivated by sentimental attachment or potential financial gain, it is in our nature to collect

Some adult mother/daughter duos make it a habit to enjoy spa days, others shop together or sit down regularly to tea.

Lisa McDonald and her mom also had a ritual, albeit one that might sound surprising for two grown women.

Every Friday at noon sharp, the two dined at McDonald’s—on a hamburger Happy Meal, no less. Friday was the day the new Happy Meal toy was released.

Lisa’s mother kept hers for the grandchildren. Lisa kept hers for herself.

“I just started collecting them,” says Lisa, who lives in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, and has a cabin in Tollgate. “I didn’t have kids, but children came to my home for me to babysit, so I threw them in a basket for them. Then it got a little out of hand and I decided to collect for myself and not let the kids play with them.”

Today, her collection of children’s Happy Meal toys numbers more than 35,000.

Collecting is in Our Nature
Lisa is one of innumerable collectors who finds pleasure in amassing collections of a particular object.

“Everyone collects something,” says Meryl Starr, a New York-based personal organizer and author of “The Home Organizing Workbook.”

“People have been collecting forever,” says Meryl. “People collect materials to work on a project. People collect figurines, dishes and tea sets; stacks of newspapers, believe it or not; antiques, books, letters; things their children have made in school. It’s almost in our nature to gather and collect.”

A recent search on eBay for collectibles revealed categories ranging from advertising to transportation, with nearly endless subcategories for each.

Under “Breweriana and Beer Collectibles,” the curious could search 318,261 listings under at least 27 headings. Advertising collectibles numbered more than 1.6 million objects. Trading cards came in at more than 1 million.

Collecting often begins in childhood with marbles, dolls, stuffed animals and, of course, trading cards.

“Most children will put together collections of something,” says Randy O. Frost, professor of psychology at Smith College and author of “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.” “It may be tiny. Sticks. Early in life, people start this process. Some people continue and others drop out of it.”

Generally, there are two reasons for collecting: a sentimental or nostalgic connection or for investment purposes.

Collecting for sentimental reasons is different than collecting as an investment, though often the lines between the two become blurred.

Randy says collecting should not be confused with hoarding—an exaggerated form of collecting that can lead to unhealthy behavior.

“In collecting, there is the courtship process,” Randy says. “There is a lot of thought and preparation for the hunt. There is a specific object that is identified, an attempt to find it and to bring it back and incorporate it into the collection.”

Once acquired, behaviors involve organizing the collection and then displaying it, so the collection tells a story.

“It goes back to something that psychologists call essentialism,” Randy says. “The notion is that possessions have an essence that goes beyond physical characteristics—like a ticket stub from a concert. That ticket stub has an essence, and that essence is the connection to the concert. That essence is in your head. That is where the connection is. It is the essence of the thing that gives it meaning.”

From Hobby to Investment
People who collect purely for financial reasons do not have the same connection to the objects as sentimental collectors, Randy says.

“The connection is not so much the object, or that the object represents something else,” he says. “It’s a means to an end. The connection to the objects is different. There is not an attachment.

“With the other stuff, we’re talking about an attachment. It’s part of their history, part of their identity, part of their self. It is about ownership.”

Some people—like Mike Haley and Jan Daggett of Sisters, Oregon—will tell you they understand the investment aspect, but feel a connection to their collectibles.

The object of their affection is antique stoves and hard coal baseburners. Jan bought their first in about 1992 after Mike introduced her to the old stoves, which he discovered as a young man. They nicknamed that large one—which is taller than Jan—“Gargoyles” for the elaborately carved dragons on its side.

“Most of the stoves were designed to heat two-story or three-story Victorian homes,” Jan says. “Baseburners were designed to burn hard coal. Anthracite coal. We also have some elaborate wood stoves in the collection. The ones that are very fancy are usually baseburners. They are covered in Eisenglass, which is made from mica. I thought they were gorgeous.

“I am a jewelry designer. I carve wax and cast it into metal. These stoves were carved in some other material and cast into iron. I think I was drawn because of the immense amount of detail and artistry in the carvings. Fundamentally, it’s the same process I use to carve wax and cast gold.”

The pair have sold stoves for $1,500 to $20,000.

They plan to expand Jan’s jewelry gallery to showcase and sell others.

“We appreciate their beauty, but we also know they can be an investment,” Jan says.

Memorable Moments
Whether for sentimental reasons or as an investment, the thrill of the hunt often leads to memorable moments and a chance to connect with friends.

“I just got back from a recent trip to Europe,” says Lisa. “I was traveling with my dad, and he made sure we made our stop at McDonald’s.

“McDonald’s is in 200 countries. There are a lot of toys from other countries. One of the guys I used to work with works only in the U.S. during tax season, and then he goes back to China. Every time, before he comes back to the U.S., he makes sure he stops at McDonald’s in China and brings me toys from there. I have a friend who has a son in Japan, and he does the same thing.

“I always thought it would be part of my retirement, but then every toy becomes a favorite and you don’t want to part with them.”