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From The Trenches
Issue: 35-4

Did you know you can differentiate collectors from noncollectors without even having a conversation with them? In fact, after decades of compiling empirical data regarding the silent clues given off by collecting junkies, figuring it out by conversation almost seems like cheating to me.

Plus, it's much more fun to see how much of the following criteria a person fits.

At their houses

1. It can be evident immediately upon arrival, for a collector's front porch will not look like a front cover of Martha Stewart's Living, tastefully done up in chintz and wicker and seasonal décor. There will, instead, be a utilitarian doormat and at least one rusty horseshoe propped up against something. Exception: If a collector lives with a noncollector, that's what the back porch will look like.

2. Once inside, scope out the reading material. If there are no books or magazines, or there is a bookshelf but it has only artfully arranged, looks-only books with matching leather spines bing-bing! you've got a noncollector.

3. White carpets = noncollector. Always. The only collectors with white carpets collect only postmodern, wall-hung, track-lit artwork, and their relationship to collecting ends there. I'm not even sure it counts at all.

4. Clean, flat surfaces = noncollector. A collector can cover an empty surface faster than spilled milk can cover a table. Just ask any noncollecting spouse.

5. Check out the kitchen counter. Collectors have a tendency to cling affectionately to one coffee cup, usually a slogan mug, and they will rinse it out and set it on the counter for reuse rather than put it in the dishwasher. I have no clue why this is so, but it is.

6. Peek in the cabinet under someone's kitchen sink. If you see only dishwashing liquid and a trashcan, you've got a noncollector. Collectors will have Goo-Gone, silver polish, old toothbrushes, a Dixie cup or baggie full of glass-polishing rocks, leather cleaner, and numerous cans and bottles and tubes of unknown compounds with unreadable labels and crusty gunk gathering all around the tops.

7. Look for at least three piles of newspapers (everyone knows that three of anything is a legitimate collection). They may be in the garage or attic if the spouse is a noncollector, but they'll be there somewhere.

8. Keep an eye out for stacks of lidded plastic takeout containers and Maxwell House coffee cans because true collectors haven't thrown any out since the Eisenhower administration (no causal relationship). You just never know when one will come in handy for storing ... whatever.

9. Sneak a peek in the medicine chest. Empty prescription vials = collector. They may be there because they're the perfect thing to put tiny collectibles in or they may result from the collector's inborn inability to toss anything, but they'll be there all the same.

10. Seek the miniature cannon, for nearly every collector's house has at least one in it. (As I write this, there are three in my front room alone. Martha Stewart would be horrified, but she can just get over herself.)

11. Look for the childhood memorabilia, for most collectors still have such somewhere in the house, whether it's a paint-chipped Matchbox car collection or green plastic army men with bent firearms. Exception: These items may not be onsite anymore if the collector was required to get rid of them by a noncollecting spouse. If so, the collector will grow misty-eyed with longing at the mere mention of them.

Out in the real world

12. In a medical facility's waiting room, the collectors are all reading, even if it's a dog-eared, five-year-old copy of Reader's Digest. The noncollectors are watching the overhead TV, doing PowerPoint presentations on a laptop, or staring off into the middle distance. Seriously, ask a waiting-room reader what they collect, and 99% of the time they'll be able to tell you.

13. As for apparel, it's not just about cammos. Male collectors occasionally paint with a broader sartorial brush, venturing out in jeans and chinos. Male collectors may occasionally be seen wearing a tie, but they usually look mildly unhappy about it. Exception: The Dapper Collector, an unusual subspecies that can look well-pressed while digging in a muddy field, but this is only rarely encountered.

14. Female collectors out on the hunt are, in general, not slaves to fashion. (I confess that I once threw on a coat over my pajamas to race to a 50%-off sale I heard about at a local junk shop.) Exception: If a female collector is seen wearing sky-high heels in a shop, she only collects overpriced ormolu clocks or ornate objets d'art; she will not be seen purchasing anything that requires fixing or cleaning. And I'm not sure that counts.

15. Collectors talk with their hands—so much so that it's difficult to make it down the aisle of a Civil War show without being whacked in the noggin by at least one wildly gesticulating person. Exception: A non-gesturing collector at home is clear indication that someone has just sneaked something into the house without the spouse's knowledge. The collector can usually be observed sitting on his or her hands.

So tell the truth: What's your score on this? Here it's 13 of 15.

But I'd like to point out that I'm not the one who never puts my coffee cup in the dishwasher.

— Ed.

With thanks to "Trader Ed" Jones for the observation about toy cannon.




Past From The Trenches click an issue number to view
40-1
39-6
39-5
39-4
39-3
39-2
39-1
38-3
38-2
38-1
37-6
37-5
37-4
37-3
37-2
37-1
36-9
36-6
36-5
36-4
36-3
36-2
36-1
35-6
35-5
35-3
35-2
35-1