Monday 12 November 2012

Hoarders, Snobs, and the Endangerment of a Hobby

Given the title of this blog I need a bit more space than usual to cover the rant that follows.  It's a subject, however, that's been on my mind over the past couple of years as I've delved into library and book history, not to mention as I continue my pursuit of Canadian bookplates and the stories of their sellers and owners.

Having come from a long line of antiquarians, dealers, and collectors, I've been exposed to just about every known hobby as well as the characters they attract.  And while every hobby has its ups and downs, nothing endangers the longevity of one's enjoyment of collecting something more than having to deal with two particularly troublesome folks in the collecting business - the hoarder and the snob.

We've all met them in our travels.  The hoarders often like to style themselves as 'acquisitors'; they treat everyone as competition; they're knowledgeable enough of the hobby to be dangerous; they're shameless in their pursuit of new material often using subtle shoving, poor manners, and a lack of bathing as weapons to move others out of their way at shows.  They often derive a guilty pleasure from the feeling that another collector might covet what they've already hoovered into their own basements.  They care little for the objects they possess other than to own them.  They do nothing to enrich their artifacts through research, show no interest in sharing any knowledge of their finds with others unless it makes you jealous of course, and they actively encourage you to give up collecting the same things as they declare a corner on the market.  In essence, they want you to go away.

At the other end of the spectrum are the snobs.  They style themselves as 'experts'; they treat everyone else as idiots; they're knowledgeable enough of the hobby so why aren't people impressed by this?  They're shameless in their disdain for others who apparently are unaware that the said collectible is in fact a type E version only issued in July of said year, not the B version issued in much smaller numbers in February of said year and therefore much rarer (idiot!).  They often derive a guilty pleasure from pointing out things you've missed in the most condescending manner possible.  That said, they usually care little for taking the time to answer questions about their hobby at all, show no interest in getting others excited about it or cultivating new generations of collectors, and actively discourage you from trying to retain your interest in the hobby since you obviously don't know what you're doing anyway. And you're bothering them. Again. Sigh.  In essence, they also want you to go away.

This past week I've run into both of these archetypes.  One guy shoved in next to me at a show and seeing the bookplates I had found, actually tried to outbid me with the dealer right as I was paying for my purchase.  He then announced his claim to first refusal on any other bookplates at that table.  When sending another guy an email asking a question about the provenance of a particular bookplate, I was condescendingly informed that as he was the only "serious" dealer in his entire country of over 300 million people how dare I challenge his opinion and bother him with such trivial queries.  And then these people wonder why everyone thinks their hobby is lame and marked for extinction.

I've had a couple of friends who took up bookplate collecting, only to leave the hobby after their encounters with the hoarder and the snob, and it's a shame really.  Given that even the most organized bookplate societies have only a couple hundred members worldwide at best, if people are discouraged from joining the hobby by such folks or treated with disdain when they show a genuine interest, more bookplates will end up in the bin than in albums.  Worst of all, no one will really care.  Food for thought.  Until next time...

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