What Makes Us Collect Things

beanie babies
Retro Beanie Baby Love

A Grandmother Moment

Recently we were at an estate sale that offered customers a chance to buy a serious collector’s treasure trove of Beanie Babies.

Who could resist a soft, cuddly, adorable retro Beanie Baby, right?

At any rate, as we pondered the amazing range of animals in every color of the rainbow, I noticed that a grandmother was talking softly to her little grandson beside us. I thought she might be teaching him the names of the unusual animals in the collection. After all, it’s not every day that you encounter a platypus.

But no, that’s not what she was doing. She was teaching him to spot tag errors and other irregularities or limited circulation features that made certain Beanie Babies more valuable! She was training the next generation of Beanie Baby collectors!

More Than Gathering Up a Large Set

chickensI learned a lot that day. First of all, collecting is more than just gathering up a large set of something interesting. Collecting is about the hunt. It’s the thrill of knowing when you spot something special. It’s that sense of filling a gap in a set and then wishing that there was a new gap to fill so that the hunt would continue. For a collector, finding a new item for the collection is like placing a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. It makes you smile and leave you wanting to find the next piece.

Something Bigger Than Yourself

Sharing the Love
Sharing the Love

Second, collecting is more fun when you are part of something bigger than yourself. For this lady, it was a joy to be the one to open her grandson’s eyes to a world she fondly remembered from her not-so-distant past.

She was telling him about the days of the original Beanie Baby rush and how she and the little boy’s father had scoured the stores and way too many McDonald’s, all in that hunt to find rare Beanie Babies made with the wrong fabric or sold in limited quantities.

She promised her grandson that she would start giving him his dad’s collection if he would promise to be careful with the treasures she was passing on. From the look of wonder on the little boy’s face, it was evident that she had found a new co-conspirator in a freshly revived search for special Beanie Babies. It was easy to picture the two of them driving around to garage sales to peek in bins of old toys or sharing an armchair while they scoured the internet for an illusive fourth rabbit to round out the trio of beanies they had in their laps.

Uniquely You

And maybe that’s the third thing I learned that day. What you do with a collection is as unique as the collection itself. This grandmother had stashed away their collection of Beanie Babies in hopes that someday she might have a grandchild who would appreciate them. I see that sentiment frequently associated with a family’s china and silverware patterns. I completely understand this urge, especially since we are going to be grandparents soon! I would love to pass along some special treasures to a beloved grandson or granddaughter someday.

Vintage Children’s Sewing Machine Trainer

For some collectors, like my mom and her vintage sewing machines, it’s all about learning more about something she loves to better appreciate workmanship, old ways of doing things, or days gone by.

With my mom’s limited space, she can only keep a few vintage sewing machines, but that hasn’t stopped her from joining online forums to learn how to repair and use them, what to look for when buying, and why manufacturers added or deleted certain features on machines that made them special.

Welcome to the Family

For others, like my friend Jerry, it’s about the niche community that comes together to see and touch his traffic signal collection that he’s restored to working condition. Getting together in person is like a family reunion for them because they all share his passion for the historical progression of managing the flow of traffic over time. I see the same thing when we watch the antique tractor collectors talk on the Rural Network on TV. They share an affinity for old tractors, and they look forward to swap meets, auctions, and tractor pulls because they allow them to connect with others who appreciate their collection and share their passion. Fellow enthusiasts become like family.

These Old Things

Collecting things is a multifaceted hobby that is sometimes hard to explain to people who aren’t interested in collecting. What makes us want to collect? For me, sometimes items just “speak to me,” for lack of a better phrase. I am drawn to old things from the pioneer-type lifestyle. I love vintage quilts, lanterns, butter churns, crocks, horse-drawn equipment, wooden bread bowls, jelly jars, enamelware, stoneware cream pitchers, rocking chairs, old photos, and other primitive or vintage items from days gone by.

Some items I love are quite valuable, while others are worth virtually nothing to anyone except me. I personally prefer old stuff that look like it was really used. I want to see the chips and crazing on the cookie jar, and I find it charming to see that some sweet mom from long ago had mended something broken or torn.

Maybe my admiration of these things grew out of reading the Little House on the Prairie books as a young girl, or perhaps it’s that strong connection I feel to my mother, aunts, grandmothers, great grandmothers, great-great aunts, and the women who came before them. When I see an old iron cookstove, I picture the sturdy women who kept households running and families fed and healthy with no electricity, refrigeration, or convenience store. I imagine the water being drawn from the well in old buckets and the thrill of having indoor plumbing for the first time to fill their chipped dishpans. I see them rolling out pie crusts with worn wooden rolling pins. I imagine them releasing the fresh yellow butter from the butter mold and placing it on a pretty depression glass butter dish to make the table look nice. What would it have been like to finally get electricity or a telephone in your house? How did they survive in the heat of those kitchens? Who are those jolly people in those old photos? Somehow the old things I love help me feel stronger in my modern-day world of every imaginable convenience. These old things I keep make me smile.

So this is why we have decided to launch 5W Trading as a full-fledged business with a special emphasis on selling interesting collectibles, rare items, vintage finds, antiques, fun knickknacks, and anything that appeals to us that might bring joy to others. John is leaving education, at least for now, to focus on the customer service aspect of posting items, communicating with customers, the chore of packing and shipping often delicate treasures, and managing the day-to-day work of inventory, sales tax, etc. Our family will continue to use our spare time seek out cool stuff that might interest others, and we plan to do what the Bluebell Ice Cream company says – keep all we can and sell the rest!

Thank you for your support and encouragement as we enter this new phase of our lives. So far, we have a perfect track record on eBay. Maybe it’s foolish to think it can stay that way with the increased volume of sales, but we would like to think that we can make every customer happy if we really try.  We plan to cross-list items on multiple sites, so if you see something you love and you really want it, our advice is to buy it before it gets away since there’s no guarantee we can find another one to sell. If you are looking for a certain hard-to-find item, please let us know. It’s fun to have a focus when we are picking through estate sales, yard sales, garage sales, junk shops, and antique stores. We might not find what you’re looking for, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask!

Thanks again! We look forward to getting our inventory posted and our website up and running so we can learn more about what our customers want. Until we talk again, thanks for joining us and happy collecting!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton