Andy Broome seems like a guy who knows the darkness, or unmitigated weirdness, at the heart of every collector. As the senior vintage card grader at Beckett, the world’s standard for meticulous sports card grading and valuation, Broome has surely experienced the fiery depths of collector intensity. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to draw the astute cartoons in Collecting the Collector.
Whether it’s an especially intense “appreciation” for something being in mint condition, or the sensitive issues that divide “collecting” from “hoarding”, the philosophies that underlie collecting (and those attempting to justify the practice) run pretty deep. Do we collect action figures for the same reason that the cat has amassed that weird collection of cottonballs behind the couch? Are these collecting impulses that we share with animals convergent, coming from different places but having similar results, or divergent, coming from the same part of the brain, but manifesting themselves differently?
It’s a lot to think about, and it takes a smart man to begin to address and articulate these theories in cartoon form. So, for a whole bunch of pages, Broome mixes illustrated observations about the world of collecting with an occasional page of commentary. After dealing directly with collectors for years, both those who collect the same things I do and those whom I cannot understand in the slightest (seriously, what’s up with oil cans?), there’s a lot said here about every thread of collector. Perhaps the most telling and melancholy panel depicts a guy on a beach happily selling smoothies, declaring that he sold everything on eBay and never looked back. What collector hasn’t pondered a simpler life without all of the neat stuff they’ve amassed?
Collectors Quest: As a sports card grader, what do you find yourself collecting? And are you as fixated on the conditions of items in your own personal collection as your job forces you to be with others?
Andy Broome: My collecting has evolved over the years. I collected too many things! I have streamlined my collecting and tried to focus in the last 5 years. Now I primarily collect pre-war cards of baseball and non-sports, cartoon & comic art and books. I also collect some vintage Japanese baseball cards, mainly Russian-born pitcher Victor Starffin. My biggest collecting project has been ongoing for several years now. I am collecting original art from every cartoonist that has appeared in the New Yorker magazine. That’s nearly 88 years’ worth of artists. Some only appeared once in the magazine. Sound like a lot to collect? This is after I focused my efforts!
Condition controls my life. Does anyone else notice how off-centered our world is? In the earliest print run of my book, some of the covers were printed off-centered. I lost sleep. When my wife asked what the problem was, I told her some of my covers were off. She looked at me and said “Oh, I didn’t notice.”
I nearly always pick up a few magazines at the airport when traveling to a card show. I can never take the front copy. I have to get the copy in the best condition. Is that normal?
CQ: Obviously, you’ve explored the psychology of collecting a bit. So tell me, why do we collect?
AB: I wish I had the end-all, be-all answer to this. I think there are many reasons why we collect things. I believe some collect in an attempt to reconnect to a particular time in their lives, maybe a happier time as a child. Some collect items related to their work or interests, such as sports. These are the emotional collectors. People that enjoy collecting for the social connection with like-minded people or the thrill of the chase also fit into this group.
There are those who are into collecting objects solely for resale but take pleasure in dealing in a specific type of collectible. I see a number of people in this category in the trading card world. They truly enjoy cards but the cards are a commodity to them.
Whatever the reason, I think it comes down to two types of people, collectors and non-collectors. “Others”, I call them in the book. I think we are either born with or without a collecting gene. We are born collectors, we can’t help it.
AB: I have tried many times! I can’t do it. Part of me has felt a life unburdened living free from things would be grand, but I know it really isn’t for me. There have been several times in my life where I felt I needed to spend my time doing something else. I sell off a portion of my collection and in a short amount of time; I am struck with the guilt of making a terrible decision. I feel like I have cheated on someone. Even now, I sell something that doesn’t fit into my collecting anymore or I am tired of it and I regret it. I think that I cannot replace it.
I feel we do not actually own the objects we collect. Apparently, I am a life-long caretaker.
CQ: What’s the saddest collector story you know, aside from the one in the introduction of your book (in which a valuable collectible is irreparably destroyed)?
AB: Meeting so many collectors and dealers, I get to hear them all. I hear ‘My mom threw out all my cards’ so often, it has lost all meaning and sympathy. The saddest stories to me are the ones where someone is ripped off. Someone comes up to me at the Beckett booth at a card show and shows me a card that is clearly a counterfeit and I explain to them the unfortunate news. They are clearly not seasoned collectors and many times they say they bought the card online in an auction or at a flea market. They don’t have the experience in handling this particular card but thought it was a good deal. It becomes an even worse story when the person was deliberately taken advantage of. Such as the case of purchasing a card that was trimmed or altered. Equally sad to me is when someone thinks they are doing the right thing by cleaning an object or innocently trying to improve the condition in the hopes that shining it up will help it sell. OK, I’m going to cry now.
CQ: And the happiest?
AB: The happiest collecting stories are the ones where people that aren’t even collectors make incredible finds and the item changes their lives for the better. Like when a family in financial trouble finds a T206 Honus Wagner that Grandpa left behind.
CQ: Collectors are a very passionate group of people. Is it easier to love ‘em or hate ‘em?
AB: It depends on the day of the week! I love the passion and the excitement. The things I sometimes hate about collectors, I do so because I see them in myself as a collector. All-in-all, you gotta love collectors.
CQ: Do you have words of wisdom for anyone trying to maintain a collection?
AB: Focus. Organize and focus. It can be easy to let your collecting get out of hand. To me, it is more fun when you are focused and can go after what you need with laser precision.
Keep away from the sun. I have experimented with light exposure and the damage it does to collections. I have autographs that have completely disappeared. I coated the window in my collecting room with UV film. It cuts the temperature down and I can actually open the blinds and not worry about sun damage.
CQ: And how does all of this manifest itself in your comics?
AB: The cartoons found in my book come from over 20 years of experiences in the world of collectibles. They come from hearing the stories at shows across the country. I hear the stories and I see how collectors deal with each other. I have a non-collecting spouse who tolerates me but I see how she would really love to throw everything out!
I always carry a notebook and a sketchbook so I can capture anything I might see or hear. I take all of these pieces and put them together into a cartoon.
CQ: Are there any barbs that cut just too deep to draw?
AB: I do not think so. There is so much to laugh about when it comes to collectors and the world of collecting. There are innocent things to laugh about but there is the dark side to our hobbies, too. There are bad autographs, fakes and alterations, crooked dealers, etc. to contend with. Even these areas are not off-limits. Comedy comes from tragedy.