The Obsession of Collecting - Ties That Bind

Written by Jim Kroemer

 

From my very narrow observation, there are only two types of people in this world – those who collect and those who do not. Those who do not collect will never understand those who do collect, and vice versa. Oftentimes these opposites attract, and miraculously get married, which can lead to many heated discussions over the years as one’s various collections invade even more of the family living space. I find that while collectors might limit their collections to one thing (from the 50’s through the 70’s, think lighthouses, owls, clowns, or collector plates), oftentimes the collections broaden to include either items loosely linked to the core collection, or more often just other “stuff” that piques their interest, as they possibly become bored of the original collection. I often tell my wife, “But you knew I collected when we got married!” as if that might lessen her 0815211322 1consternation over the space my collections take up throughout the house. But amusingly, I recently looked back at a photo of my record album “collection” when we got married. It took up about two feet of shelf space. Now it takes up almost an entire room. Take a look at the old photo to the left. This photo was taken 8 years after we were married, and the antique armoire contained all the albums and music books I owned at that time, which had already increased maybe fourfold since we got married.  The bottom two drawers contained 45 rpm records and the other two drawers held music memorabilia and 8-tracks and cassettes. And many things I collect/accumulate now were things I started collecting since then. Surely she should have seen my collecting obsession growing over time, right? Growing uncontrollably, like the creature in the 1958 sci-fi film, "The Blob"? The photo below right shows the music related books I currently own.  You can probably tell I've been trying to thin out this collection, having run out of room on shelves bought specifically to house this "collection." Below left, some of my current album collection.  I culled out well over 800 albums a few years ago, thinking I should get rid of a lot of albums I knew I would not listen to.  Despite the increased space that provided, I still regret that decision, as once you get rid of albums it is possible you may never see them again, at least for what you paid the first time. That only bothers a collector - getting rid of something he/she will never use again.0815211313 1

0815211307aMy collecting started out with coins, because my grandfather was an avid coin collector. He did his best to instill in his grandchildren some knowledge regarding coin collecting and what to be on the lookout for. Retired, my grandfather made daily trips to the banks around Macon, Georgia, paying tellers a premium for any silver coins they had saved up for him. He usually gave them some candy, and later even paid them, for their trouble. The tellers were happy to oblige, because back then a silver coin might be worth two times its face value, at best, provided it wasn’t a more collectible date. But for most of my early life, 90% silver coins routinely sold for about four times face value.


Over time, my grandfather became more of an entrepreneur than a collector, choosing to sell what he could for a fast buck, especially when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. A troy ounce of silver jumped from $6.08 on January 1, 1979, to $49.45 an ounce on January 1, 1980. My grandfather recognized that the sudden jump in silver values was an aberration rather than normal appreciation in value, so he made weekly trips to Tennessee (where the Hunt brothers had set up large smelting operations) to sell any silver he had managed to scrounge up since the prior week. He kept telling us to sell any silver we had accumulated, which for us was mainly in “clad” Kennedy halves (dated 1965-1970) which contain 40% silver. At the height of the market, even the clad halves were selling for eight times their face value.


Being young and possibly not very bright, we told him we would just hold onto our clad halves, thank you, and that they would appreciate even more over our lifetimes. What did that old guy know, anyway? I think the melt price of a clad half dollar, forty odd years later, is about seven and a half times face value, so there you go. See how all that waiting paid off? And yes, I still have all those clad halves I collected and refused to sell back in those days. Of course, I keep those in a safety deposit box, whose annual fee eats up any appreciation in value.


Thus lies the quandary between collecting versus investing. Obviously, the goal of collecting should be the enjoyment it brings to you, without any significant thought of what future value your collection may have. But at some point, as you spend more to expand your collection, you’d like to think that, should some catastrophe befall you, hopefully death from old age, that your collection can be sold to recoup your initial investment, and perhaps even provide your loved ones a modest profit above that investment. But alas, that hope is not often based in reality, although it can be dramatically impacted by your collecting choices. Ceramic owls, dolls, clowns, Precious Moments figurines, Beanie Babies, or Hummel figurines, sadly, might turn out to be a bad choice if your collecting motive was to turn a tidy profit for your loved ones. And regardless of how they marveled at the latest addition to your collection, they don’t want the stuff once you’re gone. And, quite honestly, they found some of those clowns and baby dolls downright freaky.


I have collected many, many things over my life, perhaps moving on as I bored of one collection, yet never discontinuing picking up new “finds” for my many past collections. Over time I shifted away 0815211735from coin collecting, primarily because it was my grandfather’s passion that got me collecting coins anyway, and not my interest in coins. I found stamp collecting to be more to my liking, shifting to collecting something called first day covers. In brief, a first day cover is an envelope containing a "First Day of Issue" cancellation for the particular postage stamp affixed to the envelope. Various companies put out envelopes containing a "cachet" on the left side of the envelope which contains some information about the stamp's subject. The photo to the left shows a Johnny Appleseed first day cover with a Fleetwood cachet sitting on top of a sheet of Appleseed stamps. I have a fairly large collection of first day covers. But if I collected solely for profit, then stamp collecting was a very BIG mistake. Turns out that when most of the world moved away from writing letters, their offspring didn’t see those colorful stamps arriving on letters in the daily mail, so the number of0820211053 folks collecting stamps has declined substantially over the past twenty years. My interest in stamp collecting began when I saw an article about the soon to be released Johnny Appleseed stamp in the elementary school supplied Weekly Reader, so I would go home and search through that day’s mail until I finally spotted the Appleseed stamp. Thus began a lifetime love of stamps. To illustrate how various collections can overlap, to the right is a photograph of a W.C. Handy record album, where a first day cover of the W.C.Handy stamp was used as the album art.  Pretty strange, huh?

I remember reading decades ago in a weekly stamp newspaper, Linn’s Stamp News, that the average age of its readers at that time was 65. Even knowing that stamp collecting was a dying hobby, I continued to collect. It’s safe to say that an awful lot of stamp collectors have gone to the great beyond, and they have not been replaced. So with the decreasing supply of collectors comes a corresponding decreasing demand for collectible stamps, and thus decreasing values. Ahhhh, cruel fate! Why couldn’t I have been drawn to collecting silver or gold bars in those early days! Mainly because they are boring, regardless of their value.


But remember, you are collecting for enjoyment, not profit. Regardless of their value, I still love looking at my first day covers. Yes, it saddens me that they have depreciated it value, but whatever. As my interest in them wanes, I do occasionally ponder how to sell the collection in bulk, likely to a dealer, but know any sale would generate mere pennies on the dollar. Plus disposal would take some effort on my part, so why not just hold onto them? And perhaps it is easier for my “heirs” to dispose of the collection, as they have no sentimental ties to it. Not that I didn’t try to turn my son and daughter into collectors, perhaps leading to their both being minimalists today.


I’ve touched on my many “collections” before. Coins, stamps, records (albums, 45rpm, and a few 78s), CDs, jelly glasses (Flintstones, Howdy Doody, Archies, etc.), pulp novels, sheet music with cool graphics, some comic books, playing cards, pewter statues, cool neck ties, books about music and art, shark teeth I found at the beach, etc. etc. etc. I’ve often called myself more of an accumulator than an avid collector. Anything that struck my interest, if the price was right, was purchased for the Kroemer Museum. The museum has always existed in my head, much as the library room of the Kroemer mansion existed in my mind. For decades I bought books from thrift stores with reckless abandon, assuming that one day I would eventually have a mansion with a library. And what a great library that would have been! Alas, that library and mansion never materialized. I did finally cull out many hundreds of books that had been carted around in boxes from house move to house move. I finally realized that I would never read those books anyway. Getting rid of most of them was somewhat therapeutic, and the realization that most had no collectible value made the disposal somewhat easier, but not painless. I did keep my books related to music because those tie into my record collection. At a young age I decided to buy almost any book about music, whether it be a biography about a certain group or individual, musical genre, or album art. For some reason I decided that I needed a massive music library, wherein I could find the answer to any musical question I might come across. I don’t recall ever having a question that was answered by one of these books, and I never considered that I’m not much on reading. Yet for some reason I assumed I would be sitting down after I retired are start reading these books.

I’ve been retired almost four years, and I have read only one music-related book0814211626 1 (“Laurel Canyon – The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood”, by Michael Walker) cover to cover. And I only bought that book because I liked the cool jacket art, although I did enjoy reading it. I did start reading another book (“Fire and Rain – The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970”, by David Browne) while on a few trips, figuring I could get it read while flying to and from our trip destinations. That started about four years ago, and I think I’m about a quarter of the way through. It’s not that the book isn’t interesting, it’s just that I’m not interested in reading. Even the Covid lockdown didn’t make me think, “Hey, I can finally finish that book!” Now anywhere we go, my wife jokingly asks if I’m bringing that book with me to finish. The last trip she asked if I was going to start reading it from the beginning, since so much time had passed since I last read any of it. I once thought that liking a group’s music might increase my desire to learn more about the group’s members, but that is not true either. Liking the music does not imply that you care about the person who sings it. And even the two books mentioned above, for me, cast a depressing eye on some aspects of these singer’s lives. Oftentimes the music is more uplifting that the stories behind it.

0813211026 1
0813211024a 1My latest collection, oddly enough, is neck ties. While I know you can't see the detail of all the ties pictured in the six photos showing multiple ties, I want to show you the "damage" you can do in four years with collecting run amuck.  Every tie shown in the six photos was purchased after I0813211028 1 0813211027 1retired four years ago, and amusingly, after I quit having to wear neck ties.

If you want to collect something which will allow you to amass a large collection over a very short period for a relatively small 0813211030 1amount of money, then collect neck ties. But if you’re interested in0813211029 1 a large future return, don’t focus on neck ties. I’m not saying you can’t make money selling ties on eBay, but again, you collect for enjoyment, not for profit. There are websites and blogs out there dedicated to neck tie collectors. I don’t doubt that there are some ties worth hundreds of dollars. But I haven’t run across them. With a move toward home-based work, the folks wearing ties decreases daily, so like with stamp collecting, I foresee less tie collectors over time. But that’s not stopping me. Full steam ahead. Fewer folks wearing neck ties means more ties donated to thrift stores, which means hopefully low prices and an abundant selection from which I can choose.


As noted above, my tie collecting began about four years ago. I was in a thrift store one day, bored, and saw two Tabasco neck ties with cool graphics. So I bought them, never intending to wear them anywhere. Then I saw a few Jerry Garcia ties, and bought those. Then I saw even more ties I liked: Beatles, Elvis, Trump, Norman Rockwell, Van Gogh, Coca-Cola, Endangered Species, Looney Tunes, Spongebob Squarepants, etc. etc. etc. Are you seeing the pattern here? Collecting can be like any addiction, I suppose. At least I’m not a hoarder saving pizza boxes and newspapers. I can still see my stove top and still get into my bathrooms. My wife might still call me a hoarder, albeit a clean hoarder.


The thing that attracted me to neck ties was the art. Which is pretty much the same thing that attracted me to sheet music, album jackets, books about album jacket art, pulp novels, playing cards, etc. So I guess it’s not surprising that I finally got around to collecting neck ties. I would hate to see the collection I would have if I started collecting ties 30 plus years ago.


I don’t know if all these cool ties existed when I was working and was required to wear ties, but I should have been wearing them all that time. I was a bank examiner, so we dressed conservatively, so that’s my excuse for not being attracted to cool ties earlier in my life. I did own one Elvis tie (Blue Suede Shoes) during that period, and I wore it a few times to work.


Note that each tie has been placed in a clear plastic sleeve, each also having a small black tie hanger so they can be lined up along a strong coat hanger wire. Such is the life of an anal retentive collector like myself. Believe it or not, you can buy the clear plastic tie sleeves, as well as the black plastic tie hangers, right off the internet. This runs up the cost of tie collecting, but what better way to protect a worthless tie collection! And what better way to make these ties look valuable! I always thought a clear plastic sleeve on a record album automatically increased its appeal and value.


My anal retentiveness extends to most of my collections – clear plastic sleeves for my record albums, pulp novels, and sheet music; and clear removable mylar covers to protect dust jackets from wear for my book collection. The few who have seen my tie collection usually have an initial response – “Why are they in clear plastic sleeves?” Because I’m anal retentive, that’s why. I just read online that this supposedly relates to early toilet training issues. Protecting these ties from wear might just mean they one day will be worth what I paid for them. My price limit is low, typically $2 or less, preferably less. I have paid up to $5 for a tie, but I have to love it to fork out such an exorbitant amount for something that will hang in my closet unused and largely unseen for the rest of my life.


But taking a look at a few of my ties, you have to admit that there are some really cool graphics out there. I’ve shown a few closeups below – Beatles, Jerry Garcia, Tabasco, and a few artist related ties. The real problem with collecting is when you feel compelled to collect every tie put out for that particular line. I’m guessing there are thousands of Jerry Garcia ties out there, and I’m assuming they put out more every year. Many are actually boring to me, and not up to the artistic level I like. So I have forced myself to cut back on the ties I buy. Looking a tie over closely fortunately gives me ample reasons to bypass most purchases. Food stains that may or may not come out, wear from use/tying, or snags, keep me from buying a lot of ties. I have learned over time that the material edges where the knot is formed is the most likely place with wear, especially on silk ties. I originally thought it was just the bottom point that wore out from use, but that’s not true. Missing backside tags are another reason for me to reject a tie. Just as a record jacket purchased for the jacket art must still have the clean vinyl lp inside, a neck tie must be complete.


0814211142 1As with many things I collect, I often do research on some of the ties I collect. Take the Jerry Garcia ties for instance – I already knew that Jerry was missing part of his middle finger on his right hand from a wood chopping accident during a camping trip during his youth. Then why does the missing finger logo associated with Jerry appear to show a left hand missing part of the middle finger? The same is true of the logo shown on the back of some of0815211247 2 the Garcia ties. Obviously if you can see the finger bends, then that is the left, and not the right hand, shown, right? Unless Jerry dipped his right hand in paint, then pushed it against a surface, and then a photo was taken of that handprint. Mystery solved, but I still think the logo is backwards.


I’ve read that the original Garcia ties were based on Jerry’s art, but I assume that at some point they started using other patterns for the ties, as I would have to suspect that Jerry didn’t do thousands of paintings, and I know there’s a crapload of Garcia ties out there. No doubt profit plays some part…… So while I still won’t pass up a cheap cool Garcia tie, I have backed off on having to buy every one I see. From the Garcia ties photo, you can see that I even run across new Garcia ties for cheap. If you look into enough dead people's closets (otherwise called estate sales), you eventually find ties they never had a chance to wear.


0814211145a 1Some of the earlier Beatles ties were very cool, many with a clear tie (pun intended) via their image to the Beatles. Later ties, like later Garcia ties, are less tied through their images. Although I find some of the later ties less interesting, I still buy Beatles ties when I find them cheap and in very good condition, mainly because I don't see them often. Note the Yellow Submarine themed tie in the photo to the left, and the tie showing the boys on the beach, these say “Beatles” to me, but the two later "Birthday" ties to the right don’t exactly scream the Beatles.0814211136 1

If you want music related ties, but aren’t into the Jerry Garcia or the Beatles, there are plenty of ties out there showing musical instruments, with a few shown here.


0814211138a 1Tabasco has likely covered every theme imaginable with their tie line. Here are a few of their sport themed ties, which I found interesting. And once you know they exist, you continue to look for others with that subject matter. I try to only buy Tabasco ties that are somewhat humorous now.


There are likely millions of novelty ties out there with0814211148a 1 every imaginable theme. From Looney Tunes to Garfield to Peanuts to the Pink Panther to James Dean to the Honeymooners, there’s a tie out there for you. Here are a few showing the Pink Panther, the Honeymooners, James Dean, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

0814211149 2You can find plenty of ties showing the work of famous artists, with Norman Rockwell, van Gogh, and M.C Escher shown in the photo to the left. I suppose there’s a transition from art to pop art when their works are printed on ties. But for whatever reason I collect, I am drawn to all these ties. Perhaps you can see why, perhaps you roll your eyes and wonder why you just read this article to the end. In any case, happy hunting for whatever you find of interest!