University of Virginia Library

Collecting, in one form or another, is so ubiquitous, so much a part of humanity's experience, that it has aroused endless speculation regarding its origins, its motives, its essential nature. There are debates about whether it is instinctive or acquired, about whether it is a rational activity or a mental disease ("mania" being one of the terms often applied to it, sometimes with affection, sometimes not). Most such discussions illuminate some aspect of the subject, but even in their totality they do not encompass all the causes and all the results of collecting. Like every human behavior, collecting is complex enough that there is always something more to be said about it. The attempt to understand collecting not only adds to our knowledge of human nature but also enhances the experience of collecting itself. For whether one collects Renaissance paintings or cigar boxes, Greek antiquities or coffee mugs, rare books or advertising brochures, one's sense of self-awareness is increased by being able to place one's own endeavors in a framework that comprehends the full panoply of related pursuits.