Why do we collect? Sigmund Freud has the answer

People have been collecting for centuries.

The Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 305 BC to 30 BC, was known for its book collections, while the Medici family of Renaissance Florence were the world's first art collectors.

Sir Hans Sloane was amassing his 80,000-strong collection of animal life and books back in the 18th century. That collection formed the basis for London's British Museum.

Collecting is an inherent trait of being a human - it's not a learned skill.

So why do we collect?

It's all down to…

…potty training, apparently.

That's the theory put forward by, of course, Sigmund Freud.

He said our urge to collect is a reaction against the lack of control and horror that comes from our early attempts at using a potty. The collector is attempting to regain control of themselves and their possessions, which they have seen flushed away.

Well that's Sigmund's theory. And he's entitled to it.

The thrill of the chase

A more reasonable psychological angle I've seen put forward is that collecting enables us to establish some order in a perplexing world that is constantly changing. It gives us a place where we feel calm and in control of what can be a manic existence.

Chamber pot
A collectible chamber pot from the Japanese edo period

There is also the theory that collecting eases our concern about losing a part of ourselves. Many of us collect items from our youth - doing so keeps us in touch with those times.

Other experts state that the thrill of the chase is a key contributor: "There's that Georgian cabinet I've been hunting for everywhere!"

There's also the idea that amassing an important collection - one that will live on after us - enables us to defy our own mortality.

The thing is, none of these ideas is mutually exclusive from the other. I'm sure a range of subconscious factors motivates me to buy Beatles autographs, for example.

Conscious decisions

But what about the motivations we are aware of?

A little while ago we conducted our own survey. We asked our newsletter subscribers why they collected. It found:

·         6.7% purchase collectibles solely as an investment

·         18.0% purchase collectibles solely for the pleasure of ownership

·         69.3% purchase collectibles for a combination of investment purposes and pleasure of ownership

And there you have it. In essence we collect because it is fun and potentially profitable.

Now what would Sigmund Freud make of a concept as simple as that?

Thanks for reading,


PS. Freud was himself a great collector of ancient antiques - porcelain potties presumably

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