The Monster Collectors

More than any other genres, sci-fi and horror fans are big, big collectors.  There are some amazingly decked-out rooms, man caves, etc. out there, and it's fascinating to think about what drives collectors.  I'm a collector myself, so I started thinking about collectors and collections and organized my thoughts into these notes about the collecting phenomenon.

Things to collect

Most horror collections can easily be categorized into a few categories.

Movie Posters - There are also a lot of posters for any given movie: advance promotions, re-releases, lobby cards, etc.

Art - Some examples include box art from toys or the Aurora model kids, magazine covers, etc.

Toys - This is usually figures and accessories, but may also include games and other merchandise.

Masks - These make great showpieces for display, even when you aren't wearing them.  Similarly, this category can include costumes and/or other role-play props.

Props - This might include costume element (as mentioned above) like weapons, but might instead refer to miniature models or other special effects.

Autographs - Although you might think first of glossy 8x10s, other categories might include autographed books, posters, toys, or any else on this list.

Movies (DVDs or whatever format) - Some people like to acquire libraries of favorite films or complete runs of tv shows.

Books - There are a lot of ways you can approach this as well, such as creating a library about a particular subject.  For example, I know many people on the web proudly show off their Lovecraft libraries containing complete collections the author's works as well as biographies, critical analysis, collections of letters and essays, and the expanded universe of works by other authors within and beyond the "Lovecraft circle."

Comics/graphic novels/magazines - These have always been considered "collectible," but many of us collect only within an area such as vintage horror magazines or certain characters.

Why collect

Some folks say they collect just for the sake of collecting, but I don't think it's healthy to just hoard things and never look at them.  If you're collecting, you ought to have some reasons for spending the time and money acquiring pieces.  Here are some that apply to varying and overlapping degrees to collector (myself included).
To decorate - Many collections double as art.  Indeed, many collectibles are themselves art.  I view toys as modern sculptures: representations of idealized forms.  Posters and artwork are best presented as decorations, not sealed away.

To enter the universe - In many ways, developing a collection is a way to overwhelm yourself so that you drown out one reality with a fantasy one.  If you get your bedroom populated densely enough populated, then it puts you in another place, one that holds some attraction for you.

To relive your childhood - Some collectors are going back and re-acquiring the things they had as kids.  Other times, they're looking for the things they never got to have as kids!  Either way, it brings them back to their youth.

To invest - The assumption is that pieces will appreciate in value over time.  This is highly speculative, of course.  There are better investments if you have the money.  Personally, I'd rather buy only what I enjoy, even if there isn't a guaranteed return on it.

To trade - A version of the above, but some collectors acquire pieces to use as a special trade.  For example, if there's a piece another collector would never part with for any amount of money, he might still be willing to trade for a piece another collect has that he values above what he already has.

Approaches to collecting

Collectors have different principles that guide their acquisitions.  There may be more than just these, but these approaches spring to mind.
Vintage - There are plenty of reproductions of classic items out there, but some folks insist on having only the "real deal" in their collections.  It all depends on your reason(s) for collecting (see below); sometimes a repro is just as good, like if you're just collecting movie posters to decorate your man cave or whatever.

Originals - Like "vintage" collecting, the focus is on pieces that were used in the film or tv show.  Some folks shell out big bucks for authentic props.

Showpieces - Some collectors are looking for singular amazing pieces that stand on their own.  Life-size mannequins in full costume are one example.  I know plenty folks who prize a Han Solo in carbonite more than Jabba the Hutt ever did.

Single-focus collecting - Sometimes people aren't interested in collecting broadly; instead they hone in on one thing, such as only collecting, say, Creature from the Black Lagoon or Planet of the Apes merchandise in all forms, something from every category: posters, toys, costumes, you name it!  By contrast, most collectors just get a few pieces representing different movies or shows they enjoy, albeit with an emphasis on a favorite area (e.g., for me it was Star Wars or the Universal monsters).

Disadvantages of collecting
Cost - This is kind of obvious.  If it's worth having, then it probably costs a bit, and that's going to limit what else you can get, so you're less likely to have a "collection" than just that one really desirable thing.  This is true of almost anything collectible!

Space - It's hard to have a place that you can keep a collection and still make it accessible.  I mean, it's still a collection if it's in boxes, but what's the point of it if you can't really access it without digging it out?

Maintenance - Not everything requires this, but some items (Latex masks come to mind) will not hold up unless you go out of your way to preserve them.  Also, and I'm not sure maintenance is the right term for this, some items call out for attention.  For example, my guitars all represent projects in that I have plans to upgrade them in some way (e.g., new pickups and/or wiring upgrades), and that is on top of actual maintenance like cleaning/polishing them and changing strings.  As a result, they're always in a state of anticipation for something else.  The same can be said for costume pieces or toys that need to be displayed or added to (e.g., companion pieces) before they are in their final form.

The Monster Collectors

Although I'm sure there are plenty of enviable private collections out there, some of the more famous figures within the Halloween/sci-fi/horror community who are high-profile collectors include the following...
Forrest J Ackerman - The original and probably most famous collector of so many things related to monsters and horror.  Forry was the original nerd boy uberfan of all things sci-fi and fantasy.  He even coined the term "sci-fi"!  Due to his connections within the industry, Ackerman came into possession of many amazing items, particularly film props (e.g., the alien craft from War of the Worlds, Dracula's cape and ring, etc.).  Best of all, you could tour the so-called Ackermansion and see the collection up close.  There are videos on YouTube of guests taking the guided tour around Forry's home.  Sadly, the collection was pared down before the Ackermonster's death and is now scattered among many hands.  See also the documentary "Famous Monster" about Forrest J Ackerman for some footage of his collection.  It also features quick interviews with and a walk-thru of Dan Roebuck's collection as well.

Bob and Kathy Burns - Bob is a noted archivist of film props and memorabilia.  In fact, the studios have often dumped literal truckloads of props at his house (e.g., this once happened with the props from the original Alien film!).  Ever wonder who has the Time Machine from the adaptation of the Wells novel?  They do.  One of the original King Kong miniature armatures too.  All sorts of great props.  A bit more detail here:  Update: See also Bob's book It Came from Bob's Basement which covers some of his acquisitions.  Here's a description/review on my Recommended Reading page.

Kirk Hammett - Yes, that Kirk Hammett!  The lead guitarist from Metallica is a noted collector of original movie posters, artwork, toys, etc.  From the looks of things, his house is something of a museum of pop culture.  See my Recommended Reading page for his book about the collection: Too Much Horror Business.

Dan Roebuck - While he's an in-demand actor, he's also an avid collector of movie memorabilia and (especially!) toys dating from his childhood all the way to the present.  His site contains many pictures of his collection at its grandest:

Peter Jackson - The Lord of the Rings director is reportedly an obsessive collector of all things King Kong (even before he directed the modern remake).  He has other curiosities besides movie memorabilia.

My collections

Although I don't have the capital or passion of many of the more famous collectors out there, I've managed to collect quite a few things myself.
Posters - My collection doesn't have a singular focus.  It's a mix of movies I like and movies that are representative of important points in film history.  And, most importantly, what looks nice.  I wouldn't get a weak poster of a film that is good; that's just missing the point.  In fact, there are several films I would like posters of that just don't have good posters, so I don't bother investing in them.  I tend to have them grouped around the house by different category.  You can see a gallery of them here.

Books - I have several categories I focus on, but basically it's subjects and authors I like.  I have quite a few "art book" such as art from Star Wars, Alien, and unrelated work by HR Giger, etc.  You can see what's in my library here.

Movies - I am reluctant to invest in dvds since it's hard to amortize the cost of a single film (i.e., it's a waste to buy what you could rent the few times you'll ever watch it!).  However, I do collect inexpensive bundles of public domain b-movies (which sometime contain honest classics and other gems).  You can see a list of my collection here.

Toys - I mainly focus on action figures, but I do seek out a few other toys such as the Mighty Men and Monster Maker as well as the Dr. Dreadful toys.  I hope to eventually put up galleries of my toys, but right now all I have are online are the Star Wars dioramas Dani and I built years ago.  (See my Star Wars page for several galleries.)

Digital media - I do something of an offline version of Pintrest, some of which I need to eventually post on this site to share.  For example, I save images of interesting Halloween decorations, monster illustrations (including magazine covers), etc.  These might be from anywhere around the web, but I especially save images from eBay for any items I see that I like.  Many of these double as research and/or inspiration for props and costumes.  (I similarly have a digital guitar collection that I use for inspiration in designing guitars.)

The bottom line
Collect what brings you the most pleasure.  I can't emphasize this enough.  After all, if it's something you're really, really into, almost no one will appreciate any particular item in your collection as much as you do.  If you're collecting to impress anyone, odds are slim that you'll have much of an effect.  After all, few folks are going to understand the meaning and significance of a piece.
Just to give you an example, outside of my Halloween collections, I also "collect" guitars.  I don't consider myself a collector, but that's how I'm regarded.  However, I buy them to play.  Most people can't see the difference between any two of my guitars, even though the most expensive ones cost more than ten times what the cheapest ones in the collection are worth.  To any non-musician, they all have six strings, so what's the difference?!  The most common reactions are to comment on which is the prettiest.  No one cares which is "vintage" or if it's the model so-and-so plays on stage.  Only I would care about that, and so I really only collect for me!

Do yourself a favor and concentrate on what makes you happy about collecting.


Copyright 2014 the Ale[x]orcist.