...you never become truly old,
I recently received a letter from a very dear friend who has been collecting comics for over 30 years. The central theme of his letter was a sense of unease/disillusionment with the massive size of his collection (51,000 back issues, plus many thousands of toys, statues, posters, etc.), and a thought that while he still enjoyed quite a few aspects of comics collecting, that his passion for collecting was perhaps beginning to ebb. At the age of 52, he is considering possibly paring down his collection a great deal, focusing instead on just the few areas that still inspired him. The following is the letter that I wrote to him, which he has graciously allowed me to share with all of you. It was not originally written as a column, but when I completed this personal letter, I realized that I had covered for my friend quite a few of the same points about collecting comics that I was going to try to summarize for all of you this month.
Thank you very much for taking the time to write to me about your concerns. I spent 20 hours this past weekend sorting and hauling portions of my own personal comics and books collections, so I know exactly what you're talking about when you say that you get frustrated at not being able to access the various parts of your collection much of the time. Believe it or not, I have the exact same problem. I do have the advantage of having recently built myself my little collecting room at my farm, but even that space has its limitations. In the end, well over half of my personal comics collection will end up in storage.
As regards the crux of your feelings of disillusionment with the mass of your collection, which I perceive to be in some aspects a mid-life malaise, don't sweat them! I have to believe that everyone who has ever collected anything comes to a point where they begin to question just why in the world they have spent so much time and money accumulating cubic yards of material possessions. The very common propensity of Americans to burden themselves with large quantities of physical assets has led to an entire industry of storage and maintenance. In great measure, that's why people's houses are getting so darn big. We need more room just to store all of the crap that we've managed to stash away. As I'm sure you're already aware, fifty thousand comics is at least 150 long boxes, which when added to all the toys and ephemera, makes one heck of a big pile. Only someone truly insane would not at some point feel conflicted about the burden of having to deal with that much mass.
All of the above having been said, there are a couple of key points I think that you should never forget. First, the comics you've managed to accumulate constitute your winnings in the great poker game of life. Think about it. How many idiots have you known who lived solely from paycheck to paycheck, never accumulating anything? Not only do your boxes contain a huge number of memories, but they also reflect your stubborn dedication to slowly accumulating valuable assets over a long period of time. Your collection constitutes a savings account that has grown in value on a compound basis far more than the NASDAQ or the NYSE. I fully realize that the current disinflation in some back issue comics prices may make it appear that you were on a fool's errand all along, but I really do not believe that to be the case. If I did, I certainly wouldn't be beating my own brains out trying to accumulate tens of thousands more back issue comics each and every day...
The second key point that I want you to seriously consider is the fact that all collectibles go through periods of overabundance. As the first wave of collectors liquidate their collections (often around the age of 50...), there are frequently (for short periods of time...) far too many of items of a given genre available. This can lead to the near complete collapse of a collectibles market (as happened in the case of Jim Beam bottles and Avon collectibles), or it can provide a window of opportunity for a new generation of younger collectors to purchase items 20-30 years old for a pittance. That's what I see happening right now in comics. The old and those of weak wills are getting out, while the young and the hungry are jumping in and snapping up comics bargains at ridiculously low prices. The genuinely wise don't sell at the low point of a market, as they are well aware that all collectibles markets go through boom and bust cycles. Coins, for example, were pretty much dead in the water for several years not that long ago, but just recently became incredibly popular again as the price of gold has started to rise. Stamps and fine art also have gone through ebbs and flows of popularity. The wise purchase aggressively when prices are low, and purchase judiciously during those periods when prices are higher. In the end, however, the most canny of collectors continue to build their collections steadily over a very long period of time.
Given the above, I would strongly urge you to not succumb to the lure of momentary temptation to unburden yourself. I've seen thousands of people do exactly that over the past couple of decades, and I know of only a handful who haven't regretted their decisions. If you were to ever try to rebuild your collections after selling it, you would discover just how great an asset you once controlled. Never forget, that time is now on your side! Every day that passes every single item in your collection increases in both age and scarcity. Today's temporary overabundance of back issue comics is in great measure a direct result of eBay making it far easier for collections to be put into a worldwide market. I firmly believe, however, that today's low prices are encouraging a great many new collectors to start in the hobby. I see it daily in the tens of thousands of visitors who come to our www.milehighcomics.com website. Those new entrants, over a period of time, should gradually absorb today's overabundance. Once that occurs, I see prices for back issues comics rising very precipitously. That's why I'm investing every cent that I have right now in trying to accumulate as large an inventory of back issue comics as I possibly can. Comics that are available for pennies today, may well be difficult to obtain for dollars ten years from now.
My final point would be to remind you that your collection has been a part of your lifetime dreams. Not only have you been greatly entertained by your comics over time, but they also provided you with a goal. You told me when we were having our conversation that you want to build the ultimate comics reference library. I think that's a wonderful ambition! Whether you actually ever achieve that goal is irrelevant, as long as you continue to believe that the sum of your efforts will ultimately lead you to a place of personal gratification. I don't know who first said it, but I passionately believe in the thought that "you never become truly old, until you let your dreams die..." What you have accomplished to this point with accumulating your collections is admirable, but given that you may yet live for another 30 years, all you have accomplished to this point is actually nothing more than a really good start. Think about it. You have thousands of comics in your collection right now that were darn difficult to find in today's collecting environment. How rare will they be in 2036?
All the best!
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