ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Psychology of Collecting

Updated on September 24, 2014

The origins of collecting

As a society we seem to be fascinated with collecting things. Teapots, stamps, postcards, cars, stickers, dolls, even naval fluff! The items we take an interest in collecting are often eclectic and wonderfully diverse. For some it’s a hobby, others a career, but regardless of the motive it’s more popular than we can sometimes think. At present there are and estimated 60 million stamp collectors throughout the word. That’s almost the entire population of the UK who spend their time dedicated to the pursuit of collecting stamps. That doesn’t take into account all the coin, doll, genealogy, matchbox and teddy bear collectors across the globe.

This isn’t a recent phenomenon and the trend isn’t solely reserved for the modern world. The Egyptian Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30BC) were some of the first collectors and assembled an impressive collection of books that were housed at the library of Alexandria. While it’s probably safe to say they didn’t extend their collection to postage stamps or vintage teapots, collecting items, whatever they may be, seems to be an intrinsic part of human behaviour.

Modern day collecting has its origins a little closer to home. An evolution from the popular “cabinets of curiosity” that were all the rage during the 17th and 18th century. The wealthy collected fossils, shells, books and art where the size of their private collection was an indication of their power, wealth and social status. Some of these initial collections became so large that they became of interest to the general public, ultimately growing to such a stature that they became the catalyst for some of London’s very first museums.

London's Natural History Museum
London's Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum was opened in 1881 thanks to one of these private collections; Sir Hans Sloane’s compendium of over 80,000 specimens from the natural world paved the way for Richard Owen to open of London’s most fashionable tourist attractions. Museums, so popular with many of us today, are simply an extension of these early private collections. If you’ve ever been to a museum, it could be argued that you have an interest in collecting.

So why is this? What are the reasons for wanting to collect things? Is it learnt behaviour passed down through ages, is it part of our evolutionary past, or do we simply love shiny things.

Toilet Trauma

Ahhh Freud. He never fails to amaze, confuse and befuddle. According the world’s best-known psychologist the desire to collect things stems from un-resolved childhood toilet trauma. For some, the trauma of going to the toilet and loosing our valuable “possessions” was so overwhelming that we developed a fixation to take back what was once ours. Collectors are simply trying to take back control of their items and belongings, finding security in ownership, never again to be lost or taken away by the porcelain thief……….an intriguing theory!


For some the art of collecting has nothing to do emotions of nostalgic reminiscence, but more to do with investment and financial security. In June 2014 the most expensive stamp ever sold went for a hefty £5.6m at Sotheby’s. The one-cent British Guiana Magenta postage stamp is the only one of its kind left and proved to be a very sensible investment. With the volatility of the stock market, stamp collecting and investing in rare stamps has been shown to be a more stable and ultimately lucrative asset.

The hunt

Hunting is an innate instinct born out of our evolutionary past. Our desire to hunt, find and capture is pre-conditioned into our psyches. With the wonderful advancement in tofu technology and the proliferation of the modern supermarket, much of this desire goes left unfulfilled. It’s for these reasons that many collectors find themselves absorbed in their collections. The search for the “missing piece” or the rare gem that no one else has, is a powerful attraction and provides an almost never-ending search. As with many things in life, the joy is the hunt itself, not the end goal.

Social camaraderie

While more popular that most people think, finding like-minded individuals who share a passion or an interest in collecting can be difficult, especially if your own particular interest is very niche. The advent of the Internet has made it much easier for collectors to talk, discuss and share information. Strong social bonds can be formed based around a mutual interest or passion. Just as bikers, film buffs and musicians find friendship through common ground; collectors can build entire social groups based around their love of collecting. Some collectors also refer to the social bonds formed with family members where grandparents hand down their years of hard work to the next generation. A lifetime of collecting to be continued by their children or grandchildren, helping to form strong family ties and an emotive link to their own unique past.


Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology and developed the concept of the collective unconscious. He argued and touted the influence of archetypes of behaviour, a universal way of thinking and behaving that was common among all of us. The need and desire to collect things was directly related to our survival instincts, we’re all pre-conditioned to collect and store food sources, nuts and berries etc…. His argument was that it was this desire that was the main driving force behind our need to collect. We’re all just filling our cheeks for the winter.

Time travel

Just as we take photo’s and keep a physical record of important moments in our lives, collecting can serve as a reminder of times gone by. Collecting as a hobby is more common among people who have lived during a war where the tangible, physical objects can invoke strong emotions. Reminding them of periods of our lives that should never be forgotten. One of the strongest senses associated with memory is surprisingly our sense of smell, sometimes all we need to jump in our metaphorical time-machine is a waft of nostalgia.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)