Collecting Deconstructed

By Shawn Robare

I made an admission recently about how small my actual personal vintage 80s collection is, and I wanted to expand upon that a bit.  Though it mostly pertained to my collection of things that I actually had from when I was a kid to now, surviving personal pop culture relics, I think sometimes I might give off the wrong impression as to how large my actual vintage collection of stuff really is.  By that I mean it’s kind of small, at least in terms of what I think someone who runs an 80s nostalgia site might, and probably usually owns.  Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a ridiculously large collection of animation cels, specifically monsters, spooks and creeps from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, and I still have a pretty big collection of sticker cards (Topps, Fleer, Donruss, etc), stuff that I’ve featured in the Peel Here column over the years, but outside of that so much of the stuff I’ve amassed over the last couple decades spent pining after my youth has been more modern tchotchkes.  Take my collection of G.I. Joe 2th anniversary figures.  I have around 50 of those adoring the walls of Branded HQ alongside some vintage style Star Wars figures (emphasis on “style”.)  I have a bunch of mini movie posters printed at the local Kinko’s self-serve copier when the attendants weren’t looking, as well as a scary amount of 80s cartoons on DVD.  But a lot of this stuff is more representational of my nostalgia and not directly linked to it.

Again, there are other things that I have that are more personal, my framed 1977 Halloween Horrors LP, or my sister’s collection of 80s era LPs, but these things by no means make up the bulk of my collection.  So, why am I bringing this up?  Well, I’ve been thinking a lot of what collections and collecting means to me over the last year and I’ve come to the conclusion that the desire to be a completist, or to focus on only vintage items is, for me personally, a fruitless compulsion.  That’s not to say that I’m giving up on collecting, or that I’m only buying a bunch of modern junk, it’s more of a realization that so much of the joy is not in possessing these coveted items, it’s simply the actual desire to own them.  It’s the hunt, not the trophy.  The trophy, if not the specific, actual item I possessed as a kid, is merely a representation, no more real than a memory of that same item held as a child, or a picture scavenged off of Google image search (for me at least.)  So many of the things that I desire to have back, those specific relics from my childhood, are way beyond my ability to ever secure them.  They are gone.  In a landfill most likely. That’s why the Atari system my friend re-gifted to me recently is so sacred to me.


Part of what drew me to this conclusion was another amazing acquisition I wrote about awhile back, the near complete set of vintage 1st series Garbage Pail Kids that I lucked into for free.  When sorting the cards that were given to me, and realizing that so many of them were 1st series my heart was a lump in my throat.  After I was done and I noticed that there were about 20 stickers missing, 2 of which were A&B sister cards (meaning there was one image missing from the set of John Pound paintings) I was sort of heart broken.  I’d been searching for an affordable set of 1st series GPKs all of my life and here was one given to me for free and it took me exactly 25 minutes to go from elated beyond belief to deflated and full of grief.  To my stupid credit, it only took me another half an hour to come to the realization that I was given two gifts that day.  One, the set of coveted sticker cards, and two, because it was an incomplete set, I was also re-gifted the hunt.  That desire to keep looking.  If that was totally stripped I fear that the urge to “collect” GPKs would diminish, and I’m not sure I’m ready to ever let go of that desire.

Boxsome pack

The other thing that really knocked home this idea of redefining what collecting means to me was when the absurdly cool Tommy Day of Top Hat Sasquatch decided to launch a new project recently called Boxsome.  In a nutshell, Boxsome is a site where you can purchase little packages of nostalgia in the form of 80s and 90s era trading card packs.  Each Nostalgia pack contains two wax packs of your choice from their inventory, and it comes shipped with a bunch of extra goodies including pogs, stickers, and little designer goodies that I believe will be rotating in and out.  At first blush one might think, what is the point?  Why would I want only two packs of Howard the Duck trading cards?  I can buy the whole set off of eBay for the same price!  But that’s just it, if I’m right, Boxsome isn’t about owning all the Howard the Duck cards (complete with a neatly folded wrapper and a set of the sticker card sub set.)  It’s about revisiting what it was like when you went to the store or gas station and you were only allowed to spend a dollar or two and you could only afford to pick up a few packs here and there.  How many kids ever completed their sets of Topps cards?  Sure, I know some of us did.  I mean I managed to complete the entire 700+ card run of the 1987 Topps Baseball card set.  But I also know that that experience is a lot rarer than we might think.  We might have a full run of a set or two, but most of us only had a handful of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, or Dark Crystal cards.  And you know what?  Maybe that’s all we really need.  Just a handful of vintage cards to remind us how neat these sets were, reminding us how it felt to collect them as a kid, and keeping the “hunt” alive by only buying a pack here and there.

boxsome logo

Money buys a lot of things.  Hell, it can buy you all of the things.  But it doesn’t make one a collector, and the act of buying all there is to buy, that feeling of the purchase, will never feel as good as just the simple desire to own that stuff.  That desire, the hunt, that’s what’s worth preserving.  If you’ll excuse me I’m going to go stare at my collection of 19 Dark Crystal cards I’ve amassed.  And I’m going to dream about one day owning the rest…

For those interested, Tommy was kind enough to offer Branded readers a special offer of 20% off your purchase until April 16th! Just go to Boxsome and use coupon code “BRANDED”. Tell him I sent ya!

  • Thanks for the write-up Shawn! And yeah that’s kind of what I was thinking. I don’t think everybody wants to buy a whole box of Growing Pains wax packs, but might want a few cards.

    And I hear you about collecting. I have such a weird collection, but not as much stuff as one would guess if they looked at my Instagram feed or read my blog. I just have stuff here and there that is Nostalgic to me or means something, but I’ve never been a completist or anything.

    • There’s been times when I’ve felt an insane urge to be a completist, but it really can drive one insane. I do have to say though, you have some really neat stuff in the instagram feed!

    • Wait, there are whole boxes of Growing Pains cards?

      • Oh yes. I should send you a pic of the big plastic drawer-thingy in my office closet that’s full of wax packs now.

      • Yeah, I think the mother load was purchased by Boner (He thought he’d be a millionaire off of that investment alone.) Also, Alan Thicke bought 10% to give out as Christmas cards. I think he still has a few packs left…

  • Well said. I found that at times the completest goal can turn something that should be fun into a stressful experience. I set out to complete a collection of Swamp Thing comics some years ago, but decided to stop shy of 20 or so issues. That way I still have the excitement of the hunt lingering.

  • Great post. I would say my collection of things might be on the level of what you have, just based on how you explained it above. The 95% of my collection is merely because I loved the things when they came out when I was little and held onto all of it. Since then I’ve on occasion would seek things out, but due to $$$ I don’t dare want to be a completist because I know I can’t ever afford to do that. I love hunting for a few fun items, but coming across strange finds at comic shops, vintage, thrift stores even as a bigger thrill for some reason. I would agree that things like Boxsome are fun that that does recapture that sort of magic of when you’d get a pack of cards or a few items. Maybe in some ways you can covet those limited items more, appreciate them more than if you had a whole line of figures, or case of cards.

    I may have just ranted into some unintelligible madness right there.

    • Thanks man! and nope, I totally get what you’re saying. Honestly I think I blogged myself into a little unintelligible madness… ;)

  • Jonathan Herr

    I bought 3 of those Nostalga Packs, can’t wait to get them in the mail!

    • Awesome! I know I loved mine. Share a pic when you get em!

      • Jonathan Herr

        Totally will. I got 2 Dark Crystal, 2 TMNT Cartoon S2 & 2 Rad Dudes.
        I’ll instagram the hell out the package that comes. If you want to follow look me up. Jonathan5360

    • Thanks a lot Jonathan, it’ll go out tomorrow!

  • This post makes me feel better about the complete TMNT collection I’ll never have.

    • Jonathan Herr

      Keep looking, stuff is out there to be found and a lot of times it can be picked up for less than yout think. Some of my best finds – GPK Series 1-4, all nearly complete for $25, plus doubles of most that I was able to resell for $50 profit. Also found a complete collection of TMNT first edition soft head figures, complete w/ all weapons & packaging at a yard sale, $30. I wish you the best of luck! Collecting is amazing fun. It’s the thrill of the hunt!

    • Yeah, it’ll be hard not finally acquiring that screen-worn Raph suit from the first TMNT, but a girl can dream… ;) Also, I hope Disqus can address the old comments stuff ’cause I do not want to turn this off! People are like commenting on other’s comments and shit. Conversations are finally happening. This is so rad…

      • Keep the Faith. I’ll get it taken care of, One Way Or Another and I’ll be Right Here Waiting until that happens.

  • I totally agree with the love of the hunt stuff. It’s definitely that thrill (and seeing what other things I can happen upon by chance) that makes collecting more fun. I remember when I was first getting into collecting “Weird Al” albums, how I loved going to record stores and being so elated when I found some earlier recording or some bootleg. Ah. Memoriessss! Also: Boxsome might be dangerous for me…

    • Yeah, you’re reminding me of another reason I want to be a bit more curatative in my collecting; I want to still WANT to go into antique, comic, and used book stores. The more “complete” my collections become the less I want to go to these places ’cause I feel like I won’t find stuff, and I don’t want to find myself giving up on browsing old musty places like this…

      • Dex

        Completing one collection just means it’s time to find the Next Thing…like a set of Steak Disco albums!

        • But only, Rare Steak Disco, their later stuff was hard to get into…

  • Jason Kaphingst

    Excellent post, and it’s spot on Shawn. I’ve struggled with this exact same thing for years, as I’ve dabbled in collecting lots of different retro things…..Cereal Boxes, Vintage Food/candy packaging, Home recorded VHS/Beta tapes of TV shows with commercials, Toys, Comics, electronics and video games…….I love it all. Problem is I’d go in streaks where I’d search high and low for items in one category, then lose interest and start picking up lots of something in another area, so on and so on, never having a distinct goal or plan for what I really wanted. And my office was starting to look like an episode of Hoarders (Retro Hoarders….at least it’s a little cooler then the people with piles of pizza boxes and hundreds of cats….). So I finally had to focus and decide “What really brings me the most joy. What to I enjoy hunting for the most?” After all, like you said, the thrill is in the hunt.
    So I’ve sold off or are selling off stuff that, even though its really cool, just doesn’t belong in my collection. Sure, if I’m at a thrift store or Good Will and come across retro stuff that you don’t see every day, I still buy it, but I buy it to put on ebay or give to a friend who may be looking for that one particular Get Along Gang toy or NES cartridge, and hopefully help someone else fill a small hole in a collection. So the hunt is still alive and well, it’s just the retention of items I’m working on paring down. I still will keep random items if they are distinct items from my childhood, such as my Snake Eyes figure or a particular Hot Wheels car that never left my pocket as a child, but that doesn’t mean I now need to get EVERY GI Joe or Hotwheels car.

    Admitting you have a problem is the first step.
    -My names Jason, and I”m a retroholic.

    • Thanks, and you make a great point about the “paying it forward” aspect of hunting for friends. This is one of the things that I almost enjoy concentrating on more these days, being that lookout for someone else.

  • Dex

    You mentioning what kids had complete Topps sets totally takes me back. On the weekends when my dad had me, we’d go to a local flea market and there was one guy there who had all kinds of sports cards but he also had a box of Star Wars singles. I can still see myself flipping through the cards with my checklist.

    • Ha! “Need it, need it, got it, got it, got it, need it…” Yeah, I have some similar memories of me and my dad hitting up the flea market in Florida. Still kicking myself for not buying the 1st series Garbage Pail Kids I saw there back in the 80s…!

  • Apologies for stumbling upon this post a little late, but I just had to chime in and say how true it rings for me as well. Over the years I have changed my philosophy on collecting a number of different times…flip-flopping on what to purchase/what to store away/what to sell/etc. It’s an ongoing struggle that I’m fairly certain I will never figure out. But alas, that’s kind of what keeps things fresh and interesting.

    Unfortunately, I am a completest, so it can be a slippery slope with certain parts of my collection, but I do my best to keep it in check. Obviously the biggest collection I have is Garbage Pail Kids – and that journey is pretty much wrapped up. I have almost every item from the 80s and I stay on top of the new releases enough to feature them on my site/etc. So a few years back I found myself itching for something to hunt down!

    Over the years I have dabbled in vinyl toys, movie memorabilia, mini-figures, Star Wars, etc. but none of them were giving me that overflowing sense of nostalgia that I was longing for. That’s when I set out to re-build my collection of Series 1 Battle Beasts. And to be clear, I made a conscious decision to not purchase them as a set, but rather piece it together.

    I made a set of rules for myself (no more than two figgies at a time, no more than $10/figure, etc.) and set out on my quest. It’s been fun…over the span of a year or so I’ve amassed around nine or 10 of the figures, and it’s been a blast doing it! When I have a few extra bucks to spare I’ll hit up eBay and search for some reasonably priced auctions and then cross my fingers.

    So…sorry to hijack your comment thread with this novella, but I just wanted to say thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject…and it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    Because for me, collecting is about the journey…not the destination ;)

    Take care

    • No apologies man, thanks for reading it! I love the limits you set on collecting the Battle Beasts. I’ve kind of been doing a similar thing with Robo Force. Trying not to spend more than $10, and even then only picking up figures once every six months or so. Taking that collection slow…