A common dictionary definition of the word “collector’” is; a person who collects things of a specified type, professionally or as a hobby. This is obviously a broad definition, and after looking around my bike shed, and after a quick look in the mirror to see if I looked like a bicycle collector, I wondered for a moment if I really do fall into the category of a ‘bike collector’ and why.
Usually, the value of collections is in the individual’s emotional interest, like buying that object that you always wanted when you were younger or alternatively, something that was your first ever bike, dolls house, record etc. This means that some collectors are trying to re-connect themselves with their past, or a period in time that they feel really emotionally connected to. It’s almost like they want to manage a small piece of historical anxiety by eventually finding that ‘thing’, and which then makes their life more complete. It’s like achieving that psychological state of completion by obtaining not just the initial object that was originally desired, but quickly moving onto a whole range of similar objects, which far exceeds that initial, self-perceived gap in their life. Thus, the collector can over-achieve in their original aspirations and potentially, feel much more balanced emotionally. With me so far?
The emotional state I mention above is only one example or reason to collect stuff. People collect stuff because it is the hunt for something which is the driver. The human being has always collected stuff, which dates back to the basic need to collect food for winter or tough times ahead. As a bit of an ‘off piste’ collecting example, imagine having 5 very special champagne glasses when you know that there should be 6 in the set. An intense global e-search ensues, and whilst looking for that elusive glass, you learn about, find and indeed buy, more ‘special’ champagne glasses. Eventually, you find that 6th glass to complete the set, but actually, it’s only a temporary reprieve because you now know so much more about the subject and the collection is getting bigger. Before you know it, you have a whole wall in the siting room that has been specially shelved to display your collection of champagne glasses. You entertain your guests with the stories of vintage glassware designed specifically for drinking champagne. It becomes a bit ‘boring but true’, and because you have amassed such a vast range of knowledge, which is waaaaaaaaaay beyond those original 5 champagne glasses, you now have become some way to becoming an expert-collector.
The other thing that fascinates me is in what people actually collect. It is mind bending when you think about it. For example, think of an object like the crown tops that go on beer bottles, and you’ll find a collectors market for beer bottle tops. Each bottle top will have a story about the design of the brand, or the story of the beer, or the fact that only 173 were ever produced, globally, which means exclusivity. Exclusivity drives up the price and the level of intensity of the hunt. The thrill of the chase far outweighs the value of the object that they are collecting.
Most collectors have a ‘Holy Grail’ of an object in their area of collection. The level of desire to become the owner on that special object makes people super-intense, and maybe a bit extreme in their behaviour, which is usually what drives up prices. However, there are other aspects that drive collecting. Some people are just plain hoarders of similar stuff. They’re not explicitly targeting certain things, its just that they seem to end up with loads of the same thing, somehow. This then enters the world of the pathological state where collections then get in the way of daily living.
The other aspect of the collector is in the way that they allow others, or not, to see the size and scale of their collection. There are collections of stuff in the world that nobody knows about, and probably won’t until either they are discovered or are sold off when the collector had died. This makes it even more interesting for collectors in that they’re aware that somewhere in the world, there is a collector who owns either the ‘Holy Grail object’, or has something that every other collector in that particular field didn’t even know actually existed. Exciting huh?
There is also a fine line between collecting because of the spirit of the hunt, and that of collecting exclusive things that ‘should’ gain value and are justified as an investment. Everything that collectors own have times of popularity and those of ‘not desired anymore’. If it is an object that also needs regular maintenance like a motorcycle, car or even bicycle, the investment business case might be blown out of the water and you’re left with an expensive ‘money-down-the-drain’ collection object. Bad news!
One of the reasons museums came about is to display collections. Sometimes, museums are ‘live’, continuing collections, and sometimes the contents have been bequeathed by someone. Either way, a museum is actually just a term for a collection of stuff and there are public museums and private museums. The advent of social media and e-commerce has made collecting even more exciting, competitive and serious. Sometimes you can buy to collect and sometimes you can only see a picture of what should be on your ‘must buy’ list. There are some people of course that are the pole opposite of collectors and just don’t ever think about obtaining loads of physical possessions. They are just happy enough to experience life.
This all brings me back to me. Am I a collector? Some may say yes and some may say no, so let me paint the current picture. Lets start with the mountain bikes. I have always been passionate about Cannondale bikes. It is the design, the engineering, the paradigm-shifting approach to a road or off-road bicycle, the style, and they way they ride. I bought my first Cannondale mountain bike in the year 2000. I then bought a Cannondale time trial bike in 2005. In 2017, I saw an advert for a Cannondale downhill bike, which was the ultimate mountain bike back in 1998. A bike I had only ever coveted and looked at in adverts or magazines. I bought it. Since then, I have not consciously been looking to buy Cannondale mountain bikes, but as I like a good restoration project, and Cannondales are my first choice, I’ve amassed another 5 of them (3 of them are in the picture below). I’ve also acquired some other vintage mountain bikes, one of them being the same one as my first ever mountain bike that I bought back in 1994, a Kona Lava Dome, and is obviously an emotionally driven purchase. Does the fact that I own 7 Cannondales plus 4 other mountain bikes, plus several road bikes and a tandem makes me a collector? Probably, but they do all get ridden……..
I know a shoe collector can only wear one pair of shoes at once and that I can only ride one bike at once, but hey, it is fun. It will sound excessive and extreme to some people, but a lot of people will spend much more on one consumable object like a computer in one purchase than I’ve spent on all of my bikes together. The fact that I get restoration time with the bikes makes it much more enjoyable and increases the intensity of the hunt for parts. It took me nearly 2 months to find a headset bearing kit for a 1991 Cannondale Delta V2000, and a bit more work in making a jig to fit it properly, but it was frustratingly-fun, and not wholly expensive.
I like cycling jerseys. I like the colours, the styles, the different sponsors and the fabrics that they are made out of. Admittedly, I did set out to get one cycling jersey that represented each decade since the 1930s, so now I do have a collection and each one does fit me. I have also bought cycling stuff that I know are things that collectors will buy and that I can make a profit on, which then gets ploughed back into the ‘collection fund’.
Cycling memorabilia, tools, helmets, shoes etc are all things that I’ve bought. Some I have kept and some things I have sold on. Am I a collector? Probably. If I look in the mirror, can I admit to myself that it is not out of control? I think so, but I will have to sell some bikes at some time in the future. This brings me to another thing about collectors, in that they either die with a complete collection for someone else to inherit or sell, or at some point well before death, they decide to downsize and sell the lot. I’ve heard some collectors say that the most satisfying part of collecting, was selling it all. Stereotypically, and historically, men have been the collectors of the big, expensive stuff between the two genders, but as society and incomes for both men and women become much more balanced, the previously underground female collector is now fast emerging, so we do have a near gender balance in the collecting world as well. In addition, collectors are starting young nowadays. Just look at the collections of console games, lego, guitars and other stuff that someone aged as young as 16 will own.
Whilst I do not have all of my bikes in one single picture, you only have to go back through the posts on this blog site to get a feel for the size and diversity of my cycling collection, stock, or whatever you want to call it. Also, and if you are interested, or might be a collector of vintage road bicycles, I predict a future collection target for the Swiss, Cilo brand of cycles. If you need to know more about these bikes, just click on the ‘Cilo Cycles’ menu bar and you’ll find lots more regarding this Swiss special brand.
Enjoy your collecting. I do.
All photos by the Author