I collect collections. As I have discussed before, collecting is fun and rewarding. If you don’t do it, you should. But I won’t re-hash that post again.
Today, I want to discuss what I call the “Time Capsule Theory.” As San Diego Comic-Con 2014 comes to a close, attendees are preparing to leave, their suitcases chock-full of new collectibles, promotional items, SDCC-exclusive comics, and sweaty cosplay outfits (I am jealous of three of those things). If I know anything about toy collecting, I know that many or most of these SDCC acquisitions will be kept in their boxes forever. Collectors love things in mint condition. Think about it. Stamp collectors want uncirculated stamps. Comic collectors want CGC-graded, hard-cased, pristine comics. Coin collectors want uncirculated proof coins. Toy collectors want mint-in-box toys. And this is all well and good. After all, who can blame someone for preferring a new item to a used item?
However, in many cases, the things that we love to keep in mint condition are, by design, intended to be used and inevitably worn down. If I buy a video game, I probably want to, oh, I don’t know, play it. If I buy a car, I want to, like, drive it and stuff. No one would ever buy a lawn mower and put it in a glass display case, because it is meant to be used for cutting grass. Most things have some specific, intended use. Why, then, do collectors buy and save things like toys, that they will never touch or play with? What is the point of spending money on something, only to never touch it?
If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you have probably seen the episode where Leonard and Sheldon get vintage Star Trek transporter room toys, and are torn between the desire to play with the contents inside and the desire to keep them in mint condition, in their original, unopened state. This is the eternal woe of the toy collector. As a Spider-Man collector, it is hard to resist the urge to open my mint condition action figures and wage an epic battle on my desk.
Toys are meant to be played with, right? Thus, by keeping my 12″ Maximum Carnage toy in the box and never opening it, touching it, or playing with it, am I defeating the purpose of having it in the first place? Recently, I have been studying the collector market for vintage soda (No, I’m not making this up). Believe it or not, there is a vibrant after-market for old, discontinued drinks, limited edition cans, etc. This raises a similar question: sodas are meant to be consumed and enjoyed. If someone keeps an unopened can of Crystal Pepsi until the present day, did they miss the point of having it in the first place? They never got the intended enjoyment out of the product, and now it’s long expired and taking up space. After all, sodas are meant to be drunk and toys are meant to be played with. I feel that collecting is a nostalgia-fueled activity, all about preserving a historical record. Enter, Time Capsule Theory.
I believe that by keeping items like toys, sodas, and cards in their original packaging, it’s like we are keeping a time capsule. In the most romanticized sense, that unopened can of Crystal Pepsi is a tangible connection to the 1980s. Inside, it contains a quintessential, physical record of yesteryear. Seeing it brings to mind memories one might have of buying it in the store, or drinking it while playing Top Gun on original Nintendo. There is something bittersweet about being so close to the past, but so far. Each time you see this Crystal Pepsi, you know that you could open it (though drinking it might kill you), and experience for a moment the long-forgotten feelings and memories associated with it, but it is perhaps better to let it remain untouched, and allow the past to live on inside.
In an equally romanticized view, my unopened 1994 Spider-Man action figures are time capsules. Inside that blister packaging is a physical link to a more innocent time. It would be so easy to open one up and play with it, but I know that if I did, it wouldn’t make me feel the same as it did when I was 5, because I have changed and grown older. However, this transcendental desire to revisit my youth keeps me yearning for what lies inside.
This might sound like a bunch of hooey, since I am literally talking about plastic children’s toys and junk beverages, but this is real to me, and to many collectors. It seems that collectors often disregard the intended use of an item, in favor of preserving it as a piece of history. What is a stamp besides a tiny piece of paper? Stamps were never originally intended to be saved. They were supposed to be licked, stuck on a letter, and thrown away once they served their purpose. To some people, though, stamps represent a physical record of a important era in history. They are symbolic of bygone days, and preserving them provides an avenue to revisit history.
Some people won’t understand these concepts. They might think that toy collectors are just overgrown man-children who can’t let go of the 1980s. I, however, am a proponent of the belief that there is more to it.