Before I get into set building, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: There is no such thing as a 'real' collector. A real collector is someone who collects. These are all examples of real collectors:
- The kid who buys packs of Topps at Target and keeps them in a shoebox
- The high roller who busts several cases of Exquisite, keeps one autographed card of Rudy Gay and flips the rest on eBay
- The set builder who buys box after box of Heritage trying to get a complete set
- The team collector who wants one of every Durham Bulls card in existence
- The guy who is trying to get his entire 1988 Score set autographed through the mail
- The girl with 3000 different cards of David Ortiz because she thinks big men are sexy
- The guy who rips a box of every new product lookin' for the MoJo
- Your aunt who has had a 1983 Topps SuperVet card of Bobby Murcer propped up on her bookshelf right next to her Joseph Campbell books for the past twenty years for absolutely no discernable reason
- The guy who only collects bubble gum cards from the thirties that have been written or drawn on in blue ink
- Your cousin who got a factory set every Christmas from Nana, and has kept them all in the closet ever since
- The girl who collects players whose name makes her laugh like Lerrin LaGrow
- The guy who has EVERY single card of Ellis Burks because he saw him hit a home run against Chicago in a game he went to with his dad
- The creepy guy who collects cards numbered 666 and props them up on an altar surrounded by black candles
- The guy who has enough cards to choke a whale completely disorganized all over the house
Ok, now that that is out of the way, I've been thinking about this for a while now and I think I have finally come up with a succinct explanation of why set collectors build sets:
The chase is better than the catch.
The joy isn't in the having but the getting. A complete set is a complete set, but completing that set is an accomplishment. Take this page with one card missing:
To some that card number 3 is a gaping hole that spoils an otherwise nice page. To a set builder, it's a quest. A grand chase like Kasper Gutman hunting down the Maltese Falcon. Having to tangle with Sam Spade and Joel Cairo and Miss O'Shaughnessy while tracking it down is the fun part, metaphorically speaking. People spending hundreds of dollars at bars picking up chicks is not wasting money if they have fun doing it. Someone spending a ton of money and man hours renovating their house instead of just buying a new one is not a waste if they enjoy the renovation. Paying for extra courses at a community college for classes that are interesting but won't necessarily help to raise your tax bracket is not a waste if the person is ultimately enriched by the experience. Buying worthless* retail boxes is not a waste if you simply enjoy the hobby.
If that doesn't explain where I'm coming from, then some one else will have to do it. That's the best I can do. If you just don't buy it, or you just can't trust a guy who goes ga-ga over 1991 Bowman, I ask you to put that all aside and accept an endorsement of my argument from none other than Motörhead.
How can you not trust a face like Lemmy's?
*Note: ALL wax packs - hobby and retail - are worthless. It's overpriced. It's a scam. It's for suckers. That's not the point.