I have no idea how to create pages but I'll figure it out eventually godammit

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Set Builders Build Sets

I've discussed the joys of building sets on this blog many times before, but I feel that I haven't really been concise enough in my explanations to get across the concept of why exactly it is that I do what I do. I especially want Gellman to understand where I'm coming from, because he's a passionate collector who knows his stuff and doesn't get fooled by all the marketing bullshart that pervades the hobby.

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
There are many, many others who are real collectors, not just set builders. This is a better way to put it: Purist old-school mystical disciples of Jefferson Burdick don't buy hand-collated sets of current year product. They rip packs, scrounge through common boxes and trade through the mail. The only qualification to being a real collector is to collect.

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.


night owl said...

Bravo! said the choir. ... Who knew Motorhead was a, um, collector?

White Sox Cards said...

All fine points. You and Lemmy are very persuasive! :)

darkship said...

I can't tell you haw much it bugged me to have a couple of "holes in my '07 Masterpieces set! It look sooo much better with them filled in. I'm going to have the same problem with the '08 set but I'll get it fixed as fast as possible.

dinged corners said...


Sometimes the chase may not only be about completing sets (unless you're a completist). The chase can be about hoping for a card of your favorite players or another smile or whatever. And sometimes, you're chasing a memory, as you noted in your collector examples. Agree it's all a scam, but there's a defiance in ignoring that. Beautifully said, dayf.

Dave said...

Very, very well said! This is one of my favorite posts that I've ever read in any blog!

shanediaz82 said...

You are dead on here, couldn't have explained it any better myself. The chase and the effort in searching for missing cards is what's rewarding, even if I never finish half of the sets I start.

I think there are a lot of things in life where the chase is more fun than achieving the end goal.

starkill1138 said...

Well said!
There's nothing like the chase. Why else would collectors go after master sets with endless color parallels, etc. And I don't think there's that big of a difference between set builders and those collectors who bust high end products for the hits. They're just chasing different things .

Scott C

Brian said...

Helluva Post - the best one I have read in weeks!! Keep it up!!!

Fleerfan said...

You've done a great job of simplifying what drives so many of us to keep collecting, regardless of what it is that we chose to collect.

Its all about the chase/hunt/search and the enjoyment that this process brings.

I'm sure many of us can think of an item that we spent considerable time and effort tracking down, only to then realize after we acquired that item that we don't even go back and spend much time enjoying the item once its been added to the collection.

We are too busy moving on to the next thing on our wantlist because so much of the enjoyment comes from seeking out the item and finally finding it relative to the enjoyment we get afterwards of having it in our collection.

Flash said...

This was a great post. Kudos on the Maltese Falcon reference. I own the DVD (because of a college class) but I still loved the movie.

I'm a set collector as well. I feel empty if I'm opening packs or a box only looking for inserts. If I know I'm looking to complete a set, I have hope with each pack I open that I will be closer to my goal. If I pull an insert, that's just a bonus along the way.

Again great post and great comments from everyone.

GCA said...

Amen brother! It's much more fun sifting through endless rows of cards muttering "gotitgotitneeditgotitneeditgotitgotit" and then coming out with a pile of new additions then it is to browse thru a complete set (at least after the first time).
Fantastic post. You are a blogging god.
And metal rules, even in card collecting! Horns up, I'm out!