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Editor's Letter: Collective souls

Caroline Feeney

March 27, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

My father tells a story of an escapade to Asbury Park in 1977, where he and a few friends ventured to the boardwalk. They spent the afternoon inhaling the salty Atlantic air and playing games in an old arcade, the kind with wooden-plank skee ball and tacky prizes.

His friend Keith came across a dart board game. It would have been a normal activity if something so precious hadn’t been at stake: four 18-inch inflatable dolls — John, Paul, George and Ringo, staring at Keith through the glass case as the perfect addition to his extensive collection of Beatles memorabilia.

One hour and $25 later, Keith still hadn’t thrown the darts with enough accuracy to win the dolls. My father suggested he quit. Keith refused.

For some of the collectors we profile this week, passion blurs into obsession. Each person returns to a childlike demeanor as they speak about their collections with glee.

So what drives us to get so excited about things with little practical use that put a hole in our wallets? I pondered this when my 10-year-old cousin asked for 93 One Direction bracelets for Christmas. This week, I recalled my grandmother’s lifelong collection of tea sets. I imagined her childhood, rocky at times, and saw her later in life sipping Earl Grey from a lovely floral-patterned cup from London. It can clutter our homes, yet collecting provides a sense of order in a random world. It’s an identity to grasp onto, a calming sense of stability that represents who we are and where we come from.

As Vox’s feature shows, there’s a story behind every collection. Thanks to my father, Keith’s story includes those four arcade Beatles dolls, which he still has.

“We took the employee in the back and said, ‘Look, we’re gonna be here forever,’” my father says, finishing the story. “‘How much for the damn dolls?’”

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