Possessive Obsessive – Understanding a Collector’s Mindset

In 2017 a 13-year-old girl from Swansea in Wales became a new record titleholder for the Largest collection of Doctor Who memorabilia with 6,641 items. With less than two weeks to Christmas Day dear reader, the annual ritual of being allowed to indulge in excess is fast approaching. There are “I want” lists for Doctor Who items being written up and down the country and left for father Christmas. So it got me thinking about how much is too much?

As a Doctor Who fan I imagine you’ll have your own collection of Doctor Who paraphernalia whether it’s autographs, books or DVDs or more specialist items but at what point does it become all-consuming? I ask this question as a person who has desired a more minimalist style of living for a while but has real trouble making it happen. Minimalism is pursuing a simpler life free from too many material possessions, enabling you to make better use of your time. Whilst I can never boast a collection as big as Lily Connors gigantic haul of items, after a very long period of resisting the urge to “own” anything newly released for Doctor Who I unexpectedly succumbed.

It started by me winning an auction job lot on eBay of 60 Doctor Who DVDs where the proceeds went to charity. I then felt the compulsion to fill the gaps in that collection. Every TV story is out there new and classic. Checking eBay daily for interesting items, as anyone who is a buyer knows, its a strange driving desire. The scale of my buying journey since then has grown. I attended the DWAS Capitol 4 convention event in April this year where I saw a host of replica Daleks sliding around the hotel corridors, “escorting” guests in the lifts. I loved that fiction to reality scenario so much that I have somehow acquired a quarter share in a full-size replica Dalek!

Why do people collect? Well according to psychology its more complicated than you would imagine. Psychologists do point to differences in the genders when collecting. In a generalised way, women are more interested in people and men are more interested in things so collecting is seen mainly as a male occupation. Male collectors gather due to the caveman instinct to hunt from prehistoric times and bring back resources. That collecting instinct has been recognised and manipulated by marketing people cleverly over the years usually using the most receptive of audiences, children.

One of the highly effective ways developed was including action figure toys in breakfast cereals for children to collect Flying Superman Toy – 1955 – Kellogg’s Corn Flakes – TV Commercial [English] [Toys]. The toys normally were one of a set and children would be encouraged to collect the full set otherwise their collection would be incomplete. Collection possibilities for Doctor Who have grown so much, since the Dalekmania days of the 1960’s where the “pepper pot” monsters were an instant hit, that it feels overwhelming at times. Here is a question for you. How much do you spend on Doctor Who related merchandise per month £30, £50, £100 more?

A Dalek Dream
A Dalek Dream

When it comes to Doctor Who merchandise for some people collecting everything is an obsession. Dedicated sites such as exist to show everything available and upcoming and I do wonder if we are just being manipulated sometimes? There is a part of me that does want to protest against some of the output especially when it’s what I see as a “rinse and release”. BBC Worldwide, the commercial subsidiary of the BBC, is smart enough to know that most fans will shell out for Blu rays, vinyl’s, toys where there are limited editions.

As fantastic as the limited edition Blu-ray certainly are fans are in essence being persuaded to double-dip financially (if they have the original DVDs) or even triple-dipping (if they own the original and special edition DVDs) for variations of what is essentially the same product repackaged in a different way. It feels slightly cynical to make more money out of the fans when they have already invested and doesn’t always sit comfortably with me.

For some other collectors, there is mixed in with their desire a thrill of the hunt. There is a certain excitement chasing an item, which other people want. Desire is a difficult thing to control because there is just that one more thing you have to have. There are opportunities to buy replicas, masks made from the original moulds, replica costumes at reasonable prices. A replica Tom Baker head from Meglos (1980) sold recently for £150 at auction whereas a replica Sontaran head from The Two Doctors made from rubber latex was picked up for as little as £30

There are different categories to describe how people collect. There is a theory that for some collectors the value of their collections is emotional rather than monetary and that collections allow people to connect to times that they feel strongly about. These collectors are accumulators. There is some truth for me in the emotional aspects of collecting about Doctor Who. When I was younger Doctor Who represented thrilling adventure, escape, and was a space for me. No one in my family understood my fascination. I kept it separate from other parts of a sometimes-challenging upbringing. I felt if I could know everything about the show I loved then I could belong to this fandom.

As an avid reader in the 1980’s I started my own collection around Doctor Who Magazine and spent as much of my pocket money as I could on the magazine season specials before spreading into buying small toys, cards and other items. I even bought copies of a fanzine called ‘Doctor Who Bulletin’ which certain people may remember was a highly vocal critic of John Nathan Turner and the later seasons of Doctor Who. I guess I am an accumulator as I do want to possess and save items but my collection is haphazard and where I don’t have an emotional connection to something I can get rid of it.

A collectors world
A collectors world

We have all seen the extremes on television where there are people with houses stacked with all manner of things unable to get rid of anything. These are hoarders and not a concern here. Some other people are very methodical and want to have a good representation of everything a person can own about the subject. They search for items in different areas and buy to fill gaps. They might collect different versions of the same thing by different people seeing value in the differences. Their collection will be well thought out, defined and catalogued. These are known as collectors. Occasionally they may donate their catalogued collections to museums.

The most exciting times for me are when someone owns an original item, clothing, prop, script or autograph. where you do seriously need deep pockets. This becomes the serious end of collecting and is going into the area of memorabilia or collectables. Time and money mean nothing to these types of collectors who may travel hundreds of miles to feel the thrill of owning an object. These are the true obsessives. It will inform their lives, where they plan events, meetings, holidays around their collection. The most collectable items are from the late Sixties when ‘Dalek-mania’ took off and a Dalek that has appeared on screen will fetch the best prices. Sometimes people buying these items are hoping they will appreciate in value but most just want to own a part of the show.

It does fascinate me how much money people are prepared to spend on their collections. In 2005 an original Dalek sold at auction for £36,000; when this same model was sold 20 years previously it went under the hammer for just £4,600. If you do decide to buy at this end of the market then provenance and condition are really important. Verifying that an item has appeared on screen will appeal to collectors and if it’s worn by one of the show cast its value will be reflected in the price. The waitress outfit worn by Kylie Minogue sold for £3,120 a few years ago.

13-year-old Lily Connors from Swansea in Wales is the new record title holder for the Largest collection of Doctor Who memorabilia

One of the most important aspects I’ve learned now that I’ve come back into collecting as an adult is you have to like what you collect. No, actually you should LOVE what you collect, get real pleasure from it. A friend who has been a dealer and is also a collector has a philosophy about the items you collect: “Don’t have your collection hidden away, put it out on display, wear it, use it or sell it.”

There are theories that collecting can be good for your brain, the nucleus accumbens, your pleasure centre, is activated by the searching as it fosters organisational skills, as the collector catalogues items. As a pastime, it can also be creative, depending on what you collect and fosters social connections as its an opportunity to share. I’ve certainly had some interesting conversations and developed friendships after debates on what we owned and what our collections were. Maybe that’s what collecting is really about. Being a part of something, a community of shared common interests with other people. There is a saying that where there are numbers there is strength.

What was the first thing you collected and why? Post your comments on here or Twitter. Let’s talk.

Until Next time…


  1. Garry

    Great post Maria. I LOVE collecting but have had to reign it in over the last couple of years as space became an issue. I also went through a phase of browsing eBay, dangerous past time, lol.

  2. adam

    very interesting but some times it makes me think is it worth it i mean does that girl have a life other than collecting she goes to far i think i read and about some one who had the record for smurfs same idea any way keep up the good work i am a nerw fan

    • Garry

      Good points Adam, I think it depends on your life, lifestyle and circumstances. If you’re in a position where you can really dedicate yourself and that’s your passion then cool so I guess you have to judge your own life and money, space etc. Thanks for the kind words 👍

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