Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To get from Aardvark to Army, you must go through Alabama and Alaric

I promised to write more about collecting, and the urge to "Collect the Whole Set!" which is an idea that animates and energizes a surprisingly large segment of the economy, as I learned during the two years I accidentally spent in the world of investment-grade rare coins. But actually, I already knew it from an earlier experience.

Remember how supermarkets would sell encyclopedias, with a new volume available every week? The first volume was priced very low to get shopper and child hooked. My mother bought me Volume 1 (Aardvark-Army) of the Golden Book Encyclopedia for 49 cents, and proceeded faithfully to buy the rest of the set until I had all 16, and I pretty much read them all, skipping only the long articles about each state, always accompanied by a map dotted with little symbols of whatever that state grew or dug or manufactured. I did not care, I still do not care, what they grow or dig or build in Alabama. (I am however very interested in how Alabama is going to grow, dig or make anything when it starts to enforce its lunatic new immigration laws.)

And then there was Alaric, king of the Visigoths. Every supermarket encyclopedia since Gutenberg includes an article on Alaric, a fact which was not lost on a man named Alaric whom I met in Cambridge in the late 1970s.. When I told him I knew his name from my encyclopedia, he revealed that he had purchased dozens of Volume Ones from many different sets, at great introductory prices, just to have the Alaric articles. From him I learned that not everybody needs or wants to "Collect the Whole Set." This discovery has influenced my own collecting life, on which I will say more soon.


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