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Humanity’s Timeless Obsession With Collectibles – A Look At The History And Future of Collectibles

Humanity’s Timeless Obsession With Collectibles – A Look At The History And Future of Collectibles

Explainers NFTs

04 Oct 2021

Hoarding is a well-known phenomenon among animals, as nature has imprinted the need to collect as a measure of survival in many representatives of the animal kingdom. Magpies collect shiny objects in their nests. Hamsters stuff their cheeks with nuts and grains. Squirrels are avid collectors and burrowers of nuts – a phenomenon that has resulted in quite a few forests expanding over the centuries. The need to collect is beset by the instinct of survival based on the law of scarcity, which dictates that valuable resources are thin and the need to save up for darker times is a guarantee of plenty.

Humans are absolutely no different when it comes to hoarding on collecting items. Though the need to collect has evolved outside the need for ensuring survival over the millennia, and turned into a sort of hobby that provides both personal edification in an entertaining kind of way, and the application of time spent into a useful and value-generating pastime. Be it philately – postage stamp collecting – collecting coins, or any other form of collecting some range of items of a category, or at random, – there is always purpose and desire behind people’s obsession with collecting objects.

Who Did It?

History is literally riddled with examples of collectors and hoarders from antiquity to modern times. Monarchs, poets, grand artists and political leaders – countless ones had the obsession, and the means, to collect objects of value for both personal satisfaction and for posterity.

The earliest example of collectors in history goes back to ancient Babylon, where Nabonidus, the last king of Babylonia in the 6th century B.C., and his daughter Ennigaldi-Nanna, had the peculiar obsession of restoring ancient temples and hoarding precious artifacts in a dedicated vault in their palace that his since been lost to the sands of time. Essentially, the vault may have been the world’s first ever private museum.

Augustus Caesar was obsessed with objects of value and was an avid collector of ancient Greek coins. Albeit, according to the poet Ovid, Augustus exerted little manual labor himself in the collection process – his slaves did the work for him.

Centuries later, monarchs continued to collect objects of value as the Renaissance period ushered in a newfound desire among nobility and the upper classes in stockpiling value in assets deemed priceless. The Medici family was especially famous for collecting works of art from such masters of the age of enlightenment as Leonardo Da Vinci. Lorenzo de Medici’s gem collection is world famous and includes such amazing artifacts as the “Seal of Nero”. The House of Medici was also famous for collecting sculptures, jewelry, and anything else that could be of value.

Though collecting artwork is an honorable deed in preserving humanity’s heritage, some collectors went from bizarre to downright quackery. Frederick William I of Prussia (1688-1740) was quite the eccentric when it came to military art, as he was known for collecting tall soldiers. Men who were known to be of tall gait would be bribed, or simply kidnapped, to fill the ranks of the regiment of Potsdam Giants. Frederick went to ludicrous lengths to obtain his tall soldiers, sending recruitment agents across the country. Once, a tall preacher and four of his congregation were carried off protesting mid-sermon.

Modern times have brought about a revival for collecting as the range of items up for collecting has swelled with the industrial revolution and the emergence of digital assets. Today’s celebrities are no less inclined to become part of the list of collectors from history. Angelina Jolie collects hunting knives, Quentin Tarantino has an impressive collection of board games, Tom Hanks hoards typewriters, Janet Jackson holds a collection of pig figurines, Amanda Seyfried has an affection for taxidermy animals, and Johnny Depp collects Barbie dolls…

Next Stage?

Collecting will never stop as long as there are objects in existence that either arouse individual interest or pose any intrinsic value that can turn them into an investment. There was a time when Beanie Babies were considered an amazing investment, but times have changed, rendering them worthless as interest for the items waned. The same happens to many items, but some retain their value, since they do not have their value based on a fad.

The advent of the digital age and the development of blockchain technologies that can solidify claims of ownership to assets in question, which in themselves can be unique if minted in Non-Fungible Token format, has created a new wave of interest towards a new type of collectible.

Much like the collectible sports athlete and football player cards of old, digital collectibles and works of art are now arousing an immense amount of interest from average users, private collectors, and serious curators around the world. Digital works of art or unique items used in decentralized games released in NFT format are now being sold at auction for millions of dollars.

The fact that people are willing to pay such amounts of digital representations of a pixelated image of an ape from the Gorilla Yacht Club collectibles series, or for a unique powerup in a game is highlighting the continuing nature of interest towards collectibles. More importantly, users are now able to create such collectibles on the blockchain themselves and sell them for considerable sums. That alone permanently shifts the paradigm of collecting from the hands of a select group of artists to the collectors themselves, blurring the question of relevance of the author’s prominence and redirecting value into the application use case and investment potential of the asset in question.


Collecting is a vital hobby that not only kills time, but also provides an important potential source of revenue as an investment. If one collector owns a unique item, chances are quite high that another collector with a similar hobby will be willing to pay top dollar to own that item. And with the rise of the digital age, the physical nature of the object is becoming secondary, just as its authorship, in light of potential value as an investment on the open market.

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