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Human Habits: Fan Collecting

From an outsider perspective, fan collecting habits can seem a bit… intense, to say the least. It can be loud and chaotic; there’s niche terminology being thrown around and everyone’s contradicting each other – wait how much did you say that piece of cardboard cost?

It’s often difficult for non-fans, or even non-collectors to understand the rationale behind fan collections that can cost thousands of dollars. They are viewed as a waste of time and money, while at the same time be likened to something childish or immature. This lack of understanding is something Em Carline and I sought to remedy through research into the collecting habits of our fellow BCM students. Em chose to focus on sentimental collections while I, as an avid fan collector, chose to focus on the habits of my fellow fans.

What are collections… really?

Through our research, we were able to see our peers’ attitudes surrounding collection, specifically what they considered to be a collection. Even though 90% of our 20 respondents had curated what we, the researchers, believe to be collections only 55% identified themselves as collectors. However, many of these people currently maintain what we class as ‘digital collections’ (Spotify playlists, Pinterest boards and the like) or collect ‘aesthetic items’ (such as clothing, jewellery or makeup).

It is interesting to see what people do and do not consider to be a form of collecting, especially with the increase in digitized and online collecting platforms. It has become evident that most people tend to only consider more obvious forms of collecting – like books, sentimental items or merchandise – rather than consider the everyday collections that underpin our lives.

Word clouds for items collected in childhood compared to adulthood

We also gained some insight into the link between childhood and adulthood collecting habits. 50% of respondents identified themselves as being collectors in both adulthood and childhood, of these people there was a tendency towards collecting similar items as they did in their childhood. While most people branched out into aesthetic or digital collections, the majority also kept some sort of similar collection – for example, people who kept classic collectibles in their childhood had a higher tendency to collect similar items in adulthood. While only 35% of people noted that they kept collections as a child, 5 of these 7 people held on to their collections, mostly for sentimental reasons. 

But why do fans collect?

While there has been extensive research into collecting (Belk, 2013), and even the potential reasonings behind fan collections (Geraghty, 2013; Woo, 2013; Geraghty, 2014; Baker, 2017; Godwin, 2018) it has been difficult for researchers to come to a clear conclusion. I would like to argue that the motivation underpinning fan collections is something that could be simplified as a sense of satisfaction. This is an understatement, as through their collection’s fans are able to be part of a wider community, they can surround themselves with the items that bring joy into their lives and share this part of their lives with others.

K-pop group collecting albums and photo cards

Geraghty (2014) concludes that “collections can come to define a fan collector” and through his research explores the impact collections can have on a fan’s mental wellbeing and sense of self. This close relationship between fandom and collecting is further supported by Woo (2013) as he notes that all fan practices require physical objects – be they dice for D&D, wigs and clothing items for cosplay or cards for games like Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering. Through joining these fan communities’ people can establish a new side of themselves, one where their collections are a quintessential part of their identity. The time, effort and money they put into their collections are rewarded by a growing sense of belonging and the development of a sense of self.

This ties to the overarching belief, that fans specifically, and collectors as a whole maintain collections that make them happy. This is supported by the fact that 85% of survey respondents said their collections bought them joy, 70% identifying that they also kept collections for their sentimental value.

Fan collecting habits

There is a clear link between fan collectors and the amount of money put into collections. In our survey we allowed participants to identify how much they believed their collection to be worth, 6 people noted that their collections are valued at over $1000. Of these individuals, 4 were fan collectors while the remaining two collected aesthetic items. Fan collectors are clearly willing to invest more into their collections, because of the benefits these collections bring.

            Fan collectors are also more likely to spend more money on items made by artists or creators they support. 40% of respondents agreed that they would put in more money, while a further 50% said it depended on the creator. Most of our peers stated that they see it as a way to support the careers of their favourite artists, with some identifying that they want to support small businesses. Several people also mentioned that they often collect these types of items as a form of souvenir from concerts and the like, indicating that fan collections can be closely tied with sentimentality.

            Something interesting to see was the relationship between the type of collections people had and the way in which they chose to display them. 5 of the 6 people who identified themselves as collectors of fan merchandise openly display their collections, with only one person keeping them not on display. This is significant as overall only 50% of respondents openly display their collection, while around 80% of fandom collectors have open displays. This is likely because most fandom collectors said that their collections bring them joy, so displaying these collections is a potential way for them to be able to appreciate their collections in their everyday life as well as share them with others. 

My bookshelf – displaying my book and album collections

Fan collections clearly play a significant role in the day-to-day life of their collectors. They provide individuals with a gateway into new communities, opening new avenues for friendship and acceptance. Through these collections, people can feel more secure and confident in themselves and their place in society.

I hope that I have made fandom collections more accessible and the reasoning behind them obvious, I will leave you with a poignant quote –

“fandom and the collecting of objects are interwoven… not every fan has an extensive fandom-related collection, and not every collector would describe [themselves] as a fan, but collecting is an essential part of fandom.”

Hoebink, Reinjders and Waysdorf, 2014

Baker, T., 2017. ‘It was precious to me from the beginning’: material objects, long-distance fandom and home. Soccer & Society, 20(4), pp.626-641.
Geraghty, L., 2013. It's not all about the music: Online fan communities and collecting Hard Rock Café pins. Transformative Works and Cultures, [online] 16. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 May 2021].
Geraghty, L., 2014. Movie Magic: Collecting, Authenticity and the Enduring Fandom of Hollywood Memorabilia. In: L. Geraghty, ed., Cult Collectors, 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Godwin, V., 2018. Hogwarts House Merchandise, Liminal Play, and Fan Identities. Film Criticism, 42(2).
Hoebink, D., Reijnders, S. and Waysdorf, A., 2014. Exhibiting fandom: A museological perspective. Transformative Works and Cultures, [online] 16. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 May 2021].
Woo, B., 2013. A pragmatics of things: Materiality and constraint in fan practices. Transformative Works and Cultures, [online] 16. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 May 2021].

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