In a world filled with identical, mass produced consumables, we prize most highly that which is rare or unique. And because we value rare things, we want to acquire them.
It is a curious facet of human nature that drives our desire to possess something that few, if any, other people have. By owning that thing, you ensure no one else can. Rarity is something one cannot put a price on.
Collecting rare things is a passion for some. Once you acquire your first specimen, you naturally want another. And then another.
Unlike other things we buy because they have a specific function or serve a particular purpose, we rarely intend to use the things we collect. But we want to collect them nonetheless.
Although art might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about collectibles, people all over the world, including in the Cayman Islands, collect a huge variety of things, both large and small. For some it is stamps, for others antique coins. It could be fine wines or even cigars. It is whatever fascinates and excites you.
For Andreas Ugland, proprietor of the Cayman Motor Museum, it is classic cars. “Cars evoke feelings,” he says. “Some are beautiful, some are just pure fun, some are engineered fabulously, others are oddities.”
Whatever you might collect, if you are passionate about it you will have researched the subject, and become something of an expert on it. That knowledge inevitably leads to a greater appreciation of the subject: recognition of the craftsmanship involved, the work that went into it, or its scarcity.
This appreciation elevates the object to a work of art in the eyes of the collector, be it a piece of handmade jewellery or a vintage watch.
But not everybody collects art for the same reasons.
“Some people buy art like they buy stocks – for investment,” says Carolyn Kirkham, owner of Sandonfeat Gallery.
“Some buy it for the prestige of owning a collection… and then there are those collectors that buy art because they love it.”
One local couple who own a diverse collection of paintings choose the pieces simply because they like them.
“Each item usually represents something to us or reminds us of something good or interesting. Sometimes it is for the memories,” they explain.
Similarly, for Mr Ugland the motivation for amassing a collection of over 80 classic cars and motorbikes is “purely personal satisfaction”.
However, as well as the pleasure collectors derive from gathering the things they love, there is also the ‘thrill of the hunt’. It’s not just about the end result – collecting is a pastime or hobby. As any collector will tell you, the seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloguing and storing of these things is half the fun.
As Mr Ugland admits, “Sometimes it can be an anticlimax to actually acquire a car, the waiting and dreaming was better.”
For all the people who collect things because they love them, there are also those who collect as an investment. If one is astute and picks the right thing, it is possible to see a very good return on one’s investment.
“There are whole areas of the market you can get into when no one else is interested,” says Charlie Adams, owner of antique shop Artifacts.
“You couldn’t give Victorian paintings away in the 70s. Now, good Victorian paintings are really strong.”
Right now, he says, there is no demand from jewellery from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, but there are some exceptional pieces available from that era which, at some point in the future, may be highly sought after.
In uncertain economic times, quality art, antiques or other collectibles may well prove to be a safer investment than stocks and shares. Plus, one has the added benefit of being able to enjoy the collection while waiting for its value to increase.
The problem is remaining dispassionate about a collection one intends to sell at a later date. Becoming particularly attached to whatever one collects makes it that much harder to then let go.
Even Mr Adams, who is a dealer rather than a collector, admits there are certain pieces he will never sell.
“I have two watches, one of which is Georgian. I wouldn’t part with it if you offered me ten times what it’s worth,” he says.
For anybody wanting to start collecting, the most important thing is to work out what appeals to you personally.
For oenophiles, Ian KcKenzie of Vino Veritas says, “ My advice is for collectors to start their collection by buying wines they like, do research and in time don’t be shy to experiment.”
This advice applies to any type of collection. Carolyn Kirkham echoes these sentiments in relation to art collecting.
“Attend art shows, visit galleries and when you see something that catches your eye, study it and ask yourself what it is you like about it.”
Although one can research and study one’s area of interest indefinitely, there is no real mystery to collecting art. At the end of the day, it’s simply about surrounding yourself with the things you love.