March 2022 

Being a hoarder means someone's in need...

It’s not easy being an obsessive, writes Alastair Gilmour. There’s a lot of fun to be had to begin with as you develop a mania for something. But the landscape eventually alters.

I collect all things beer. And wine. And whisky. And they all started as a ‘bit of fun’. And when I say ‘collect’, I mean accumulate, stockpile and hoard to the point of getting out of hand. My thing involves bottle tops, beer mats, tin trays, books, artworks and glassware. I have a library on the subjects – 140 books on the shelves behind me as I write and about the same number scattered around the house. I grow hops in my allotment and roses in the garden that nod in appreciation of Glenfiddich, Bourbon Queen and Whisky Mac. Images of pubs and drinkers adorn every home surface. I can’t remember how it started and don’t know when to stop.

I now call myself a collector if only to stop my hands shaking when I spot something as innocuous as a brewery postcard in a second-hand bookshop. 

In a 2004 research paper*, psychologists William D McIntosh and Brandon Schmeichel define collectors as belonging to four categories.

The personal collector, they deduce, finds something they love and soon become heavily involved in finding as many of the objects as possible.

The inquisitive collector tends to do it out of curiosity – more of an investment which they’ll sell when the time is right.

The hobbyist collects purely for the enjoyment of hoarding and has no specific attachment to objects, yet enjoys searching for uncommon items. 

The expressive collector sees objects as an extension of who they are. They gather as much information as possible and form emotional attachments to them.

I am one of four, but no longer know exactly who I am.

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My beer mats range from 1960s British lager to 21st century American sour mash and I even toyed with the idea of contacting the person whose address turned up on a Stella Artois beermat in a pub in Bruges. The scribbled location is a small village in The Netherlands called Einden and its mystery has long stoked my imagination. A secret message, perhaps? Was it left on the table as an undercover agent’s rendezvous? Did I inadvertently bring the world to its knees when I pocketed the thing and cut off the spies’ line of communication?

Is it a lovers’ exchange? Einden is an anagram of In Need, so romance has to be factored in. This is the lot of the personal collector, he or she can’t let anything lie.

The collecting-wise, there are the wine corks – an idea borrowed from a Darlington wine merchant. He used them for firelighters, but our pile just keeps growing and growing. I wouldn’t burn them anyway, they’re too… collectable). Here is a hobbyist at work.

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My favourite battle-scarred tin tray dates back to who knows when. Inscribed around its circumference is ‘Mabel, Black Label’. Presumably Mabel is the barmaid pictured handing out bottles of Carling Black Label British Lager Beer to thirsty customers. This represents the collector who can’t explain why he has invested in such trivia in the first place but would never dream of parting with the booty.

I’ve got boxes of ‘pre-loved’ bottle tops, bartenders’ aprons and Czech brewery tablecloths; postcards are waiting to be framed, posters still unrolled and a 1970s 56-gallon oak whisky cask in the garage. It’s empty.Books are an occupational hazard – some are dipped into for reference, others I’ve read through and through, and several I’ve even written or helped write. I swear wine connoisseur Robert Joseph squints in the light when his Ultimate Encyclopaedia of Wine is slipped free from its neighbours The Good Bottled Beer Guide and Classic Blended Scotch. The marker lodged between pages 72 and 73 suggests something pre-74 interrupted my flow. Beer probably.

So, am I an inquisitive collector? Am I a hobbyist? Expressive? Something personal? I have matters to address, things to attend to. Perhaps being a collector is much more complex than I’ve ever realised – plus I’m likely under surveillance following the beermat episode in Bruges. I’m In Need.

 

*Collectors and Collecting: A Social Psychological Perspective. William D McIntosh and Brandon Schmeichel, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, USA.