On Collecting Things

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On Collecting Things  (1910) 
by Stephen Leacock
Appeared in Literary Lapses, published in 1910.

Like most other men I have from time to time been stricken with a desire to make collections of things.

It began with postage stamps. I had a letter from a friend of mine who had gone out to South Africa. The letter had a three-cornered stamp on it, and I thought as soon as I looked at it, "That's the thing! Stamp collecting! I'll devote my life to it."

I bought an album with accommodation for the stamps of all nations, and began collecting right off. For three days the collection made wonderful progress. It contained:

One Cape of Good Hope stamp.
One one-cent stamp, United States of America.
One two-cent stamp, United States of America.
One five-cent stamp, United States of America.
One ten-cent stamp, United States of America.

After that the collection came to a dead stop. For a while I used to talk about it rather airily and say I had one or two rather valuable South African stamps. But I presently grew tired even of lying about it.

Collecting coins is a thing that I attempt at intervals. Every time I am given an old half-penny or a Mexican quarter, I get an idea that if a fellow made a point of holding on to rarities of that sort, he'd soon have quite a valuable collection. The first time that I tried it I was full of enthusiasm, and before long my collection numbered quite a few articles of vertu. The items were as follows:

No. 1. Ancient Roman coin. Time of Caligula. This one of course was the gem of the whole lot; it was given me by a friend, and that was what started me collecting.
No. 2. Small copper coin. Value one cent. United States of America. Apparently modern.
No. 3. Small nickel coin. Circular. United States of America. Value five cents.
No. 4. Small silver coin. Value ten cents. United States of America.
No. 5. Silver coin. Circular. Value twenty-five cents. United States of America. Very beautiful.
No. 6. Large silver coin. Circular. Inscription, "One Dollar." United States of America. Very valuable.
No. 7. Ancient British copper coin. Probably time of Caractacus. Very dim. Inscription, "Victoria Dei gratia regina." Very valuable.
No. 8. Silver coin. Evidently French. Inscription, "Funf Mark. Kaiser Wilhelm."
No. 9. Circular silver coin. Very much defaced. Part of inscription, "E Pluribus Unum." Probably a Russian rouble, but quite as likely to be a Japanese yen or a Shanghai rooster.

That's as far as that collection got. It lasted through most of the winter and I was getting quite proud of it, but I took the coins down town one evening to show to a friend and we spent No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7 in buying a little dinner for two. After dinner I bought a yen's worth of cigars and traded the relic of Caligula for as many hot Scotches as they cared to advance on it. After that I felt reckless and put No. 2 and No. 8 into a Children's Hospital poor box.

I tried fossils next. I got two in ten years. Then I quit.

A friend of mine once showed me a very fine collection of ancient and curious weapons, and for a time I was full of that idea. I gathered several interesting specimens, such as:

No. 1. Old flint-lock musket, used by my grandfather. (He used it on the farm for years as a crowbar.)
No. 2. Old raw-hide strap, used by my father.
No. 3. Ancient Indian arrowhead, found by myself the very day after I began collecting. It resembles a three-cornered stone.
No. 4. Ancient Indian bow, found by myself behind a sawmill on the second day of collecting. It resembles a straight stick of elm or oak. It is interesting to think that this very weapon may have figured in some fierce scene of savage warfare.
No. 5. Cannibal poniard or straight-handled dagger of the South Sea Islands. It will give the reader almost a thrill of horror to learn that this atrocious weapon, which I bought myself on the third day of collecting, was actually exposed in a second-hand store as a family carving-knife. In gazing at it one cannot refrain from conjuring up the awful scenes it must have witnessed.

I kept this collection for quite a long while until, in a moment of infatuation, I presented it to a young lady as a betrothal present. The gift proved too ostentatious and our relations subsequently ceased to be cordial.

On the whole I am inclined to recommend the beginner to confine himself to collecting coins. At present I am myself making a collection of American bills (time of Taft preferred), a pursuit I find most absorbing.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.