Monday, July 18, 2011

On Collecting, Grails, and "Hypno Sin"

Ah, collecting. It's something I'm obsessive about, but I often wonder if it isn't merely organized hoarding. Whatever the case, fuck it. I love doing it, and I'll continue to do it throughout my life.

But, how did my collecting begin?

My collecting interests have ebbed and flowed from the start. I'm sure they were inspired, in part, by having an antique dealer father. My first major collecting love was record albums, which I started picking up when I was around 16. Being a lover of classic rock, I enjoyed going to garage sales and picking up original vinyl from my favorite bands-- The Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones. I had my very own turntable set up in my room, and while all my peers were listening to CD's on their boom boxes, I felt super cool listening to music on vinyl. I was such an elitist little asshole.

Around the same time, I was discovering Beat writers-- Kerouac especially struck a chord. I had a wanderlust myself, being an alienated teenager living in a small town of 370 people, and his travels helped me escape my mundane life. I wanted nothing more than to get away from that place. At the same time, I was having an existential crisis. Was it typical teen angst bullshit? I tend to think not because I was stressing out over the meaning of life, not trying to figure out how to get one over on my parents.

Anyway, getting into the Beat writers was important. It provided a distraction from the ennui. My interest in the Beats led me to an interest in Beat exploitation materials-- you know vintage paperbacks, magazines, records, etc that were aimed at cashing in on "beatniks." We're not talking about Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady, or Ginsberg. We're talking Dobie Gillis.

That's how I got into collecting vintage paperbacks-- I got a real kick out of these exploitation items. They were over-the-top and ridiculous. They made me smile, and I really needed that.

My interests have ebbed and flowed, though. In my mid-20's, I became less interested in collecting vintage paperbacks. I had a love of them, yes, but my attentions turned to vintage sideshow memorabilia and original victorian post-mortem photography. With the exception of vinyl, there's been a theme in my collecting-- I've gravitated toward the weird or taboo.

Now my interests have flowed back to collecting paperbacks, particularly to vintage sleaze. In part, my passion has been re-ignited because I'm writing a book on the pop cultural history of a certain sub-genre of sleaze books.

I often think about collecting, and I wonder what draws others to it. I'd love to hear stories from individual collectors. What made you collect? What made you gravitate toward certain objects?

This post is also about something that my husband and I call "grails." For us, "grail" items are those elusive pieces that we are constantly trying to add to our collections. They're hard-t0-come-by, and it might take years before they finally surface on the internet. Even then, we might enter a bidding war and still lose the damn thing.

"Grail" items are strange. We lust for them, like hunter-gatherers trying to find some rare berry. But we are not like the hunter-gatherers who would then get the joy of eating the berry. Our thrill comes less in attaining the object than hunting for the object. Once we get the object, my husband and I always joke about it. If it's a paperback, we'll examine it for a while and then put it on our shelves in a protective plastic bag. He'll say, "I guess that's it. We have it now." We joke that now that we have it, "That's one less thing to worry about." We've created this quest for this item but once we get it-- now what? Granted, it is something to do...

Collectors out there-- what do you think about grails? Do you have them? How do you feel when you acquire them?

I've posted a picture on this post of a recent grail that we acquired. My husband and I have been looking for this book, Hypno-Sin, for about 10 years. We'd seen pictures of it online, but we'd never seen it listed for sale. We lusted after the book for so long, but then when we got it, it all seemed sort of silly. Don't get me wrong, it's a great cover and title, and it's great Robert Bonfils eye candy for any vintage sleaze collector. But we put it on the shelves in a baggy after examining it.

And that was that.


  1. I'd never really thought about the links between the beats and exploitation art/novels etc but of course you're right.

    Now you've got me wanting to collect this stuff!

  2. Astrid I know exactly how you feel. I have had (and still have) many "grails" and I am very serious (my indulgent wife calls it "obsessive") about them.

    And I feel exactly the same way once I have acquired them. There's a feeling of triumph, for sure, but it's mixed with a certain sadness.

    Then it's off to the next one.

  3. @dfordoom: There are lots of fun paperbacks but also some great movie posters too. "The Beatniks" is one of my favorite one-sheet posters. Good luck collecting!

    @M.D. Jackson: Yeah, it's a sadness mixed with some emptiness. At the same time, I justify it because I enjoy doing it. Everybody's got to have a hobby, and I figure it's better than a lot of hobbies because the objects are worth something monetarily.

  4. Just for the record, I too collected the beats too!

  5. I did not know that. What exactly did you collect re: the beats? I received the goodies in the mail and wanted to thank you! You are very kind to have sent them to me-- they will definitely be useful for my book and boy are they fun to page through!

  6. Also, love your business card, by the way!

  7. But did you ever read it? Any good?