Collecting the Collectors

In her book On Collecting, author Susan Mary Pearce estimates that one out of three people in North America and Europe collects something… and that something can be just about anything, as long as the collector believes it’s worth collecting. From the traditional—stamps, coins, maps, sports cards, dolls and the like—to the unusual—condiment packets, traffic cones, toasters, subway tokens and antique medical devices, to name just a few—collectability is always in the eye of the collector.

So why do we collect? Once again, the why is as varied as the what. For a lot of us, it began in childhood. Some collect for money or profit, others to connect to a sentimental past. For some collectors, it’s as simple as a basic interest in the topic at hand. But like so many things in life, the why can’t always be explained, it’s just something we do—one of those things that makes us uniquely human.

We went on the hunt for some of the more unique collections in central Illinois—and the stories behind them. Here’s what we found!

  • The Eclectic CollectorA description of Joel Ommen’s Peoria house might sound a bit like the set of a campy movie.
  • A Peoria PEZheadA whimsical spirit, Ann Respress had no idea that a silly challenge made with a friend would turn into a 15-year obsession.
  • John Loves JohnIt doesn’t take long to figure out that John Bockler has a passion for a certain former president.
  • Oddball OpticsIt began by accident. “I was just doing a favor for my brother,” explains Terry Jermac of Peoria.
  • The Monkey ProjectRandy Witte of Acme Comics has nearly 800 sketches of monkeys, and every single one has a story.
  • Every Bottle Tells a StoryUsing old maps, city directories and other historical documents, Jim Searle has found treasure in privies all over central Illinois.
  • Momma's CollectionA teacher at Limestone for 33 years, Peggy Gross was always on the hunt for items to complete her various collections.
  • The Breweriana BugWhile most men simply enjoy kicking back with a beer, Jim Carballido takes it a step further. a&s