People collect the oddest things. Shards of glass, barbed wire, streetcar transfers.
Maybe you’re one of those people. Almost certainly you’re related to a collector. Some are serial collectors, going from one collection to another. In my lifetime, I’ve collected baseball cards, coins, verification letters/cards from radio stations and phonograph records.
Our collecting hobbies help define us. Putting our personal interests on public display tells others these are things we value. Casual acquaintances often see us in a monolithic way: There’s Larry. He collects baseball cards (better only talk about baseball with him).
Most of us are more complex than that. Our collections are only part of who we are. Then there are the collectors whose obsessive passions drive them past the point of reasonable behavior. William James Sidis appears to be one of those collectors.
His story has a sad familiarity to it. A child prodigy with an estimated IQ of around 300 who enrolled at Harvard in 1908 at the age of 11, Sidis became increasingly reclusive and worked menial desk jobs up until his death in 1944 at age 46. Along the way, he became obsessed with collecting streetcar transfers and self-published a 300-page book on the topic under a pseudonym.
From the mundane to the sensational, think back on the collectors in your family. Are there any members in your family tree that you define solely by their collecting hobby? Maybe you should dig a bit deeper to find out what that person’s life was really like.