Old computer stuff: collecting

Introduction and synopsis

The following is an analysis of the 'madness' known as collecting, that I've been exposed to a bit by trying to get hold of many BBC things. My reason for getting hold of these things is usually curiousity (sometimes another reason like nostalgia), but this does lead one to do the same thing as 'collectors', namely try to get hold of the stuff! I got a feel for what it was like to collect stuff, and didn't like it!

This and the next page just might help you get cured from this condition ;-)

It's a bad idea

If you think there's nothing wrong with collecting, you need to read this page very carefully. For one it is a 'compulsion', yes, look it up, that's what collecting is about! For another it's almost impossible to actually get a complete collection in most areas you decide to collect. The amount of stuff produced for the BBC micro (never mind more popular machines like the ZX spectrum or C64!) is enormous, thousands of programs, I'd estimate about 3,000, in various formats (tape, disk 40 track, disk 80 track, packages in ROMs), and each of those may have different versions. Books are revised even without it being mentioned. E.g. the book '60 programs for the BBC micro' from 'Personal computer news' is reorganised the 4th printing. Maybe even some listings have been replaced, I haven't checked, I just happened to come across a second book, compared the contents pages 'just in case', and yes, they were different, with some listings appearing on different pages! So, do you want to collect all versions of books, of software, hardware? Or just one of each despite differences? People who collect different machines also have a big job ahead collecting all of them, especially if you're after 'mint in box' :-> And where the hell do you leave all that stuff! You're going to need a warehouse, or something... Finally, ask yourself if collecting is fun. No it isn't! It's just a stupid waste of time! That's why I don't collect, but mainly try to get hold of stuff to see what it's like, to satisfy my curiosity (you get to see part of it from the scans I make available). What I'm not interested in any more, I trade, sometimes sell, or just give away to friends (what I do with those things usually depends on how much I paid for it!). This keeps it interesting and fun for me, and means I don't need a warehouse for storage... It can still get frustrating missing something on ebay because some idiot makes an insane bid at something that interests me, but lately, I've taken a relaxed attitude towards this sort of stuff, and I don't mind missing anything in such cases. On a related note, I'm doing something similar for other areas. E.g. when missing say a film or other TV programme I just say to myself, that must have a been a crap programme (and that's actually almost always true, wouldn't you agree?), otherwise I wouldn't have missed it! If you're compulsive about not missing programmes I suggest you try the above, and see how much happier you are :)

I sometimes place insane bids as well, and it all is somewhat relative to context of course (e.g. how much you want something after having lost out on similar items multiple times before). So, 'idiotic' may not be the right word for some bid amounts, see the rest of this page and part 2 for more on this.

It's not fun

In areas where the amount of commercial stuff produced is quite small (say Sinclair ZX80 or Acorn Atom), it's just as hard getting a machine, never mind a complete collection, as not much of it appears for sale (or free :)). Not that these machines were or are rare, never mind that some ebay seller says they are. They AREN'T! Apparently some 100,000 ZX-80s were produced (see old magazine articles, with interviews with Clive Sinclair), how can this machine be rare? And you're a berk (or you have too much money) if you're paying 300 quid on ebay for such a machine. It's not worth it. My dad had one, and it was the first computer I used, so I'd be interested in getting one to 'relive' it's limitations ;-) But not for that amount of money. As you see, something should be fun and/or usable and/or have extremely high nostalgic value for me if I'm going to pay much for it. And with a ZX80, you cannot have fun! (usable? forget it!)

Rare? Unique?

If you're after rare and/or unique items for your compulsion, you should be aware that almost always someone else has something better/rarer/whatever. Say you bought a lot of shrink wrapped games from 1982 (which aren't all that rare btw, I have to admit, I have a bunch of those for the BBC B, see below), is that unique, rare? Maybe, but if you brag about it, someone else just might tell you 'that's nice, but I've got the actual development tapes of all those games, the printing plates used for the box, etc.'. You see what I mean? Getting something because it's rare is a bad idea, it should be somehow of use or fun to you, otherwise you're forever trying to get the 'ultimate collection' and being disappointed whenever you see someone else has something 'better'. Those shrink wrapped games I mentioned before, I don't really like having these, it's quite interesting they are still wrapped after 20 years, but you can't open them or they will lose that particular quality. It's frustrating! These things should be used, played with. Some day, I'll probably trade them for something else... (this sort of thing is amazingly not at all a rare occasion: I've seen goods offered many times in various areas that interest me, that have been found in a shop or distributor, never opened, and 10-30 years old... Prices get absurd for such items though, and as I prefer used stuff anyway so I don't need to keep it in perfect condition, I usually don't bother).

On the topic of 'RARE' (caps compulsory, esp. in conjuntion with ebay), the following are NOT rare, sellers, take note or be ridiculed forever:

What appears to be much rarer as people tend to throw them out when moving (as they're heavy), are old magazines. It's rather strange then, that prices paid for these are not at all in relation to market-rarity (measured by how many times they're offered on a certain website/auction site) compared with some old computers (ZX-80/Acorn Atom). I guess this comes from all the nutters who decide they want to have every home computer ever made, thus driving up the prices for these. I'll ask again: Where do you store all that stuff, in a private warehouse?

Not long ago, I saw someone say on an auction for BBC stuff: 'this is rare on ebay blah blah blah'. So what? Most of the really standard stuff only appears a few times a year on ebay with a few exceptions: the BBC computer itself, the CUB monitor, the Acorn joysticks, the advanced user guide. Possibly a few more, but even very popular well sold games like planetoid appear seldomly on ebay. The point is of course that just a very small portion of old stuff (whether computer related or other) appears on ebay at all: there are other ways 2nd hand gear is sold and bought, esp. classified ads on websites or in papers, which is where I get (or 'got' now, updating this page after 2 years ;), ebay wins in importance) most of the BBC stuff from. Also there's the case of attics! (See below). Thus this 'rare on ebay' is just another bullshit statement to make something appear very valuable or desirable.

Something else that I don't like on ebay is people saying things like 'it's getting harder to get these magazines in this condition on ebay'. Of course it is! Is the seller a prognosticator and knows what's going to be offered during the next year? Or has the seller been checking the exact condition of all the same type mags offered on ebay for the last year as an alternative basis for his statement? I don't believe it for a second!

I and a friend of mine occasionally talk about the non-appearance of various old computer materials, like the COMX-35, Camputers Lynx, lots of magazines, etc. Where are they? Have most of them been thrown away? I'm especially interested in magazines, but these are extremely difficult to find. Sometimes I get a few multi-format mags from a collection of BBC stuff, and that's about it. From talking with people who offer me BBC stuff, magazines have often been thrown away when they moved house. Understandable, as magazines are heavy! This probably means not many mags have survived. But also, when people move house they tend to keep the equipment itself, and only get rid of it when (1) they really have no more room for it, AND (2) they can find someone who wants it... So I expect most of those 100,000 ZX-80s are just lying around in attics.

Btw, I'd like to see a library where you can loan old computers, to try them out... Emulators miss a lot of the actual feel of the machine. The keyboard, the bad TV output, etc :)

See collecting part 2 for more thoughts on getting hold of old stuff (not just computers).

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