Shawn Robare, a child of the 80s, is semi-obsessed with nostalgia and pop culture. And he has a very impressive collection of Reagan-era ephemera. Recently, we discussed his collection of kitch from the decade of the 80s.
ephemera: Why the 80s?
Robare: About seven years ago, I had a second job working 3rd shift at Kinko's, and I was the only one in the store with practically no customers. To kill time, I started surfing the Internet, and out of boredom, I looked up fan sites for stuff that I was into as a kid growing up in the 80's, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, (links to related eBay auctions) stuff like that. While I was surfing, I kept getting hit with these powerful waves of nostalgia for my childhood; I decided to try and create a virtual database of all the things that I loved as a kid, pictures of toys, book covers, magazines, anything that hit that nostalgia nerve. My interest just kept broadening and branching out. While searching for ephemera I kept hitting a wall, stuff like stickers, or old Troll Book Club order forms, stuff that for all intents and purposes should be hard to find images and scans of.
Around this time, I was also bitten by the podcasting and blogging bug, so I decided to create a Website and to offer an irregular podcast on my thoughts and feelings of 80's pop culture. Since the images I'd been gathering from around the Internet were more of a personal project, not something that should be reposted, and since I was having such a hard time finding images of 80's ephemera, I decided to take a plunge into acquiring as many 80's stickers as I could find so that I could share them on the blog. I chose stickers because it seemed like there was enough material to successfully mine for, and I think stickers are something that a lot of people, especially kids that grew up in the 80's, would respond to. I mean who didn't get a scratch 'n sniff sticker on a test or dabble in Garbage Pail Kids? (Link to related eBay auction.)
ephemera: Sounds like fun. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in finding new items for your collection? How do you overcome these challenges?
Robare: The largest obstacle to collecting 20-year-old stickers is the fact that there is no real market for them. Unlike comic books and baseball cards which have a pretty well-defined secondary market, not to mention a well-established circuit of specialty stores and Internet shops, stickers are relegated to individual collectors with values based solely on unique nostalgia and history, not to mention the problem of availability.
There was a boom in sticker production and collection in the early- to mid-80's, but it was short-lived, and quite honestly, very odd. Outside of eBay, the only places you would typically find stickers would be flea markets and yard sales, which is highly unpredictable. In the last year, I've yet to find a single sticker, used or still on it's original backing, anywhere in the Metro Atlanta area. I've pretty much resigned myself to scouring eBay on a weekly basis, waiting for stuff to pop up. I was actually surprised to find a small but thriving market for vintage stickers, and with the various searching and auction notification tools eBay has become an amazing tool.
Robare: So far, my favorite items have been the more oddball things I've found. I have a couple issues of Stickers Magazine, which was a bi-monthly zine, published during the 80's, that dealt almost completely with the hobby of collecting stickers that just fascinates me. I think that it's a perfect example of how intense a craze can become--that a need arises for a magazine to cover all aspects of it--that there was enough of a demand for a publisher to hire a staff to cover it, yet the boom of sticker collecting was so short that the magazine folded after a few years. It sort of puts my current collection and overall obsession with nostalgia for 80's pop culture into perspective for me. Right now, at this time in my life, 80's nostalgia is very important to me, but who knows how long this interest will last, and maybe in another five years I'll be onto something else.
ephemera: Or maybe you'll become the world-renown expert on the topic. What’s your advice to achieving success as a collector?
Robare: The best advice I could give is to be patient and selective in terms of specifically what you're collecting. I've found it much more satisfying to concentrate on a subset of a particular collection, say a specific comic book artist or character, and to slowly find items to complete a collection. It might drive you insane waiting, but there's something to building a collection piece-by-piece that makes you dwell on each new acquisition and appreciate it's place in the overall collection.
During the 90's, when I was heavily into comic books, I would watch people in the shops buying all the new books that would come out and had these very unfocused and sort of pointlessly large collections. I mean the size of a collection just isn't that important. I mean you might have 10,000 comics, but how many of those do you truly love?
ephemera: That's a good point, Shawn. What resources and tools do you recommend?
Robare: Since 80's stickers are so specific and under represented in today's pop culture, there aren't a lot of places or publications outside of eBay that I could recommend. There are a smattering of personal websites that showcase some collections, such as bubbledog or x-entertainment, and there is a really handy website that is a database for non-sports trading cards, which like the Topps cards sets of the 70's and 80's often feature sticker card subsets, that features a lot of sticker card sets such as Garbage Pail Kids and the like at Knuckle Busters.
As far as displaying and archiving goes, I'm more interested in digitizing the collection for easy presentation to the public so I typically try to scan all the stickers at 300-600dpi, saving them as .jpeg files that are around the actual size of the source material. Also, because I'm more focused with sharing these stickers with the public, I've decided to liquidate my collection as I go, so that I can reinvest it in new acquisitions. Once again eBay is invaluable in this process. So, I'm not really having to deal with preserving or storing the stickers I'm collecting.
ephemera: Although technically I am a child of the 70s, I came of age in the 80s, and I fondly remember the great kitch from the decade. Thanks for bringing back a lot of great memories for me and everyone else who loved the 80s.