Collecting is a healthy lifestyle

The fifth International Collectors' Trade Fair recently attracted hundreds of collectors to Prague's main exhibition grounds. People from around the world came to buy and sell a wide variety of collectors' items. Daniela Lazarova went to the fair to find out what was on offer, what makes people collect things and why they are so happy doing it.

Welcome to Magazine. Autumn is here, the skies have turned gray and public transport is still a nightmare. Plenty of reasons to get the blues. There is a lot of good advice around on how to fight that, but collectors swear they have found the ideal remedy. Collecting something - anything - allegedly gives you a special feeling around the heart that we "non-collectors" can never hope to experience. Collecting gives you fresh drive and motivation. There's always something out there you don't have...Given how therapeutic it is, it is not surprising that the Prague International Collectors' Fair takes place at this time of year. And, I can say with certainty that, none of the hundreds of visitors crowding into Prague's main fairgrounds looked in the least bit depressed. There was plenty of elbowing and a mood of anticipation as they jostled to get the pick of the bunch of whatever collectors item they were after - beer and wine labels, miniature car models, comics, autographs, pictures of saints, old advertisements, postcards, paperweights, plastic toys from Kinder eggs, semi-precious stones, old cameras, fossils and a million other things. However, as Jindrich Jirasek told me, the main focus of the fair was on "big" collectors' items -meaning that thousands of people -or hundreds of thousands of people- across the country collect them.

"It's an international fair for collectors of postage stamps, coins, minerals, and telephone cards .The Curiosities' Collectors Club is also represented and every day small exhibitions are prepared by club members . They exhibit Barbie dolls, animal miniatures, sugar wraps, chewing gums is possible to collect almost anything and the Czech nation is a nation of collectors. I always say that collectors never have any family problems. They don't hang out at pubs and restaurants, they don't chase every skirt in town and spend money on "other women" -they just put everything they have into their hobby . Even the famous writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe once said that collectors are happy people."

What do you think makes people collect things?

"It's a good way of spending your free time. The time when you are not working and have "an empty head". Of course it is possible to take up some sport, go shopping, go to the cinema. But collecting something gives you a very special feeling . People who don't collect anything find that hard to believe. For example, when I go with my friends to some fair where there are telephone cards that one can buy or trade and I see a card that I really, really want it gives me such a nice, funny feeling around my heart. It's something that every collector experiences. It's very difficult for me to describe exactly how it feels because you only get that feeling when you collect something."

Does the simple fact that you own a collection of 9,000 telephone cards give you this special feeling or do you spend long days and weekends poring over your collection in order to get pleasure from it?

"No, no, you see when you acquire something for your collection it losses some of its former attraction. So you are always searching for something new, something you don't have. My collection is very nice and I am happy to have it but the best moments are when I see something I don't have and crave it. Until I get it."

Now, we recently had devastating floods here in the Prague. What if you saw the water rising - what would you grab first - would you grab the box with the phone cards and run?

"Luckily, the floods did not damage my flat here in Prague , only my country cottage. But, if I saw the water rising, I think that I would first grab my wife and kids -and right after them I'd grab my collection!" /laughs/

The fair regularly attracts exhibitors and salesmen from around the world.

Mrs. Namakau Kaingu from Zambia proudly exhibits semi-precious stones from her own mines. Eleven years ago she decided to break with tradition which barred women in her country from the mining business. Today she is chairwoman of the Association of Zambian Women in Mining and has two prospering mines of her own.

" Men -because they don't like women to make money - say that no women should go into mining. Which is wrong. You know, I go down into the mine, I put on my head gear and I show my boys how to drill. I am always running in and out of the pit. In and out -so I'm very strong." Can we just move around to what you are exhibiting...can you tell me what is on display? I see that a lot of people come round and buy your goods. These are obviously semi-precious stones ... "Yes, these are semi-precious stones . I have agates, these are citrines and I have aquamarines from my own mines. And here I have a few pieces of rhodolite which I got from my friends -women miners in Tanzania."

I expect that as a miner you are very pragmatic about these stones but I know that a lot of people believe that stones bring some sort of good fortune ...

"They certainly do. I believe that . For instance, aquamarine - it helps you to retain your youth . It keeps away wickedness and brings happiness because it comes from sea water. If you are married and have aquamarines around you your marriage will be happy and life will all be about smiles. A long time ago, when men went to war they used to wear aquamarine amulets so that they would defeat the enemy."

What about the others?

"These are part of the crystal family and they are believed to have protective powers if you hold them or wear them. Then there are these garnets. Indian people like garnets . If you go to India you will see that everyone wears them . Even men in suits wear them. Garnets give great protection -so people believe. Those who wear them have no family problems . It is a strong belief. God put them in the Earth and our ancestors used them and believed in their power....this is malachite ...malachite is a by-product of copper . Because they are green people believe that it brings them calm . People discovered them centuries ago and used them . And they have ever since. People believe in them and buy them. I know that it is true."

Some advice from Zambia there on how to keep away evil and stay healthy and young - and also how to stand up for yourself against the odds. Mrs Kaingu is certainly a trailblazer - and in the past eleven years she's made it to the top of her profession and opened a lot of doors to women in Zambia .

But, let's move on to another stall. Stamp collectors are strongly represented at this fair and find that it is worth their while to travel a long way.

" Peter McBride. I'm from Northern Ireland."

Why did you decide to come to this exhibition?

"This is the third time that I've attended this fair and I've always found it a wonderful place for doing business. I've met some very interesting people and seen some very excellent stamp collections in Prague."

You are obviously a stamp collector yourself ?

"I am a stamp collector and also a stamp dealer. I buy and sell stamps all over the world."

So you come to buy stamps here as well?

"Yes, indeed. About ten minutes ago a couple of old gentlemen came up and offered me one of the finest British stamps that I've seen for many, many years in superb condition. They offered it at a certain price and I just said "Yes, please" and paid them on the spot for it. "

Can you tell me what interesting stamps you are offering and what people are buying most. I noticed as I walked up that you have Princess Diana stamps prominently displayed .

"Yes, we have a complete sheet of the Princess Diana commemorative collection. Unfortunately, everybody thinks they are very pretty and very beautiful but nobody wants to buy them. But we have them here for people to admire. We've got a very big range of Penny Blacks and Tuppeny Blues . Penny Black as you know is the first stamp in the world and most serious collectors want to have one in their collection. Even though they may not collect British stamps they still want to have the Penny Black. It's not the most valuable stamp in the world but it is the most famous. "

As I walked through the exhibition grounds one last time it struck me that that it was packed with men - all the women I saw there in the course of the afternoon were gathered around Mrs. Kaingu's collection of semi-precious stones. But there's no question that women make poor collectors - a passion for new clothes and jewelry is, in a way, also a collectors hobby. Their realm is much bigger and open all year round. So -whatever it takes - make yourself happy. Thanks for listening to Magazine and take care.