Henry Rosenthal, the San-Francisco-based producer of the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston (the best movie ever made about mental illness), has a large collection of pennants. No sports teams, no schools, only North America — those are the rules. Hundreds of pennants. Most are for places (Mexico, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco). A few are for events (a Chicago trade show). “I’ve been collecting since early childhood,” Henry told me. “I made two pennants myself years ago, one for Joseph Albers and the other for Robert Rauschenberg.”
For years I wondered why people collect. By collect , I mean collect gift-like objects, such as frog figurines or erasers with pictures or stamps or refrigerator magnets or pennants. I understood it was enjoyable — you derive pleasure from your collection. It was the evolutionary reason I couldn’t figure out. When I eventually thought of my theory of human evolution — it is all about the growth and encouragement of occupational specialization — I realized this was one of the puzzles it solved.
Will Henry pay more than the average person for new and well-made pennants? Very likely. Will he appreciate an especially well-made pennant more than the rest of us? Undoubtedly. Like most collectors, Henry has placed the items of his collection side by side, making it easy to compare them and, I believe, promoting connoisseurship . Studying his collection — covering the walls and hanging from the ceiling of a large room — made me a connoisseur of pennants.
Collections increase the demand for finely-made things, helping their makers make a living and advance the state of their art, whatever it might be. that people collect all sorts of finely-made things encourages the growth of a wide range of technologies.
Incidentally, Henry is currently working on a movie about Tiny Tim . If you can’t wait for the movie, you can read a book it will be based on.