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“IT started half by accident some 15 years ago,” says Janne Laine of his collecting hobby. “I was on a trip during winter break and I bought a water gun as a souvenir — a nice dinosaur-shaped piece. After that I started buying water guns on every trip, and pretty soon my friends started buying them for me on birthdays, housewarming parties and so on.”

Having amassed more than 800 individual items, Laine now holds Finland’s largest collection of squirt guns. In 2005, an exhibition of his collection was held in his hometown of Turku. It was touted as the most extensive water gun exhibit in the Nordic countries.

“That’s actually a bit of an understatement,” Laine notes. “As far as I know there’s only one other collector in Holland who has over 1,000 guns. And he’s been pretty inactive lately, so I’m planning to overtake him. Only a couple hundred more water guns and another world record lands in Finland.”

As there are no hobby magazines for water gun enthusiasts, browsing the internet for information and rummaging through toy stores is the only way to discover new items. Over the years Laine has developed an acute visual memory: he can literally browse through a store without stopping and scan it for new items for his collection.

“I dig water pistols especially, they’re quite cheap and you can find real treasures in toy stores’ bargain bins each autumn. But I also go for the big Super Soakers, especially ones with nifty features. I’m a sucker for features, every year there’s something new: shooting around corners, voice activation, whatever. I even have a water knife, which is a real curio object!”

The next major purchase for Laine’s collection would be the true weapon of mass irrigation: the Super Soaker Monster XL. The largest water gun ever made comes with a tripod and can be filled with a hose. It is no longer made, and a single unit goes for around 2-300 dollars on eBay.

“WATER GUNS ARE AN INTERESTING
ITEM TO COLLECT. THEY’RE SORT OF A
CULMINATION OF WESTERN CULTURE.”

Squirt, you’re dead

Most of the collection is now stored in Laine’s attic, a large space with enough room to hold the display elements from his exhibition. The glaring neon-coloured guns are not something you want to wake up to every day. Only a few favourites are on display in his house, mostly replicas of classic handguns: the Mauser, Luger, Derringer and the Colt Peacemaker.

“Sometimes people ask me why I don’t collect real guns. I think this is a much better alternative. That was one of the points we wanted to make with the exhibition: that all guns should be water guns. They feel about same, but they make a lot less damage,” he explains.

“Actually water guns are an interesting item to collect. They’re sort of a culmination of Western culture. I mean, they’re made of plastic — i.e. oil. They look like weapons but they’re really toys for kids. And they are used to shoot water, which we have in abundance, while globally there’s a growing shortage of it.”

Sometimes collecting can feel like a compulsion, Laine admits. But he still manages to surprise himself by getting excited about a new addition to his expanding cache of weapons.

“There’s a certain joy of discovery that comes with it. I don’t know, maybe it has to do with some primal hunter/fisher instincts,” he laughs.

Whatever kicks collecting has to offer, Laine seems addicted to it. Apart from water guns, he has recently begun to collect robots — his number two childhood passion. In fact, some might recognise him from TV’s Talent, where he wowed audiences with his robot dancing.

“I fought the urge to collect robots for a long time. They’re really expensive, upwards of hundreds of euros for decent sized ones! But at one point someone gave me a gift certificate to a toy store that had a really poor supply of water guns, but they had some really nice robots on sale. I don’t know, I guess I have a pretty clear natural tendency towards collecting stuff.”

Matti Koskinen