A historical review of the many different collecting techniques and types of equipment in Europe and North America highlights the transition from the casual observation of insects in life to the systematic trapping and preservation of specimens for collections as taxonomy became a more rigorous science. The distinction is made between collecting for taxonomic purposes and techniques for quantitative sampling in ecological studies. Much early collecting must have been intensive and familiar to many naturalists, yet documentation of the techniques did not appear until the end of the seventeenth century. By around 1700 the standard methods for catching insects with a net and pinning them into boxes were well established and are recognizable to modern entomologists; but over the same period the numerous attempts to kill specimens effectively and to control pests in insect collections led to the bizarre use of dangerous chemicals and complex apparatus. Three previously unpublished photos of an early insect collector are included, one showing the use of an obsolete type of collecting net.