There was no Bricklink, so you were limited to the parts that came with the sets you purchased; "ordering the exact parts you want, in colors you want and as much as you want" was not even a dream yet. You need to make use of whatever you have on hand. My collection during that times was around 10,000 pieces.
Sorry about the (poor) photo quality, there was no good digital cameras in 1997 ( taken by an 640x480 pixel digital camera :-D
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