Call it the “Antiques Roadshow” effect: You pull over at a yard sale, just to stretch your legs, when an ugly painting of a woman holding a rolling pin catches your eye. Five dollars? Jeez, I wouldn’t want it for free . . . but wait. Could that be an undiscovered classic? Whistler’s mother-in-law, maybe! Visions of six-figure auction payouts dance through your head, and you start rehearsing your “shocked” face for the appraiser.
Well, keep dreaming. In Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, author Maureen Stanton spends time on the road with antiques dealer Curt Avery while he wheels and deals at auctions, shows, flea markets and yard sales. It’s his full-time job, and no picnic. Avery is on the road for much of the year, missing time with his wife and young kids so he can pitch a tent in 100-degree heat and haggle over the price of things so old many people misinterpret their intended uses. He buys things to resell (sometimes capitalizing on the ignorance of the seller), fueled by the same dream the rest of us have: one big score that means a little time off from the hustle.
Telling the story through Avery’s experience is a smart move. We feel as exhausted after a weekend show as he does, considering we’ve been there from setup to breakdown. Along the way Stanton pops in interesting facts about the business and the antiques themselves, like the briefly in-demand one-quart butter churn, quickly abandoned by consumers for bigger churns that, for the same physical effort, could yield much more butter. There’s a fascinating chapter on forgeries in the art and antique world; the creators of these undetectable fakes take defensive pride in their creations as being good enough to pass for real, while their presence on the market devalues the items they replicate. And there’s a “green” slant to antiquing as well. Unlike furniture from IKEA, which may be stylish but poorly made, antiques promote re-use of items with a proven history of endurance.
Killer Stuff is a killer read. Enjoy it, then hop in the station wagon and see if you strike gold.