(Disclosure note to keep the FCC happy. I received this book from the publisher as a prize from a GoodReads book giveaway).
Before I go on with the review itself, I am adding for my reference a small list of books that I think have similar reader appeal factors. I have read the books I am listing below:
- Bruce Littlefield, Garage Sale America.
- Alton Brown, Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run.
- Kyle Jarrard, Cognac.
- Josh Peter, Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders.
Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America by Maureen Stanton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I finally finished the book. I finished it about a week ago, but it took me a while to find the time to write the review. And I am glad I finally got to it because this is a book worth sharing with others.
Stanton spends time with and "shadows" Curt Avery (a pseudonym), a mid-range antiques dealer (you learn from reading this book that there is a hierarchy when it comes to antiques and those who deal in them). Curt may well be one of the few remaining passionate, knowledgeable, and honest dealers in a business that seems to be declining and under siege by fakes, reproductions, and less than scrupulous folks. Why does he continue? Some of it may be just habit, but a lot of it is that the man has found his passion in life. Stanton does an excellent job in presenting a portrait of Avery as wll as giving us an excellent look at the world of antiques trading.
Much of the book concentrates on following Avery from one antiques show to the next. This is often a cutthroat business where mistakes (buying something you thought was real but turns ou to be a fake, for instance) can be costly, and in rare times you just might find that one items out of nowhere that makes you a fortune. Between those two extremes, you have the middle of the road trading. In this middle path, you buy something, hope to resell it for a modest profit, then repeat the process again. This is a cycle that requires knowledge (often hard won knowledge), patience, a very good eye, and sometimes luck.
Traveling with Avery already makes for a pretty good book. Stanton gives us more. In between visits with Avery, the author has written good informative chapters on the trade and the history of collecting and antiques. For example, there is a chapter on the human habit of collecting things. Think about that for a moment. Odds are good you have a small collection of something in your home now. Whether it's comic books, pens, match books, stamps, or any other object, many people collect something. Most people collect things just for the fun of it with no intention to sell or make money.
Stanton does visit a comic book convention and takes a look at the comic book trade, by the way. Additionally, her chapter on the show Antiques Roadshow (AR from here on) gives an excellent discussion and a good look behind the scenes of the show. Stanton points out how AR, along with shows it has spawned, has created false expectations in viewers from thinking anything old is valuable (it is not) to just a matter of finding something in the attic. The reality is very different than what we see on television. The books goes a long way to dispel myths about antiques and collectibles and about those who trade and collect them. This is definitely a strength in the book.
Stanton covers a lot of ground, but she provides an accessible book that is a pleasure to read. There were a couple of passages, mostly in Chapter 8--the chapter on thieves and fakers--that were a little too technical and dry, but do not let that deter you. This is a book to read at a leisurely pace with your favorite relaxing beverage. You will be entertained, and you will learn a lot as well.
(In keeping disclosure rules, to keep the FCC happy, I am revealing I received this book from the publisher as part of a GoodReads giveaway).
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