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Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: An Insider's Look at the World of Flea Markets, Antiques, and Collecting Paperback – May 29, 2012
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One dealer's journey from the populist mayhem of flea markets to the rarefied realm of auctions reveals the rich, often outrageous subculture of antiques and collectibles.
Millions of Americans are drawn to antiques and flea-market culture, whether as participants or as viewers of the perennially popular Antiques Roadshow or the recent hit American Pickers. This world has the air of a lottery: a $20 purchase might net you four, five, or six figures. Master dealer Curt Avery, the unlikely star of Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, plays that lottery every day, and he wins it more than most. Occasionally he gets lucky, but more often, he draws on a deep knowledge of America's past and the odd, fascinating, and beautiful objects that have survived it.
Week in, week out, Avery trawls the flea and antiques circuit-buying, selling, and advising other dealers in his many areas of expertise, from furniture to glass to stoneware, and more. On the surface, he's an improbable candidate for an antiques dealer. He wrestled in high school and still retains the pugilistic build; he is gruff, funny, and profane; he favors shorts and sneakers, even in November; and he is remarkably generous toward both competitors and customers who want a break.
But as he struggles for a spot in a high-end Boston show, he must step up his game and, perhaps more challenging, fit in with a white-shoe crowd. Through his ascent, we see the flea-osphere for what it truly is-less a lottery than a contact sport with few rules and many pitfalls. This rich and sometimes hilarious subculture rewards peculiar interests and outright obsessions-one dealer specializes in shrunken heads; another wants all the postal memorabilia he can get. So Avery must be a guerrilla historian and use his hard-earned knowledge of America's past to live by and off his wits. Only the smartest survive in one of America's most ruthless meritocracies.
Killer Stuff and Tons of Money is many things: an insider's look at a subculture replete with arcane traditions and high drama, an inspiring account of a self-made man making his way in a cutthroat field, a treasure trove of tips for those who seek out old things themselves, and a thoroughly fresh, vibrant view of history as blood sport.
In 2008 on eBay there were, on average, 133,096,249 items concurrently listed for sale. (A pair of shoes was sold every three seconds.) Imagine laying out all of these items at a huge flea market field and then searching by foot for the hidden gems. It's like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. While flea market foraging is half the fun--mingling with people, seeing and handling unusual and interesting objects--on a rainy day or any day when there's no flea market nearby, you can "pick" the cyber-flea market and literally search 133 million-plus items at warp speed.
Master cyber-picker, Jimmy Desjardins, who tripled his income from antiques dealing through internet buying, says in Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America, "I'm in a nice comfortable chair, I've got my music playing, and I'm searching eBay." Like the old slogan for the telephone book, Jimmy lets his fingers do the walking--over the keyboard and across the internet. A treasure-seekers most powerful tool is knowledge; the more you know about any category of antiques, the more success you'll have finding hidden treasures. But once you know what you are looking for, programs like AuctionZip, which claims to be "the world's largest online bidding network," allow you to "Find Auctions Anywhere!" and place absentee bids online. Now you really can be in two places--or more--at once.
Finding the best vintage, antiques, and collectibles is all about understanding which objects are the most valuable because of age, rarity, condition, authenticity, and other factors like desirability. Cyber-pickers combine old-fashioned know-it-all with new-fangled technology. John Dobson, a collector from Kansas, looks for misspelled or mis-listed sports cards. If the card is properly identified, it would be easily found by collectors. The truly "hidden" gems online are inadvertently disguised because they are misspelled, miscategorized, or given vague terms by sellers who haven't researched the objects. Daye Salander, who runs Junkbox Treasures in Marysville, Washington, says, "Many people on eBay just want to make a buck and do not do their homework." Jeff Browning, a collector and dealer, who owns JDog's Treasures in Boca Raton, Florida, finds 90% of his inventory through online auctions. For Browning, cyber-picking is thrilling. "Nothing like the old ticker pumping 100 miles per hour as the auction gets close to the end and you're wondering if someone else found that misspelled word or that lonely Ma-and-Pa, no-one-knows-about auction." There are several programs that ferret out mislistings for free. AuctionBloopers, TypoBuddy, and TypoHound, which promises to "sniff out the best bargains on eBay!" Missing-Auctions.com locates "fat finger typos." The daddy of them all is FetchBid.com, which searches multiple auction sites, not just eBay.
Once you find that misspelled inkwell that you know is rare, or the coveted sports card, or vintage signed brooch, you still have to win the auction. This is where computers handily trump human ability by "stealing" auctions just as they close. After you place your highest bid secretly for your targeted treasure, you can use a "snipe" program to one-up your competitor's bid by a small increment just seconds before the auction ends. The tagline for PowerSnipe, which costs $45.99 per year, boldly promises to "Win Every Auction." EZSniper claims to snipe "more auction sites than any other service," but AuctionStealer gives you the skinny: as of March 2011, they have placed over 31,467,800 bids. Through this stealth digital technology, you can win auctions at the last crucial, hair-raising seconds--while you snooze. But while computers can do some of the leg-work of finding treasures in the digital flea market, you still have to do your own homework. --Maureen Stanton--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Endlessly interesting, the writing is superb." Favorite Books of 2011 Chicago Sun-Times
"Page-turner." San Jose Mercury News
"Killer Stuff is a killer read." BookPage
"Utterly engaging." Washington Post
"An intoxicating read." Parade
"[F]ull of interesting tidbits told in a fascinating way...hard to put down." Coastal Breeze News
"[D]ynamite...one of those books you'll start early and won't really be able to put down...Stanton's a great writer [and] she's a great guide." The Kenyon Review
"A treasure-trove of a book." Kirkus
"[A] deeply researched, memorably written narrative...For already obsessed shoppers who frequent flea markets, antiques stores and auctions, Killer Stuff will become quickly addictive. For outsiders, the book is a pleasurable education...[S]uperb writing, the book will please page after page." St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"[Killer Stuff] is quite a read, often hilarious, well written and a great mix of trivia and story-telling ... [Stanton's] book had me from the moment I began reading." Pure Green Magazine
"Stanton captures the lower and middle echelons of the [antiques] business with great skill...her diverting and wholly unpretentious book makes a fine companion for a day at the beach--or a weekend treasure hunting." Wall Street Journal
Top customer reviews
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If you are a fan of American Pickers, Storage Wars, or any of those shows, and you are even considering becoming a Picker, you should probably read this book first. The story of Curt Avery is pretty accurate to reality. In some ways, he is a symbol of the old school dealers, because a lot of things are changing in the industry.
It has been a while since I read this, but I would love to re-read it again. I purge my book collection often, and this has stayed on my shelf through many purges. I have also given it to my brother to read when he considered getting into Picking. It's great. I highly recommend it.
The author, who is not a crazy picker, antique hunter, or seller of the rare and real, follows a man who has done his homework, and knows the ins, outs, up and downs of the business. Her purpose is to study this world and write about it in such a manner that the reader can feel the excitement of a buyer as they are feeling the wet dew on their shoes, still dark outside, coffee cup in one hand, flashlight in other hand, working , looking for the next item that will be part of their bread and butter. This is part of the world of us crazy people who sell and buy at flea markets, antique shows.
The author brings to light the endless hours of research it takes to hopefully educate ourselves so we don't buy a reproduction, or miss a flaw that makes a piece worthless and, how to tell the real from the fake, , keeping up with what is selling for top dollar today, because tomorrow it may plummet in value and you are left holding an item until its value swings up again, and praying all the while, that the value on the item goes up again in your lifetime.
Many of those who love this business and would rather do this than anything else are true lovers of the artistry that goes in to these old pieces. You will not find the kind of quality of material and craftsmanship in todays furniture, lamps, books , or anything else. We will by a piece of finely crafted 19th century silver for an amount we may or may not recover rather than see it go to the buyer who melts down these one of a kind pieces for the value of the silver content.
If you have that knowing ,gnawing, feeling inside that once these pieces are gone our world has lost a piece of history, and it is an insult to the craftsmen who labored over making these things with patience, pride and love of their craft, and hours, weeks, months of dedication , you are a born collector, you have the disease, and you will have so much pleasure finding, saving, selling, or keeping these treasures. And that means you will love this book.
Through the use of aliases Stanton expertly tells the story of veteran antique/collectible seller/picker, Curt Avery, whom she has followed for years, watching him as he has climbed the ranks from low-level rookie to highly knowledgeable antique dealer pushing for the big leagues. A refreshing change, Avery is as free with his advice and expert knowledge as he is with his inexperience and what he doesn't know! Instead of "fake it 'till you make it" Curt lets Maureen know when he has made mistakes and when he doesn't know something so the reader can learn from that as well.
Taking us on a page turning journey traveling from show to show filled with that specific product knowledge that I was seeking we go along with Avery and Stanton with small side trips to visit other experts. I received more than my fill of expected item knowledge - MY BOOK IS CHOCK FULL OF POST IT NOTES, HIGHLIGHTS, AND UNDERLINING! I can't put the book down... what show will we go to next, will Curt decide to go to a high-end show, if so does he do well? Stanton does a great job drawing the reader into Curt's story so that we can learn from this quirky, likable expert.
Killer Stuff and Tons of Money is a great, knowledge-packed read that is worth the price.
Most recent customer reviews
Stanton does a great job of keeping the reader engaged.