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Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America Hardcover – June 9, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 101 customer reviews

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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.

Author Essay: Cyber-Pickers--Knowledge Plus Technology Equals Treasure
Maureen Stanton

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


"An intoxicating read that rips away the lace curtains from the antiques biz."
---Parade Magazine

"Utterly engaging...Not since McMurtry's 'Cadillac Jack' has there been such a charming emissary from the world of the previously owned."
---The Washington Post

"A fascinating look at the life of professional dealers. . . readers are swept along by [Curt Avery's] knowledge and the world he operates in. They may not make a penny from this book, but it's a wise investment."
---The Associated Press

"A tour d'horizon of the world of antiques, from flea markets to antiques shows to high-end auction houses . . . A treasure-trove of a book, especially for would-be antiquers."
---Kirkus Reviews

"Killer Stuff is a killer read. Enjoy it, then hop in the station wagon and see if you strike gold."
---Book Page

"Stanton captures the lower and middle echelons of the business with great skill, and her diverting and wholly unpretentious book makes a fine companion for a day at the beach--or a weekend spent treasure hunting."
---Wall Street Journal

"A deeply researched, memorably written narrative...For anybody who treasures suberp writing, this book will please page after page."
---St. Louis Post Dispatch

"Start this book when you have lots of time because you won't want to put it down."
---New England Antiques Journal

"[F]ull of interesting tidbits told in a fascinating way...hard to pout down.[A]nonfiction book so full of unbelievable stories you will think you are reading a novel." 
---Coastal Breeze News, FL

"[D]ynamite...one of those books you'll start early and won't really be able to put down or shake till you're finished... Stanton's a great writer and [she's] a great guide."
 ---The Kenyon Review

"Stanton has a light, sure touch...if you truly love the subject matter, you will truly love [this book]." 
---New York Times

"Penetrating and lyrical account of flea market culture. . . chock full of wit, wisdom and surprises." ---Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of CHEAP

"Stories of wonderous finds and hard long days of work are packaged into a very fun and readable book."  
---The Book Loft

 "Curt Avery, the plucky antiques dealer at the center of Maureen Stanton's charming new book...guides us through this intensely competitive subculture. An engaging read filled with tips and tricks of the trade." Goodreads "Killer Stuff and Tons of Money" is a killer edition to your library.
 ----Hello Lovely, Inc.

"This is one of those books that I want everyone to read." ---Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books

"This non-fiction book read like a 'can't put it down' all-consuming novel… Filled with interesting facts, humorous stories, and fascinating characters."
---52 Flea

"Something about this book made it completely unputdownable for me."
---English Major's Junk Food

"The way Ms. Stanton interweaves historical information with her narrative of her experiences with Curt makes this book a page turner."
---The Shabby Nest

"The triumph of this book is the easy, casual writing and the way in which Stanton has made a somewhat esoteric topic gripping reading."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1st Printing edition (June 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202931
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202933
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,234,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Killer Stuff and Tons of Money is a highly informative AND entertaining read - a book that I could not seem to put down as I was always excited to discover which "next" flea market experience I would be reading about.

Author Maureen Stanton tags along with the highly knowledgeable Curt Avery on a variety of "antique" shows and describes the experiences in detail. Because the author has been able to actually get up and personal with the action, this book reads like a novel (although it is not) complete with fun characters, interesting dialogue and, of course, a wealth of information about antiques (i.e. what to look for and what NOT to look for).

I found myself completely mesmerized by the myriad of details that you need to remember in order to figure out which antiques are fake and, of course, more importantly, I found myself being completely blown away by the dollar amounts paid (and made) for antiques.

It seems I would make a pretty bad antique seeker as everytime I thought I had figure oud that a purchase was "a find", it turned out NOT to be.

Fortunately, while this book has a ton of details and descriptives, the author has managed to weave it into a story, making the entire book a fun, fun read that I hated to see end. Frankly, I could have kept reading more and more.

The only negative, for me, was the horrible cover of the book, which I worry might deter some people from purchasing this book. Everything else was perfect and valuable!
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Format: Hardcover
I have always loved yard sales, estate sales, and flea markets, but didn't really care that much about "real" or not. A good find for me was something pretty good for very cheap. That is, not until I started to clean out my Grandparents' cellar and my Mom's collections of "real" things, and am now trying to find the right "homes" for them. Stanton's book is a great read, and has me a bit worried about trying to be like Curt Avery... and do this full time. Well, maybe not, but her book has me thinking more seriously about how to find the right homes for "good old stuff", and maybe even get some of the real value they hold in return. I felt like I was up at the crack of dawn with Maureen and Curt - doing the prep work and hitting those shows and auctions myself - and WHAT FUN (despite early rising, long hours, painful weather and sleeping etc.). I'm DEFINITELY going to Brimfield one of these days, and hitting estate sales with a different attitude. Thanks for the great info, and even better, the great tale spun around this interesting world.
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The author brings us on a trip through the fascinating world of flea markets and antique shows. I didn't want to come back! What a great journey through the antiquing subculture. Nice to meet all the characters! This is cleverly written and entertaining. A great read, even for those who typically don't read non-fiction.
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This book is about collecting and the world of antiques, but even if you think you aren't particularly interested in these topics, you will find yourself immersed in the world of the antique dealer and engaged with the fascinating characters in this book. They could be characters in a work of fiction, but are indeed real people. Bits of history are woven into the story in an interesting way along with the author's personal experience as she travels the antique show circuit with Curt Avery, an antiques dealer. You will learn about the history of collecting, of some of the antiques themselves, what's involved in becoming a top dealer of antiques, the trials and tribulations of making a living doing this, all written in a humorous, entertaining way. It reads more like a story than a work of nonfiction. I found myself wanting to find out what happens next. The author has a knack for describing the detail of a situation so one can clearly picture it and put oneself in the scene. The lengthy notes at the end give evidence of the extensive research the author did for a wide variety of topics. This book will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
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What a great book! Well written and often funny. I loved Curt Avery, the main character. I'd like to meet him some day and pick his brain. What a wealth of knowledge by both Stanton and Avery. I learned so much about the antiques world and our own history here in America. This book is hard to put down as you want to keep up with the fast-paced Avery at every flea market, auction and antiques show. Stanton does an outstanding job researching not only this antiques arena, but the history behind the objects, which is most fascinating. READ THIS BOOK...you'll love it!
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What's marvelous about Maureen Stanton's Killer Stuff and Tons of Money is the way she sets - like a jeweler - insightful gems about antiques, collectors and the antique market into a deeply compelling narrative. She creates a captivating story that makes it easy to follow her and her brilliant guide "Curt Avery" from flea market to auction to high-end antique show, all along providing a litany of hard-won specific wisdom about marbles and old bottles, butter churns and six-board blanket chests, Shaker furniture and forgeries of Windsor chairs, and much much more.

Stanton is as much a guide for us as Curt is for her; as he collects, wheels and deals the objects of our collective memory, she collects stories about those objects, about American history, even about the psychology of collectors, and then helps us understand the shifts in the way American culture values and devalues the past. Curt Avery is a funny, garrulous, intelligent and encyclopedic guide, and we learn throughout the book that Stanton is too.

I highly recommend this book not just for what it teaches us about the behind-the-scenes world of antiques, but also for its great writing.
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