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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review: Killer Stuff and Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton

One of the features of Antiques Roadshow that makes it so interesting is the historical information delivered by the experts as they discuss the provenance of some unusual item. That knowledge is what separates the amateurs from the professionals in the antique business. You have to know a lot of stuff. This is one of those ridiculously fascinating books that truly holds my interest becoming impossible to put down as I am overwhelmed with more and more intriguing trivia, e.g., in the chapter about the show, “Lint on the set is a problem, too. “We spend a lot of time picking lint off the tables, floors, the velvet-covered display racks,” Matthews says. And derrieres cause trouble. The crew often films an object set on a waist-high table. “Many times we cannot use the shot because in the background is someone’s ass,” Matthews says. “The Antiques Roadshow butt shot. That’s a phenomenon in this business.”

True aficionados of flea markets, for example, realize that by the time the show/market actually opens 95% of the really good stuff is already gone as the dealers use that time to search through each other's wares for the good stuff. The best target is a rental truck signaling a possible estate being sold, the owners often not recognizing what they might have and willing to let it go cheap.

It’s exciting and addicting, but it’s clear that the breadth and depth of knowledge needed to get to this point is daunting. Knowledge is what makes this robbery okay. Robbery is not the right word, though, because the information is available to anyone willing to study, to do the homework. “If you buy something off someone’s table, you don’t owe them anything,” Avery says. The dealer is responsible for setting the asking price. Caveat venditor.

Why do people start collecting stuff? Stuff that often overwhelms their lives and homes. “... from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s storage unit rentals increased by 90 percent.” Avery’s house had become a warren of paths and finally, using yard sales and group sales shops, and lots of time, he managed to reduce the quantity somewhat. The conundrum was that in order to sell, he had to buy, and determining what to take to any given show on any given weekend was always difficult, but he had to have lots of “stuff.” The impulse to collect begins as early as age three, a tendency that fast food restaurants and toy manufacturers exploit by marketing sets of toys and urging kids to “collect them all.” And some collecting is just weird. “Photographer Amy Kubes has collected her toenails since 1995. “I’ve never missed a cutting,” she wrote. William Davies King, author of Collections of Nothing, has “seventeen to eighteen thousand labels,” including labels from forty-four brands of canned tuna. “I’ll spare you the clams, crabmeat, mussels, oysters, sardines, snails, herring, salmon, and kipper snack” labels, he writes. “

Lots of delectable information. Did you know, for example,
In a single year, 1859, just one glass factory in France produced eighty million bottles for opium. Until it was banned in 1905, opium was cheaper than beer or gin, and easily purchased in grocery stores, by mail, and over the counter at pharmacies. Parents even gave opium to fussy babies, a product like Street’s Infants’ Quietness, which “quieted” many infants through death by overdose. In Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Thomas de Quincey called opium a “panacea for all human woes” and “the secret of happiness.” Opium addiction was so widespread that an English pharmacist, C. R. Alder Wright, formulated a derivative called diacetylmorphine, which he hoped would be less addicting. The new drug, sold by the German company Bayer, was called Heroin for its heroic ability to cure. Heroin was the best-selling drug brand of its time.

And the hint of the day: “It might surprise antiques dealers to learn that a recent study found that low starting bids yielded higher final prices, at least on the Internet. In 2006, researchers sought to discover the causes behind this “reversal of the anchoring effect,” so they set up simultaneous auctions on eBay. Their study showed that when the starting bid is low, anyone can jump in (“reduced barriers to entry”). This increases activity, causing a “sheep effect” (my term—if everyone else wants something, then it must be valuable).”
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