By November 29, 2011 1 Comments Read More →


Full disclosure:  I am a picker.  Can’t help myself, can’t stop myself.  However, I am not a hoarder because I actually use my precious stuff in found object mixed media assemblages.  Please ignore the fact that in my basement I have more crap stuff then I could possible make into art if I started today and worked until rapture.

There appear to be two philosophies about hunting for stuff.  In American Pickers Guide to Picking by Libby Callaway with help from Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz and Danielle Colby, readers can learn all the style points one can earn by hunting for stuff to turn over in a quick sale.  Anyone who has watched the History Channel show, American Pickers, knows that Mike and Frank are all about making a profit.  While in both the book and the show they will confess to having certain things they like to personally collect, that never gets in their way of buying something fast and turning it over quick.  What makes the show so interesting to watch (even for non-pickers) is their obvious love for the stuff they find and their enthusiasm when they find it.  In the book, there is also a sense of wonder in the idea that history can be preserved one artifact at a time.  The credo here is that the more unusual the item, the better. 

Readers who are interested in building their own collections or in trying their own hand at turning a buck in this field will find the book interesting.  The amount of work that goes into building a successful economic adventure requires so much stamina that it may be beyond the abilities of the average weekend picker.

That is especially evident in Killer Stuff and Tons of Money:  Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America by Maureen Stanton.  Maureen is a collector of antiques, defined variously in the book as stuff from before 1830, at least one hundred years old, or anything since 1969 depending on who is holding the sale.  One of the charms of this book is that Stanton is never able to get antiques right despite tutoring for six years with a master mid-level antique dealer named “Curt Avery” for this book’s purposes.

Curt worries as much about the industry as he does about making a buck but one of his real strengths is that he has a complete respect for the items he hunts, finds and sells.  While Maureen confesses to being the Queen of the $1 Table at any flea market, Curt dreams of finding the one item that some big museum or very rich collector will purchase from him and give him the score of a lifetime.  The difference between Curt and the American Pickers is that Curt personally hauls his stuff around the East to show after show while back home his family lives in smaller and smaller circles, surrounded by his stuff.  Curt may love his stuff too much. 

In this book, the author visits the set of Antiques Roadshow and reviews the experience for participants (in not the most glowing of terms).  I know that some libraries have set up local versions of this experience and what I would like to suggest is that next time you combine it with a book discussion of either or both of these titles. 

I can speak from personal experience:  a picker will love reading about the adventures of another picker.  If only to dream of the perfect find or the big score.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

1 Comment on "Pickin’"

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  1.' Shelley says:

    In our current hard times, picking becomes a survival skill.

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