Weather Forecast


John Eggers: The ups and downs of ‘picking’

All of you who watch “American Pickers,” “Antiques Roadshow,” “Pawn Stars” and “Storage Wars” do so because you are the last of the gold seekers. If you were around at the time of the California Gold Rush, you would be one of 300,000 people who traveled west to Sutter’s Mill in 1848.

With a pan in your hand and kneeling next to a stream, you searched for gold.

All of us who like those shows truly believe that there is gold in “them thar hills” and those hills could be in our basement, garage, attic, or even in our back yard. This is why when we plant our tomatoes, we keep an eye open for anything resembling a gold nugget, interesting piece of pottery or colored glass.

We know it’s out there, we just haven’t found it and all of those TV programs that get us excited about finding that piece of gold reinforce our beliefs.

Here’s the truth. I have never seen an antique dealer, antique picker, or swap meet vendor driving a Cadillac or owning property on a Caribbean Island.

In other words, just like those that sought gold during the gold rush days, a very tiny percentage actually found enough to call themselves filthy rich. Most were filthy poor.

But don’t let this stop you from hoping and, more important, from looking. If you do stop, you will put those of us who are still in the antique business out of business.

As an antique buyer and seller, people often ask me, “Where do you find your stuff?” Actually, it’s not that difficult.

You see, all of that “stuff” doesn’t go away, people go away (i.e. die), but stuff is still around. It just changes hands.

In more than 40 years of buying, selling and picking, only once have I “struck it rich” and then what I found wasn’t even mine.

Some of you know my story of the Buddy Holly poster.

On Jan. 25,1959 my future sister-in-law took a Buddy Holly poster off of the wall at the Kato Ballroom in Mankato where Holly was performing on his Winter Dance Party Tour along with the Big Bopper, Dion and the Belmonts and Richie Valens. She folded up the poster and put it in her dresser drawer.

She eventually married my brother and they thought the poster was real cool so they had it framed and hung it on a wall. (As you know Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens all died in an airplane crash outside of Clear Lake, Iowa on Feb. 2 of that same year. They were on their way to a show in Moorhead.)

I would see the poster when I visited their home and being a collector, I mentioned they should have some copies made so others could enjoy it, too. (There are many collectors of rock and roll memorabilia, especially posters.)

I had some copies made and put one on eBay to see if it would draw any attention. Some potential buyers called and wanted to know who had the original.

I told them it belonged to my sister-in-law. Initially, they offered her $12,000 for it, but she was unwilling to sell.

Periodically, I would place a copy on eBay and I would get similar calls.

Time passed and the buying price went up and up and up. Eventually, they sold it to a man from California who flew into Minneapolis. My sister-in-law and brother met him in a Hardee’s restaurant and he presented them with a check for $40,000.

In the antique world and even on “Antiques Roadshow,” things like that don’t happen every day or every month or every year and often not even in a lifetime. Still, you and I keep looking and hoping because, remember, we are the last of the great gold seekers.

The “American Pickers” are not really true pickers, at least as presented on television.

A true picker is someone who goes from door to door asking people if they have anything old to sell. If someone does, the picker makes them an offer.

“American Pickers” have their places already identified.

To be a true picker, it takes a little courage, some moxie and most of all, persistence.

Sometimes you are able to buy a thing or two and sometimes and, too often, like in the gold rush days, you are left with a pan full of sand. I know, I have done my share of picking.

I often wonder if the experts on the “Antiques Roadshow” don’t end up buying some of the items they appraise. I also wonder if the “American Pickers” don’t return to some of the places where they have picked.

I enjoy the courage of the “Pawn Stars” because they make an offer and pretty much stick to it.

Just because you like it doesn’t mean someone else will like it.

Too often an item will remain on the shelf and you have to sell it for less than what you paid for it.

This is the No. 1 hazard of being in the antique business. We all are susceptible to fool’s gold.

Would I recommend that your son or daughter or grandchildren go into the antique business? I would say “no.”

How about looking for that gold nugget? If it brings some enjoyment and happiness to your life, I would say, go for it.

At least your chances of finding that nugget in the form of a Buddy Holly poster are a bit better than winning the lottery.

JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.