Collector spotlight: Arthur Farrell, collector of Charles Eisenmann photos

Serious collectors of vintage circus and sideshow memorabilia know and revere photographer Charles Eisenmann, an immigrant from Germany. Not long after the Civil War, Eisenmann established himself in New York’s Bowery, that thin slice of living history in Lower Manhattan running from East Fourth Street down to Canal Street. Up …

What the experts collect: Spotlight on Elyse Luray of PBS History Detectives

Charismatic, inquisitive, intelligent, enthusiastic – did I neglect to say telegenic? – Elyse Luray, like her fellow investigators on the PBS series “History Detectives”, brings to the field of history all the energy, relevance and wonder…

Chicago and beyond: Art Shay photo exhibition features 60 years of unforgettable moments

~ An Exclusive ~ . A buff and smiling yet self-conscious-looking Marlon Brando, age 26, relaxes on his Libertyville, Ill., farm in the company of his spaniel, that steadiest of companions, sporting its own canine grin … A sea of mourners courses through the streets of Memphis to see …

Restoration angels: The History Channel’s ‘American Restoration’ premieres April 15

~ An Exclusive ~ . April 15: a date that always reminds me of death, taxes, and collecting … and whether money owed to the IRS will put a crimp in the latter, at least in the short term. Sometimes I find myself lying awake at 3 a.m., wondering …

Recent articles

Priceless in Seattle: Thousands bring treasures to ‘Antiques Roadshow’ for appraisals

August 28, 2012 | Category: Event review, What experts collect

ROADSHOW 172x300 <strong>Priceless in Seattle:</strong> Thousands bring treasures to ‘Antiques Roadshow’ for appraisals

On Saturday, Aug. 18, I took my family to the “Antiques Roadshow” tour, which was making a long-awaited stop at Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center. What a day! According to the Convention Center Web site, 5,500 visitors were expected, taking into account no-shows, but the buzz was that many more made the trip. After all, who’s going to miss a chance to go to a “Roadshow” and get a family heirloom or a hot flea-market find appraised by a professional—and hopefully get on TV and be told they have a treasure worth more than the property they live on?

Not Washingtonians, that’s for sure: By late afternoon, the exhibition hall still held thousands of people, with hundreds more outside, patiently waiting in long lines to be admitted. Once in, your items were looked at and categorized (“Prints,” “Militaria,” “Glass,” “Furniture,” “Sports,” “Folk Art,” “Toys,” etc., etc.) and you were escorted to the appropriate line for an appraisal. Then more waiting before meeting an expert.

It was no surprise that two of the longest lines I saw at the Seattle “Roadshow” were “Asian Art” and “Tribal Art.” My family was on the latter, eager for appraisals of some pre-Columbian tchotchkes that my late mother collected. The queue snaked around and moved slower than some glaciers, reminding me of the lines for Space Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland but without Mickey Mouse and Goofy glad-handing the kiddies. (Actually, I didn’t see a lot of kids: Most people were smart enough not to bring them along.)

You’d think that there would be a lot of complaining, with so many people standing so long on that concrete floor. (The “Antiques Roadshow” Web site advises wearing comfortable shoes, but I saw all kinds of footwear.) Yet, I didn’t observe any real grumbling; in fact, there was a genuine (no pun intended) sense of camaraderie; it was, after all, a rare opportunity to try out for a part, in a sense, on an episode of an iconic TV series.

My family wound up standing for about an hour and a half on the “Tribal Art” line (also known as the Oregon Trail). We were behind a nice older lady with a big cardboard box on a wagon. We chatted much of the time but I was reluctant to inquire about what she had brought: For one thing, that seemed to go against “Roadshow” etiquette; for another, we saw enough junk being carried around (cheap framed prints, reproduction bronzes), I thought she probably had some mass-produced wooden mask purchased at an airport duty-free shop in Nairobi or a big kitschy tiki from some dive in Waikiki—tourist crap—so I didn’t want to ask.

When our group was escorted to the appraisers’ table, the lady opened the cardboard box. Inside was an enormous and absolutely beautiful Acoma pot from New Mexico—probably only from the 1920s, but spectacular and huge and in perfect condition: not one chip. Everyone’s jaw dropped. The appraiser, a “Roadshow” regular, lifted it out and started looking it over, completely pokerfaced, but when he asked the lady “Do you have this insured?” I knew she had hit the jackpot. She was taken aside to sit and wait while the appraiser measured the pot and began checking auction records online, so it was clear they were going to film the appraisal. We wished her luck and left without knowing the upshot, but I’m hoping she gets on the show and they tell her that her pot is worth a hundred grand.

Of all our Central American knickknacks, only one was judged authentic, dating from about 200 B.C. and worth maybe a hundred bucks. All the same, as they always say at the feedback booth at the end of every “Antiques Roadshow,” it was a lot of fun. I spotted a number of familiar faces from among the appraisers seen on TV (I didn’t see the Keno brothers, though), and the event itself was quite a logistical triumph to behold. And hats off to all the Convention Center volunteers for helping to make the “Roadshow” a success: Despite a long day escorting visitors from point to point and from line to line, they remained cheerful, energetic, friendly and helpful. Believe me, that was priceless.

Visit “Antiques Roadshow” online at

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No chump change: Prizes worth $750 for winners of Heritage Auctions essay contests for Young Numismatists

August 7, 2012 | Category: Coins

501  320x240 coin 3 <strong>No chump change:</strong>  Prizes worth $750 for winners of Heritage Auctions essay contests for Young Numismatists Whenever I hear about a rare-coin auction, with lots going for hundreds of thousands (NOT paid for in cold, hard cash, I’m assuming)—it gives me a warm feeling inside. Why? Because I imagine almost all of those high bidders at age ten: fat little kids with lank hair and thick glasses, the last ones to be picked for the softball team, routinely going through their fathers’ pocket change, looking for buffalo nickels or wheat cents to press into their blue Whitman coin albums.

That was me at age ten, after all, and while I no longer collect coins—let alone paid a hundred grand for ANYTHING, including a down payment on a house—I still identify with those guys. Early in their lives, they developed a passion for collecting, and even though they may now be spending their days strategizing in the executive wings of Exxon Mobil or Walmart headquarters, or planning corporate takeovers in hoary Wall Street firms with perfectly maintained wood paneling, polished brass fixtures and old leather furniture, they spend their evenings poring through auction catalogs and admiring their prizes through magnifying glasses.

Dallas-based Heritage Auctions gets this, and recently announced that they will be sponsoring quarterly essay contests to support young numismatists with the journalistic juice to write about their collections. Four essays will be selected every year, with each quarterly winner receiving a package of numismatic prizes worth more than $750.

“For decades,” Heritage Auctions’ Robert Korver, who came up with the contest idea, points out, “numismatists have been concerned about the lack of interest in rare coins shown by the young—especially disturbing since so many professionals had our interest kindled before our teen years. Heritage has previously been active in supporting Young Numismatists (a semiofficial designation, apparently—Editor) in many different ways, including our summer intern programs, and is now trying this new approach. I implore every experienced collector to make young collectors—or even POTENTIAL collectors—aware of this contest.”

Korver says that Heritage Auctions will award quarterly prizes that include paying American Numismatic Association (ANA) Young Numismatist and local coin club dues for one year, plus $750 in credit toward:

  • purchases of “YN dollars” for use in ANA Young Numismatist auctions
  • ANA bookstore purchases
  • ANA Young Numismatist correspondence courses (scheduled to start in late 2012)
  • ANA summer seminar tuition costs.

Possible essay subjects include:

  • “How I Got Interested in Coin Collecting”
  • “My Favorite Numismatic Memory/Experience”
  • “My Favorite Coin/Currency Design”
  • “I Intend to Start Collecting Coins Because I Am Interested in ______”

“Or,” Korver encourages entrants, “be creative and impress the judges!”

Korver notes that “the winning essays will be printed and distributed in tens of thousands of shipments every month, as well as published on the Heritage website and in our coin and currency e-magazines. The winners will receive a great deal of recognition in the hobby.

“We want to help make collectors, not just recognize them!” he adds.

A pdf of the contest brochure can be obtained by writing, and essays can be e-mailed to (Subject: YN Essay Contest) or snail-mailed to:

Bob Korver (YN Essay Contest)
Heritage Auctions
3500 Maple Ave.
Dallas TX 75219

All images courtesy of Heritage Auctions,

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Help us be a resource for students!

July 17, 2012 | Category: AmeriCollector updates

We’ve seen it coming for some time now: the morning paper and the evening news replaced by online journalism, blogs, and YouTube; printed books replaced by e-readers; club meetings replaced by chat rooms; the classroom and the lecture hall replaced by virtual education . . .

It’s easy for those who treasure the old to see the downsides of the new. But those who lament, say, that letter-writing and penmanship are dying skills ought not to blame e-mail and text messaging; the typewriter was similarly demonized a 130 or so years ago, and we’ve still had a few good authors since then. And yes, correct syntax and spelling are, sadly, falling by the wayside—but I think that’s more a product of our dumbed-down society and the crisis in education (at least in this country), not the cause of it. And sure, fewer people go to public libraries than before—but if that’s a crime, I’m as guilty as anyone, and I make my living copyediting and fact-checking books. The truth is, I can do in mere minutes online the research that, 30 years ago, took me whole days in the library and on the phone—and I don’t think I’ve gotten stupider as a result (not of that, anyway).

Indeed, you can consider this very Web site, AmeriCollector, a modern version of the mimeographed club newsletter or monthly hobbyist magazine of yesteryear. The only real difference is that we are using the Internet to help readers pursue the collecting hobbies they love—and to do it more economically and more knowledgeably. As I’ve said many times in this space before: Collecting is not about amassing “stuff”; it’s about building a body of knowledge about something you’re passionate about—and that invariably has an historical aspect to it.

That’s why we at AmeriCollector encourage parents and teachers, youth group leaders and homeschoolers, to use our site—and other collecting sites as well—both as a study tool and as a means to stoke young people’s interest in history and collecting. Toward this goal we encourage you to:

  • Visit us regularly and leave constructive feedback on our stories
  • Register to receive messages about new posts
  • Let your classes and organizations know about us
  • Tell us about your collecting interest, or let us know if there’s a an area of collecting you would like to know more about
  • Watch for our upcoming essay contest for students!

As always, thanks for visiting!

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Regarding Harry: An appreciation

June 22, 2012 | Category: Boxing

oldgloves062212 <strong>Regarding Harry:</strong> An appreciationCollectors of boxing memorabilia were deeply saddened by the news that Harry Shaffer passed away earlier this month. Harry was one of a handful of dealers who specialize in boxing items; his Hilliard, Ohio–based business, which will continue, is called Antiquities of the Prize Ring. I’ve always considered its Web site an online museum of pugilism—and Harry its curator-historian—except that the stuff is for sale.

I doubt there are nearly as many regular boxing collectors—especially connoisseurs of the old and rare—as there are, say, baseball and football enthusiasts spending their paychecks on signed balls, bats, jerseys and helmets. Even so, boxing constitutes a chunk of the billion-dollar sports collectibles market—a lot of it involving bogus goods.

That’s just one reason why I’ll remember Harry Shaffer as the most principled of businessmen. While many dealers will play dumb and hawk pieces of doubtful legitimacy, Harry was scrupulous about authenticity. (In fact, he was an authenticator for major auction houses.) For this reason, he refused to trade in Muhammad Ali autograph material. Even before Ali was stricken with Parkinson’s syndrome, he was a “slow signer,” Harry explained; consequently, Ali’s signature is easy to forge. Harry estimated that 99 percent of the Ali autographs on the collector’s market are fake.

Many dealers—and not just of sports collectibles—routinely exaggerate in the descriptions of their items. Harry did just the opposite. I once ordered from the Antiquities of the Prize Ring Web site a nice photograph of Leo Lomski, a middleweight contender from Aberdeen, Wash. It wasn’t described as signed or I would have expected to pay eight or ten times more, as the fighter’s autograph is hard to come by. But on receiving it, I discovered it had actually been signed by Lomski: His fountain pen left clear impressions on the smooth card stock but some of the ink didn’t take, so the writing wasn’t visible in the Web image I’d seen. Not a perfect autograph, but nonetheless . . . I called Harry, thinking he hadn’t noticed the signature. He replied that he was aware of it; he just didn’t feel it was clear enough to advertise it as such.

As an archivist and authority on boxing history, Harry wrote articles about pugilism in years past and freely rendered assistance to writers and researchers in their own endeavors. “Harry was one of the first guys I came across when I became serious about collecting boxing memorabilia and books,” says Clay Moyle, author of two biographies of fighters and the premier dealer in books about boxing ( “Over the years he was always extremely gracious and generous with his time whenever I sought his advice or opinion on anything. And I know for a fact that he was the same with countless others. He was a man of integrity and will be greatly missed.”

I was Harry Shaffer’s customer, but to me his passing is more like that of an elder statesman within the boxing collecting community: well-liked, highly respected, implicitly trusted and deeply appreciated. Those are things to aspire to.

Antiquities of the Prize Ring is online at

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Catalog received: Books in dust jackets from Babylon Revisited

March 14, 2012 | Category: Catalogs received, Rare Books

227  320x240 babylon2 <strong>Catalog received:</strong> Books in dust jackets from Babylon Revisited I always enjoy browsing a new catalog from Babylon Revisited, a bookseller we’ve profiled before (“You CAN judge a book by its jacket – or, rather, its dust jacket,” in the July 8, 2010 AmeriCollector.

As any serious collector of modern editions can tell you, much of a book’s value is wrapped up, so to speak, in its jacket. I keep thinking of the first edition of Nelson Algren’s first novel, “Somebody in Boots,” published in 1935 – a rare volume that Algren supposedly didn’t even have his own copy of. I saw one in a jacket in New York about 30 years ago; it sported a really cool illustration of a hard-staring Elvis lookalike in leather. The book is so rare in the original jacket, I couldn’t even find an image of it online to steal for this post. My recollection is that it was priced at over $1,000 back in circa 1982. How I wish I had gone into hock for it then; today, it would cost almost as much a lot of 2012-model cars.

The takeaway: If you’re going to buy a book for your own collection, or give one as a gift to a collector, it’s best to invest in a copy with the best jacket you can get. (CAVEAT EMPTOR: With the new printing technologies, some people actually COUNTERFEIT dust jackets nowadays; on a recent episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” an appraiser even identified a bogus jacket on a book on an otherwise authentic first edition, and I’ve noticed a few eBay sellers listing books in “facsimile” jackets. So be careful who you buy from if the jacket is very rare!)

Back to Babylon Revisited: This is a dealer that specializes in books in their original jackets, and they’ve just issued their newest catalog, number 81: “mostly Jazz Age and Depression Era fiction … primarily vintage novels published before 1940, including Mysteries, Fantasy Fiction, Romances, Photoplay Editions, Westerns, Hollywood Novels, Adventure titles, Nautical Fiction, etc.,” according to owner Mike Manz. Most of these feature exceptional period artwork. I have purchased a number of books from Mike, and I’ve always been delighted with their condition. Be sure to get on their e-mail mailing list: It’s a feast for the eyes, especially if you love art deco and 1940s noir imagery.


All images courtesy of Babylon Revisited

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Call for sports memorabilia consignments: Deadline is Fri., March 16!

March 14, 2012 | Category: Auctions, Sports memorabilia

496  320x240 lelands 2012 <strong>Call for sports memorabilia consignments:</strong> Deadline is Fri., March 16!, one of the premier auctioneers of sports memorabilia (as well as rock and roll collectibles, American and photography!), is accepting consignments through Fri., March 16, for their spring 2012 auction.
This is an auction that is going to get a lot of attention from die-hard collectors –Lelands auctions always do – so if you have a primo piece of sports history, this is a fantastic venue to get maximum exposure for it. Of course, the company you keep has a lot to do with it, and Lelands has some great consignments lined up for the spring event:

  • Steve Lott boxing collection (Lott was Mike Tyson’s assistant manager, and we’re told the collection features some amazing Mike Tyson material!)
  • high-grade T206 card collection valued at over $250,000
  • fresh collection of 19th-century Baltimore Orioles game programs
  • high-grade Topps baseball sets from the 1950s and ’60s
  • Josh Gibson 1950–51 Toleteros rookie baseball card
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal presidential golf clubs
  • cricket bat signed by Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and World War II Allied Forces personalities with provenance
  • “The Colossus” 19th-century folk art hand-carved boxing figure nearly seven feet tall
  • Sal Larocca Brooklyn Dodgers collection (Part IV).

Again, the deadline is this Friday, so if you want to be a part of this important auction, e-mail photos and item descriptions to consignments @ lelands (dot) com or call (631) 244-0077 (Bohemia, N.Y.) and talk to a expert.

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This weekend in Portland: America’s Largest Antique & Collectibles Show on Sat. and Sun., March 3 and 4

March 1, 2012 | Category: Events, Vintage lighting

495  320x240 greg 3 <strong>This weekend in Portland:</strong> America’s Largest Antique & Collectibles Show on Sat. and Sun., March 3 and 4 How do you know it’s almost spring? It’s all the collectibles dealers filling up the floor space at shows with sensational items and raring to make a deal!

If you’re just coming out of hibernation – and especially if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (as I do) – there’s no better place to improve your mood and just have a great time than going to America’s Largest Antiques & Collectibles Shows, organized by Palmer/Wirfs & Associates of Portland, Ore. The next show is at the Portland Expo Center on Sat. and Sun., March 3 and 4, and will have 1,000-plus booths.

I’ve started asking exhibitors what they’ll be bringing to the March show, and the first replies just came in …

Greg Davidson of Greg Davidson Antique Lighting – formerly of L.A. and now located on Bainbridge Island, Wash. – has been specializing in old and beautiful lamps, chandeliers, shades and other lighting fixtures and accouterments for more than 25 years. Greg told me he’s mostly packed up his collection for the show, but he mentioned that he’ll be bringing a really cute circa 1915 piano lamp marked “Germany” and showing two boys stalking a mouse (priced at $575), and an American-made eight-arm gas/electric brass chandelier, circa 1900 and now wired (price not noted).

Dick Carter of Dick Carter and Associates specializes in logging tools and outdoor sporting collectibles. While I’m anything but handy around the house, I’m interested in the collectability of tools – they sometimes come up on “Antiques Roadshow” – and especially logging tools here in the Northwest, so I asked Dick about it. He replied, “I have been interested in them for only a few years myself now … They, like most collectibles, are pretty difficult to find in any condition, let alone in great condition. I will have mainly some older axes and a couple of spring boards that I’ve gathered and now it’s time to pass them on.”

You may recall a Louis Vuitton travel trunk from the 1920s that was appraised on a recent “Antiques Roadshow.” Well, Portland exhibitor Paul Norton is one of the premier antique trunk restorers in the U.S., and owns Hartco Travel Trunks of Plymouth, Conn. Paul has a stock of pre-1890 trunks, strongboxes, tool chests and immigrants’ chests. The best way to describe his profession is as a traveling itinerant merchant.

Paul also does a bit of tinkering and repairing of trunks at shows. With many friends spread over the countryside, there are always opportunities to set-up in front of busy shop locations. “Conversation often turns to the history and evolution of trunks.” He told me. “There’s usually hammering and stripping of trunks going on, with the crowd amazed at the overall activity of the place.”

Among Paul’s offerings: hide trunks from circa 1800 to 1830; carriage trunks from the 1850s or thereabouts; dome tops from the 1860s to the 1880s; and flats. He also has some especially rare and interesting pieces, such as a harp trunk from about 1890, for transporting the instrument between performances; and an original 1830s wall trunk from north-shore Boston that is covered with sailcloth and was used for transporting tea.

For more information, visit:

Greg Davidson Antique Lighting:
America’s Largest Antique & Collectibles Shows:

All images courtesy of Greg Davidson Antique Lighting
America’s Largest Antique & Collectibles Shows is a sponsor of AmeriCollector

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Railroad Memories auction closes Fri., Feb. 24

February 22, 2012 | Category: Auctions, Railroad memorabilia

For the railroadiana collector, local historian, genealogist and even home decorator, a Railroad Memories auction is as exciting as a big Baldwin locomotive roaring into town. Auction 82 has loads of treasures, like train passes, dining car china and hollowware, lanterns, locks, depot items, advertising, a great selection of ashtrays and lots more. You have to register to bid, so hop aboard right away! The auction ends at 5 p.m. Mountain Time.

All images courtesy of Railroad Memories

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Whether it’s Brooklyn storage or Timbuktu storage, follow these tips

December 19, 2011 | Category: Advice

~An Exclusive~

489  380x300 storage unit lock <strong>Whether it’s Brooklyn storage or Timbuktu storage, follow these tips</strong> Shows like “Storage Wars” and “American Pickers” have sparked people’s interest in finding great bargains on antiques and collectibles. The idea of digging up old objects appeals to different people for different reasons. Of course, the history associated with these items is charming. And in some cases, the items can bring in huge paydays. For one woman, the antique jade china she found in her father’s attic turned out to be worth more than $1 million. So whether you’re looking at Brooklyn storage or across the country at Seattle storage, antiques can be found for incredibly cheap at storage auctions. Here are a few tips that each prospective collector should know before plunging into the world of storage auctions:

Wear casual clothes to the auction. If you roll up in a limousine and in a suit and tie, you’ll be projecting one thing: You have money. That is exactly the opposite of what you want everyone at the auction to think. I’m not saying you need to show up in sweats that have food stains on them, but try not to look like a hotshot. If you decide to overdress, you may come across people who bid on an item just to raise the price – and get a rise out of you.

Bring cash. A lot of storage auctions take only cash and there would be nothing worse than closing the deal on a unit only to discover that they don’t take credit or debit cards. You may wish to call in advance to figure out exactly what that vendor’s policies are regarding cash versus credit.

Bring locks. Once you win the auction on a certain unit, you’ll be expected to remove the contents within a specified period of time. If you can’t get everything in one trip, you’ll want to be able to lock up everything until you can come back. You’ll really want to have locks if you happen to buy something as valuable as what Jinx Taylor found in 2009.

Storage auctions can be hit-or-miss but if you decide to throw your hat in the ring, be sure you come prepared. Know that company’s policies and make sure you’re projecting the right image at the auction. Finally, make sure you have fun!

Lisa Moore blogs about collectibles and storage.

Image courtesy of Lisa Moore, Blog Content Guild

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Real Deal‘: A new show for real collectors … especially ones who want to make a fast buck

November 14, 2011 | Category: Auctions, Exclusive

~An Exclusive~

487  400x300 toy howerton toys <strong>Real Deal</strong>: A new show for real collectors … especially ones who want to make a fast buck

Yard sale speculators, eBay entrepreneurs, garage sale gamblers – you read it here first: There’s a new show just for you! It’s called “Real Deal,” and it premieres on Sun., Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on the History Channel (or, as they call themselves, HISTORY; can they actually trademark that?), with a bonus episode on Mon., Nov. 28, at 11 p.m. ET (after brand-new episodes of “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars“).

Now, there are a lot of collector’s shows on cable now – “Pawn Stars,” “American Pickers,” “American Restoration,” “Storage Wars,” “Oddities” – and I’m a big fan of all of them: I must be, since I’ve seen every episode of all of them at least once. But there’s still a niche to fill: Few of us own pawnshops – or any shops at all; few of us tool around America’s back roads for a living, rifling through old barns and warehouses for days on end; few of us have the time, knowhow or money to restore old, rusty motorcycles or gas pumps or arcade games to their original condition, then sell them for a profit.

In fact, not that many of us make our bread and butter by buying and selling collectibles … but when we can, many of us DO buy and sell collectibles for extra cash – on eBay or Craigslist; at flea market or antique mall booths; or by consignment to auction houses. And this is ESPECIALLY true in this slack economy, when disposable income is meager, and a little wheeling and dealing can really help pay the bills.

“Real Deal” follows four collectibles dealers as they negotiate with sellers for flippable items, which requires not only nerves of steel but in-depth knowledge of the collectibles themselves and the current demand for them. In each case, the seller can accept the dealer’s offer, haggle or auction the item off.

For example, how much would you offer for a ’56 Lincoln Mark II that looks like it just rolled out of the factory? “Gary,” the seller, knows he’s got a hot item that could fetch to the tune of $70,000. Our “Real Deal” regular offers $30,000. Gary declines and the car goes to auction, where it realizes $45,000. Gary considers himself a winner, having shrewdly turned down the 30 grand.

(Of course, ordinarily a consignor would have to transport the item to the auction location at his own expense, wait for the auction to take place, hope the bidders are biting that day, deduct from the hammer price a 15 to 20 percent consignor’s premium for the auction house, deduct a listing charge if a catalog was issued, then wait six weeks for a check to come in the mail. And the item could go unsold for lack of interest or because it did not reach the reserve price, or it could sell for a lot less than the consignor expected. I’m just saying: Auctions are not only a crapshoot, there are various charges involved.)

“Whether it’s a collection of footballs signed by NFL legends or an autograph by Harry Houdini, a World War II German Storm Trooper dagger or a 19th-century spittoon, everything that comes into the auction reveals something about an earlier time and the way people lived in the past,” reads the “Real Deal” press release. “But an article that’s rich with history doesn’t necessarily make its owner rich. One seller thinks he can get $580 for a 1904 home electrotherapy machine. The dealer offers $240. No deal, decides the seller, and heads to the auction house, where he gets only $225 for it.”

And you thought “Let’s Make a Deal” was high suspense!

Seriously, if you fancy yourself a junkyard Indiana Jones, as I do, “Real Deal” comes closer to real life than other the collector’s TV series: It’s like “The Art of the Deal” meets “Antiques Roadshow” (or even “High Stakes Poker” with the Keno brothers).

But tension, conflict and plot twists are not enough: All good programming needs charismatic characters, and “Real Deal” would seem to have them. These include champion auctioneer Bryan Knox of Birmingham, Ala., and the four competing dealers: two pawnbrokers, Glen Parshall (of Bargain Pawn in Las Vegas) and Chip Plemmons (of Carolina Pawn and Gun in Canton, N.C.); antiques dealer Jason McCoon, owner of Tory Hill Auction Company in Raleigh, N.C.); and Troy Howerton (aka “The Redneck Picker”) of San Diego, an enterprising Everyman who works out of his own home but has truck/will travel to make a gainful transaction.

Troy is, in fact, a fellow many of us can immediately relate to – one who has taken some hard knocks but keeps getting up. “I’m just a regular guy who lost his job due to the economy,” he told me. “While I have always had the picker mentality, I knew I was out there on my own. It was time to pave my own way again. My true passion as a young man was to be a coach. However, that opportunity did not come to fruition.

“I have a background heavy in sales and management,” he explained. “I was also a small business owner. I have failed my way to success in today’s crappy economy. I made a conscious decision that if I made this business work for myself, I would help others in the same situation. I have helped countless people learn how to make extra money and have a better life. I wake up every day with a good attitude and am grateful for a roof over my head! I always am thinking that someone else has it worse than me. Self-motivation and a strong sense of urgency are what keep me going. I have a family to support and bills to pay like everyone else. I am making the switch from full time picker to author and teacher in the reselling business.”

Honestly, can anyone NOT like a dude with an attitude like this? He’s even written a book that will be released right after “Real Deal” hits the airwaves.

I couldn’t help asking Troy some specific questions about himself and picking as a livelihood. Here’s what he told me …

AmeriCollector: How did you get interested in picking, and how long have you been doing it?

Troy: I first got interested in this business when I was 15. I used to go with my grandfather to auctions. I first took collectible picking seriously in 2001. I lived in the Midwest and collectibles were easy to find. Here in California, they are hard to come by!

AC: What are your favorite “picking grounds”?

Troy: I really like the swap meets and auctions. Although I have found great collectible items at yard sales too! I have a great network of fellow collectors. My phone rings every day from someone who wants to buy sell or trade.

AC: Do you specialize in anything when you pick? Are there any kinds of collectibles that you stay away from, and if so, why? (For example, Rick Harrison on “Pawn Stars” won’t trade in Nazi memorabilia, and Dave Hester on “Storage Wars” won’t sell weapons in his store.)

Troy: I really don’t specialize in anything particular. It’s about two things: profit and finding a home for your find. You have to keep in mind, I’m not picking for ME, I’m picking for somebody else. About the only thing I stay away from is art: It has a smaller niche market, and it’s something that does not really interest me. Now trench art or “steampunk” – different story!

AC: Do you collect anything yourself?

Troy: Not as much as I used to. At one time I had a very large pedal car collection. That bug bit me real bad in the early 2000s. I had over 30 cars at one time. I also had one of the largest Zippo lighter collections in my area. They were both very expensive habits! Now I stick to old license plates, porcelain signs, college football memorabilia and old tin toys.

AC: Do you find it hard to sell some great items that you pick?

Troy: Very rarely. I think I have a good enough eye to sell most everything I find whenever I put forth the effort. I always keep in mind my profit level. Sometimes you may have to wait a little while to find the right buyer. It also is economy of scale: Some folks would buy it in a heartbeat is it were less expensive!

AC: Do you ever restore anything that you pick before selling it?

Troy: Sometimes. I usually will sell things as they are. I leave the restoration process to the professionals like Rick Dale of “American Restoration.”

AC: What are some of the really great picks that you’ve made, both in terms of the rarity of the items and the money you made?

Troy: Several come to mind. Probably my favorite, most fun and one of the most profitable was a box of vintage toys, Major Matt Mason action figures from the 1960s. I bought the whole box for $15. It had an old Zeroid robot toy in there as well. I pulled in over $1,500 for the whole lot.

Another would probably be the old Gamewell telegraph register. I picked it out at an auction and bought it on a hunch: paid five bucks and sold it for $200! Funny, as the same week I bought this, there was an episode of “American Pickers” and Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz found a similar one. Probably the one and only time I knew about something that they didn’t!

AC: What do you consider a reasonable profit margin that you hope to get when you make an offer on an item?

Troy: I think a reasonable profit margin is at least 300 percent, or tripling your money. That is fine for most people, but I like the sweet spot of making five to 10 times my money. Those items are out there, you just have to know what to look for. That comes with a continuing education!

AC: How do you usually sell what you find?

Troy: AS FAST AS I CAN! (Laughs.) I sell about 25 percent online, 25 percent at auctions – such as Don Presley Auctions in Orange, Calif. – or at swap meets and 50 percent within my picker network.

AC: I think a lot of folks fantasize about becoming pickers. Is it a tough way to make a living?

488  340x260 troy <strong>Real Deal</strong>: A new show for real collectors … especially ones who want to make a fast buck

Troy: This is NOT an easy business! You have to be self-motivated and have your working capital invested at all times. You must always be educating yourself as well.

I don’t know what jobs out there that can provide the flexibility and freedom that this industry can, but if you are not self-motivated, you are sure to fail – not just at this business but at anything you do in life. Also, I don’t know where you can invest your money by making a disciplined buying decision and get the returns on your money like you can in this business. When I am working this business to its fullest capacity, there are days I will make $20 to $100 per hour – but there are other days you don’t make a dime!

AC: Do you think TV shows like “Real Deal” and “American Pickers” will raise the public’s awareness of picking?

Troy: Absolutely! It’s not only profitable, but it’s FUN! You meet some great people along the way too!

AC: How did you get a book deal? And what’s the book about: Is it strictly a bio or a how-to? And when will it be available?

Troy: I had the idea to write a book about nine months ago. I actually wrote the first draft and didn’t like it. I shredded it and started over!

I figured it would be a great medium for folks who wanted to learn how to get into this business and earn some extra money. My main goal was just to help others who needed to earn some extra money working from home. The book is part self-realization, motivation, tips and tricks, but most importantly how to find the stuff, use problem-solving techniques with the power of cash, negotiate and make disciplined buying decisions with a twist of my scientific techniques.

The book will be available on my website on Sat., Nov. 26, the day after the premiere of “Real Deal” on the History Channel.

AC: Speaking of which: How did you get on “Real Deal”?

Troy: I started a YouTube channel in October 2010. I was contacted by Mike Toole from Mike Toole Casting via my Facebook page. I thought it was a JOKE. I was just sharing my finds and giving some advice, and all of the sudden I was inundated by production companies! I was very flattered and excited to be “picked” out of a lot of other people they were looking at. I went to the offices of Zodiak Media Group and auditioned. I actually had to try out two more times after that.

I was chosen to be on the show with auctioneer Bryan Knox three other fine gentlemen: Chip Plemmons, Glen Parshall and Jason McCoon.

AC: Did you know the other cast members before going on the show? How do you get along? Are there rivalries, as between Dave Hester and Darrell Sheets on “Storage Wars” – or do you all work independently?

Troy: No, I did not. We all get along fabulously. We are just a bunch of regular guys that buy and sell for a living. We all come from different geographical areas and are all different in a lot of ways, but we are all cut from the same cloth!

No rivalries, but I think we all try equally as hard to make each other laugh as much as possible. We all work independently of each other. The other guys are in the pawn or auction business.

AC: How does “Real Deal” differ from, say, “Storage Wars”? Do you pick only collectibles, or do you also go after usable goods that you can make a profit on?

Troy: When you compare the shows they are very SIMILAR for a few reasons: (1) You have very little time to make a wise decision on what you see. (2) You have no time to research! (3) You better be damn sure you know what the value is before you make an offer and, more importantly, what costs are associated with HOW you are going to sell it! A lot of variables in a very short period of time! Sometimes you have to “play” the seller and not the item. Kinda like poker!

There is a GIGANTIC difference when you are picking. Let’s take a storage unit auction, for instance. You can only bid on what you see and have to take it all no matter what the price. When you are picking, you can make a more disciplined buying decision because you have a couple of great advantages: opportunity for research, TIME and the opportunity to use your problem-solving skills.

Finding a good “true” pick (like you would see on “American Pickers”) is not that easy. Finding a good pick can take days or weeks! It takes time to build a network of people to get that “pick referral.” Yes, you can wander aimlessly up and down country roads, but that is time-consuming and often you wind up coming home empty-handed with a big fuel bill! Finding storage units are really simple these days. I just go to and can find one in my area in minutes!

Don’t forget that part of being a modern-day picker is NOT all about collectibles. Think about everyday commodities! With the tight economy we live in today, everyone wants to save some money. A truly good picker can buy and resell things like appliances, furniture, electronics, exercise equipment and more! I talk in great depth in my upcoming book about how to find and resell industrial items like restaurant equipment and other commercial products. So you don’t have to be an expert in antiques to be considered a picker!

AC: Why do you think reality shows like “Pawn Stars,” “American Pickers” and, we hope, “Real Deal” are so popular?

Troy: My humble opinion is this: It’s all about the “deal”: Was it good or bad? I think the fans like to “play along” at home … They ask: What is it really worth? Did the seller take less than he or she wanted? Was it a good decision? It’s the tension of the negotiation! Or: That guy only offered him that much? Cheap bastard!

AC: Are there any especially dramatic incidents that we should watch for on the 10 pilot episodes?

Troy: Oh, there are plenty! You will just have to tune in to “Real Deal” on the History Channel, airing Sun., Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. ET (with a bonus episode on Mon., Nov. 28, at 11 p.m. ET), after the new episodes of “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars.”

Keep visiting AmeriCollector for more about Troy Howerton and “Real Deal.” Learn more about the show on the History Channel Web site:

Images courtesy History
History logo <strong>Real Deal</strong>: A new show for real collectors … especially ones who want to make a fast buck
Commercial for Real Deal

Other links:

Troy Howerton

Chip Plemmons

Jason McCoon

Glen Parshall

Bryan Knox

Don Presley Auctions

Storage Treasures


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