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Book Review: Killer Stuff and Tons of Money by Maureen Stanton

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killerStuffIn Abbas Kiarostami’s film Certified Copy (Criterion Collection), an art historian presents a paper about the prevalence of forged antiquities. The fictional critic, in a film that is a meditation on reality versus fiction, does not dismiss forgeries as objects without value. Rather, the existence of a forgery validates the value of the original. I am counterfeited, therefore I am. It’s a variation on a theme that recurs throughout Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: An Insider’s Look at the World of Flea Markets, Antiques, and Collecting, Maureen Stanton’s inside look at the world of flea markets and antique dealers.

Stanton documents her experience with veteran antiques dealer Curt Avery, a pseudonym for a man whom I imagine looks something like Storage Wars regular Darryl. Avery laments the changing tastes of antiques buyers, who to save money are wont to buy approximations of the antique — artificially distressed pieces, outright reproductions — rather than invest in the original piece. In a field where an expert’s appraisal can turn a $10 yard sale find and an artifact worth tens of times more, there is a lot of competition and a lot of false information that can only be learned by making mistakes.

Stanton goes on the road with Avery, an old college chum, but her sidebars are often more interesting than the road trip. The life of an errant salesman is broken into chapters that describe Avery’s early career, specialized antique objects, major antiques markets, as well as chapters about forgeries, auction houses, and the bane of many a collector, hoarding. Avery makes a living from old stuff, but his motive is not just profit. He has a genuine appreciation for history, and his enthusiasm for an item can have as much to do with it’s place in history as for what it nets him.

The author told Collectors Weekly that she had some trouble selling her book, until the downturn in the economy. “Suddenly, people were forced to look elsewhere to save.” Readers looking to Stanton’s book for easy lessons in making silk purse money from sow’s ears will find that it’s hard work indeed. In his many years in the trade, Avery made thousands of dollars in mistakes, and will make even more. Fans of Antiques Roadshow and Dirty Money, eager for stories about backyard excavations or yard sale finds that turn into gold will eat this stuff up, and perhaps be inspired to follow a path of discovery and profit.

About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.