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Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America

by Maureen Stanton

Pub Date: June 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59420-293-3
Publisher: Penguin Press

A tour d’horizon of the world of antiques, from flea markets to antiques shows to high-end auction houses, with a brief stopover at eBay and the Antiques Roadshow.

Before Stanton (Creative Nonfiction/Univ. of Missouri) reconnected with her pseudonymous old college friend, “Curt Avery,” who had become a professional antiques dealer, she was “the self-anointed Queen of the Flea-Market Dollar Table.” Like many Americans, she was on the lookout for an appealing bargain and just as happy with an inexpensive reproduction as the real thing. When she and Avery met again in 2000, she agreed to fly across the country to attend an auction where some old bottles that he coveted were on offer. He asked her to be his proxy bidder while he hid at the back and signaled his bids. This was her introduction to a fascinating subculture, which she calls “the ‘flea’ realm.” Over the years, she attended many fairs and flea markets with Avery as what she calls a “participant observer,” getting up before dawn to help him set up displays, grabbing food on the run and camping out next to his truck at night. “The greatest reward of trailing Avery,” she writes, “has been to rekindle my fascination with history.” Stanton writes about the thrill of spotting a pair of late-18th-century sugar snips mixed in with a pile of tools, and learning the history of opium bottles, which were produced in the millions until the 20th century, when the sale of opium in grocery stores was prohibited. The author learned to truly value these objects—which preserved the collective memory of a past way of life—and to value the craftsmanship they embodied. A treasure-trove of a book, especially for would-be antiquers.