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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who's the Picker, Anyway? with a Foray into Film and Literature

These posts on my impoverished past have led to a good deal of reflection. And, even though I can't remember anything that happened five minutes ago, I am remembering some details of my past.

First question: who IS a picker? I suppose it could be anyone who sells to someone else. The picking ends when an item reaches a final customer. Mr FS and I bought some antique quilts when we lived in Indiana, when quilts were all the rage. We met a lovely woman, Lois, who was a picker for other dealers. She was a small town woman with very little money, but an incredible feel for objects and a true sense of beauty.

She really liked us, so she would often give us first dibs on items she bought from someone's home in her small town of Spencer, Indiana. Once she offered us a quilt for $200. It had trapunto work, but was not particularly beautiful. Plus we had no money. So we declined.

A few weeks later, we visited some well-known quilt dealers at their home in Indianapolis.  Rod Lich and Susan Parrott. Amazingly, they are still in business. I don't know why they put up with us, since we really had almost no money. While we were looking at their quilts, another dealer--from Texas--arrived. Rod and Susan showed her the trapunto quilt we had turned down. The Texas dealer bought it for $750! Rod and Susan assured her she could get $1200 for it in Texas.

Items, particularly antiques and collectibles, have no "value" other than what someone is willing to pay. And dealers sell things to other dealers. Up and up. And sometimes down.

This all made me remember a rather wonderful book I read when I lived in Indiana: The Rembrandt Panel. It was passed to me by my art-loving friend Charlotte. It concerned a picker who found a painting in a junk shop. He thought it was a Rembrandt and so brought it to an art dealer, who figured out that it indeed WAS a Rembrandt. Unfortunately (and I'm really not ruining anything since this happens early on), both these characters are killed by the bad guy. Charlotte wondered how the author could kill off such a great set of characters, especially the art dealer. After that, the plot devolved into silliness. The author--an art historian--wrote another book (not as good), and died shortly thereafter.

Now, a foray into film. I really liked the movie Please Give. The main character, played by Catherine Keener, owns a shop that wells mid-century modern furniture that she buys from estates. She feels guilty about how little she pays for things. One funny moment comes when she passes a high-end shop and sees a table the owner bought from HER shop--only he is selling it for much more than he paid, just as she did.

Issues of value, issues of knowledge, so many issues!

I am kind of relieved that I'm not interested in "collecting" things anymore.


Duchesse said...

A picker is a reseller, hoping to profit through the exchange.

The more interesting moment in "Please Give" for me is when the Keener character returns a vase she picked (to sell at her upscale shop) at an estate sale to the (deceased) former owner's son, saying "This is worth quite a bit of money".

This is a matter of ethics. If a picker (who is a reseller, not a collector) offers a ridiculously low price, knowing it can be resold for a massive profit, does that take advantage of the seller's ignorance or desperation?

How much profit is fair? It's impossible to provide a formula, and there are various philosophies, depending on one's values and perspective- but the Keener character had a sense of fairness and wanted to make it right.

dotsybabe said...

I have been tempted to buy low (quilts, willow furniture, etc.) and sell high -- and have done this with one or two items. There's also some risk in this process. I'm going to add "please Give" to my Netflix queue.

Sharon said...

These posts are very interesting. I kept an eye out for pickers when I did some thrifting this week (at Savers, a chain and my local no-name thrift--I think its name is literally "Thrift Store.") I didn't notice anyone I thought might be a picker these stores draw a lot of latino families who appeared to be shopping for themselves. I think one reason I didn't see them is the high prices here. Harder to make a profit. I tried on (and didn't buy) a pair of gap shorts with some wear for $8. Couldn't justify $8 for shorts that weren't that great. Then I went to TJ Maxx and paid $20 for a cute pair of white jeans. Hmmm...

Can't speak to the prices for antiques/collectibles here because I have never gotten into that.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Isn't there the sound of a vase crashing to the floor right after the owner shuts the door??

@dotsybabe--Hope you like the movie.

@Sharon--$8 for shorts! Yipes. I'm glad you find these interesting--I may do a few more.

dotsybabe said...

Frugal Scholar: I still have the Parrotts business card from an antique show I attended in the 1980s in another Midwestern state.

dotsybabe said...

Oops, Parrett. I've been to the Locust Grove antique show (I have a friend who shows there). Very lovely goodies. Years ago I decided to buy antique case goods (dressers, etc.) instead of new when I compared the quality and price of new stuff and lovely old stuff. Most of my purchases were in the $200-350 price range and, also being frugal, I went without stuff until I could find and afford something. I am pleased to say that this strategy has paid off -- I have a number of lovely antiques that have increased in value over the last 3+ decades. There are fewer bargains out there but occasionally I find something I wish I had room for. Except for some bookcases, computer table, and sofas, my other furniture pieces are antique items I bought for less than the price of equivalent new furniture. And so much better constructed! No fiberboard, etc. Frugality does pay off!!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Dotsybabe--The interconnections are so interesting. We couldn't buy those case pieces back in the day because we faced many years of moving for our jobs. How I wish I could get some now. Love the midwest!

Jet Kuhn said...

FS technically a "picker"is someone who picks for dealers, designers, collectors, etc. They do not sell to the general public, that would be a vendor or resaler. When I had the flea market booth, then shop, I had the people above coming to me looking for specific items I most likely wouldn't sell, but did often come across, so there is crossover. What you usually run across is I believe resalers, they are looking to spend the least, make the most profit. Problem is most haven't a clue as to fashion history & will list items on eBay from the Gap or Old Navy as "vintage"!
PS Wow what a story about the quilt! Ah we all make mistakes... sold a 60s Ossie Clark snakeskin coat for about 4 times less that what it was worth & what I could have gotten if I had read the label correctly! Lets not talk about Pucci... if only I'd held on to it for maybe 3-5 years more, I could have retired!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Jet--Thanks for the clarification. Re Pucci: When my parents moved, my mother donated a 60s Pucci gown--I told her I would find a way to sell it for her. UGH. I am probably the way I am in reaction to that.