Early on in the game I realized that the truest adventure of the antique business lay in door knocking. It’s one thing to source from auction, other dealers and collectors you know, it’s quite another to pull up to a lonely, run down farm in the middle of nowhere, and knock on the door. You don’t know what type of person you are about to meet. It’s a bit like hitch hiking in that respect. Most people are o.k. but if you keep at it long enough you are going to meet up with your fair share of weirdos, some who can even be dangerous.
I was never a full time picker, but I wanted to experience the excitement of it so I would go out for a couple of days to a week every so often, usually with a buddy, and treat it like a fishing or hunting trip with BBQ and beers, and lots of bullshit stories.
It is always a good idea to be picking with someone else. Not only for security, but for the more mundane legal reason that you have a witness to verify the transaction, should the kids come back at you, or the like. You have to trust and respect your picking partner though, and have some fair way of distributing the booty. The ordinary stuff isn’t hard to figure out. The problem arises when you come upon something wonderful that you both lust after. You can take turns buying and leave it up to chance, or do what I liked to do and agree that if you come up with a real treasure that you both want you own it together. On my picking trips with buddies we came across some nice gear, but nothing that fell into this category.
I would occasionally go out on my own. I liked to go down to Kent and Essex county where my dad had owned and run farm papers. A lot of people knew my dad and it would quite often be the ticket indoors. For the most part people are pretty nice around there, and I could leave early in the morning, pick all day, and come home with a fairly full truck the same evening. It also just felt good being around the old parts. It’s desperately flat country, but it has its charm. I wasn’t like the guys you see on t.v. buying anything that had value. I didn’t want to haul and distribute a lot of o.k. but ordinary stuff. I cherry picked. China stayed in the cabinets but I would do my best to leave with that nice wall box found buried under junk in the shed. It’s funny because nobody wanted much for good primitive furnishings but everyone was looking for top dollar for the silver plate. At the base of it, it’s a treasure hunt. Much like we played at as children. That treasure just might turn up at the next stop.
One thing I noticed early on is that it is not often the house that looks like it would have a 1830 flat to wall in the back kitchen that actually produces much. It’s likely been picked several times. It’s just as likely to be in the basement of the 60’s ranch style house that the farmer built himself next door. People have been picking for a long time. Almost every rural property has been visited at least once over the years. Inevitably you would confront the story that it’s too bad you didn’t get here ten years earlier. But it also worked out sometimes that people would come to regret refusing an earlier offer, or their situation had changed, and you could buy something for what they had been offered. Or at least what they said they were offered.
Looking mostly for primitives it is fairly frustrating how many of these turn of the century farms are filled with turn of the century manufactured mail order furniture. An awful lot of maple stenciled to look like oak. Your best chance was in the basement, outbuilding, or barn. Not always rural either. Some of the best things I have found came from homes in small towns.
You like to feel that you get a gut feeling, but this is a romance, and often just something you tell yourself to keep pressing after several disappointments.
What’s worse is after hours or days of finding nothing you come across the crown jewels, and they refuse to sell it. This is when you need to use your head and stay cool. I never played games with people by feigning disinterest. Without revealing my hand I would show genuine interest in the things I was genuinely interested in. Too emphatic and they might close down and send you packing. I would never try to belittle the item, recognizing most people can spot a phony. No, best to tell them that you respect and value an item and offer them a fair price. You don’t necessarily give up at no. You do your best to keep the conversation open and positive, eventually coming back to a second offer. Mind you this is just the way I did it because I like to sleep at night. Even if I couldn’t get them to budge after several attempts I always left my calling card in case they changed their mind, and then check back in with them for a friendly hello from time to time. Just a general chat with a casual reference to how much you still like the piece. It’s sometimes worth it. You can go back five or six times unsuccessfully and then be delighted one day to hear that they have decided to sell. Picking with respect.
Not everybody works like this. There are some hair raising stories of some legendary pickers especially from earlier days who were essentially bullies. They would get in a house and aggressively brow beat the poor old couple until they would give in. Picking using fear.
Like any human endeavor, with picking there is a light and a dark side.