What I got when reading the book, however, wasn't what I expected. Based on the title Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, I thought it was going to be the book version of a television program making every antique look fabulous, and fabulously valuable - and it actually touches on this phenomenon with a behind the scenes visit to Antiques Roadshow at one point. But what the book delivered overall turned out much differently and, in so many ways, much better.
It also delves, poignantly in the form of "creative nonfiction," into the obsession of the collector by uncovering what drives an antiques dealer to lead such a grueling, uncertain life. It touches on the tendency to get buried in junk while compulsively selling one item and then buying another, or several, to replace it. It acknowledges the need to endlessly seek that next big find, and the willingness to wake before the rooster's crow to do it. And it doesn't overlook sitting through awful live auctions waiting for that one item you're interested in to come up for grabs, and then bidding on a box lot filled with nothing short of true crap surrounding that one treasure.
As antiques dealers, most of us anyway, our love for this old stuff is what truly drives us, so throughout this book I was left nodding my head in agreement. People who get into the antiques business just to make money rarely cut it for the long haul, at least not honestly. But those who live, breathe and sleep antiques and collectibles, and have made almost as many mistakes as successes along the way, know what it takes to sustain in the antiques trade. We adapt, study, change courses to cope with the economy and the collecting climate, commiserate with our antiquing buddies, and then study a little more. If we happen to earn an honest to goodness living at it, that's just the proverbial gravy on the biscuit of life.
But there's a dark side to this book, at least from my perspective, and it comes in the form of the frauds and fakers out there who really are in it only for the money. It's more rampant than I want to acknowledge as an ethical seller who also spends time teaching others about what it means to be an ethical seller. It's also the reason I spend a lot of time educating antiques buyers about these kinds of pitfalls. The paragraphs touching on the creeps lurking around the antiques underworld remind me why I take the time to share information that might protect people from these con artists, and more determined than ever to stay that course.
I also have to say that being an antiques journalist, splitting my time between buying and selling antiques and writing about them, fascination ensued when I realized this book was written by someone who doesn't know much at all about antiques in general. Stanton proclaims herself the "queen of the dollar flea market table." She dabbles rather than delves. But following an antiques dealer who is a true expert on early Americana and period antiques for several years gives her more insight into the business than she probably ever thought possible.
And when I say follow, I mean it. This woman sleeps on the ground in the fields at Brimfield, unpacks and repacks boxes at antique shows across New England, and rides along in a truck filled with so much junk it would put Fred Sanford's to shame. She ventures off on her own to visit collectibles shows and museums to find objects as common as comic books and as outlandish as shrunken heads. There's no doubt that she did her homework, and probably ended up with enough notes to fill dozens of targeted books chronicling her antiquing escapades.
So, perhaps I'm not the best person around to write an objective review on this book. I live a little too close to the subject matter, or matters if you include writing about antiques, too. It would be hard for me not to find it interesting on some level. But from the perspective of accepting that I can't ever learn everything there is to know about antiques, I will say that I found plenty of new topics to explore in this book. My copy brims with Post-It Note tabs marking topics I've highlighted to learn more about and likely share with others. This includes antique bottles, Shaker antiques, and a host of miscellany I haven't spent much time with or been exposed to in my region of the country. They're fascinating nonetheless.
Lastly, I commend Stanton for weaving the history of some of the antiques she encountered on her dealer-shadowing adventures into the text, and doing damn good research with which I found very little fault. It adds a new dimension to the book making it of interest to everyone from neophyte collectors to those largely disinterested in collecting antiques, as long as they enjoy a good story peppered with facts. Don't get me wrong, at times these historical tangents seem a little disconnected from the overarching story at hand, but they impart knowledge making you forgive that faux pas. You move from town to town, field to field, and show to show eagerly awaiting what's going to turn up next on this vicarious antiquing adventure.