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A Mystery Unfolds

An antique dealer needs to know a little bit about a lot of things and know where to look when filling in the blanks. It used to mean an office full of Antique and Collectibles reference books. Now with a click of the mouse I can find information quickly using Google, reverse imaging or eBay.

When I first started in the business I would find an odd piece and read as much as I could about it. I still have photocopies of China markings stuffed into reference books. This search for information was like a mystery or a detective story. These days my detecting usually takes place in our store's parking lot when I look into the trunk of a car. Recently a customer brought in some pottery—lucky for me I was paying attention when a friend of mine, an avid pottery collector, was explaining Carolina Pottery attributes. The seller had some beautiful face jugs, also known as Grotesque Jars or Monkey Jars; they were terrific, very clean and in great condition. I would have loved to buy them, but I needed to send her to someone that had better connections to Carolina Pottery Collectors.

I am often called to help families “cleanout” their deceased family members’ homes to identify the valuable items from the ones being donated to Goodwill. I look everywhere. In closets, trunks, the rafters, and the basement, which is where I found a terrific tin paddlewheel steam ship toy. It was in good condition, but very dirty from dust and cigarette smoke residue. It was also missing its rubber treads on the paddlewheel that moves it across the floor. But it was one of those things that sort of tickles your brain. It’s something, but is it a repo, an original? It’s a roll of the dice. I looked it up on my phone and couldn’t find it. That could’ve been good or bad. So I took a gamble and bought it, cleaned it and brought it home to research. After several hours of searching, I was able to find one picture of it online along with a brief explanation. It turns out it was a pre-WWI tin toy and worth about $350.

Over the years I’ve honed my Google skills, made contacts with collectors that have specialized knowledge and have created a bookmark collection of quick references. However, being an old soul, old school kinda gal, I still have a ton of reference books that clog up shelves all over the house. The Internet changed the look of how an Agatha Christie mystery unfolds, yet there will always be the hunter, someone who wants to page through a dusty book to find notes that only a seasoned collector scribbles in the margins. Who knows, someday someone may find a treasure in the books in my attic.

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