Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One Man's Trash

My college roommate recently validated my love for Antiques Roadshow, which would have been more reassuring if it hadn’t come with the sad realization that I spent college watching Antiques Roadshow. Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by the stories behind pottery, jewelry, artwork and toys, and the big-game bargain-hunter in me is drawn to the idea of someday finding a true treasure among seeming trash. I’m enthralled by watching an unsuspecting owner hear the details of a piece’s history. People who’ve already had their items appraised and know all about them aren’t of any interest to me. The drama is in watching the story take hold in someone, seeing them comprehend the significance of an object that’s been gathering dust in an attic for a lifetime or more.

And then, the kicker: the actual financial value. I have teared up right along with farmers from Iowa and librarians from Idaho as they realize that the dusty old junk they hauled out to a convention center is actually a ticket to college tuition or comfortable retirement. It’s like winning a lottery they never entered, and having the check presented by a Keno brother (drink!).

My schedule and pitiful lack of a DVR has meant missing Antiques Roadshow for the last few years, but just when I was beginning to suffer a critical lack of televised junk, I happened upon American Pickers. The show airs, fittingly, on the History Channel, and follows two self-described junkers as they pick through the barns and basements of any “collector” they can find. Collector is their own generous term; most people would consider these sellers to be borderline hoarders, but Mike and Frank are respectful of the urge that drives people to haunt auctions and estate sales. It’s that respect that keeps the crassness out of their endeavors, and lets the viewer be proud when they strike a great deal instead of being icked out that they got the best of an oblivious seller.

No, all the crassness and ick is over on A&E, home of Storage Wars. On first glance, this show had the buried treasure appeal: professional buyers (consignment shop owners, mostly) bid on storage lockers after only five minutes to view the contents from the outside, and then try to get the most money for what’s inside. In reality, though, it lacks the scrappiness of Pickers and the historical distance of Roadshow. These guys are just showing up at a storage unit that someone stopped paying for and paying the lowest price they can for that person’s stuff. You can’t help but wonder what circumstances caused the owners to abandon these lockers, and it sort of makes you resent the bidders for swooping in. In case you didn’t already resent them just for being unlikable jackholes (except Barry, he’s alright). There’s no joy in seeing them dig through boxes to find a baseball card collection worth five grand. Those aren’t their baseball cards! It’s like watching people shoot bankrupt fish in a square barrel. It’s just not sporting.

My mom brought me to antique shops when I was so young the owners must have begun twitching the minute my bowl-cut appeared in the doorway. They needn’t have worried, though. Even as a pre-schooler, I was suited to antiquing. I was careful and quiet and kept my sticky little hands to myself. (Just kidding, Mom. We were never sticky, especially in public.) So maybe the urge to look at people’s old stuff is part of my own family history, a genetic heirloom passed down from one hopeful chest to the next.

I wonder how much I can get for it.


  1. I don't know, it was kind of cool when that one guy found all that cash behind the oil painting.

  2. That was actually me, not Richard. Oops.