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'American Pickers' seeks local nuggets

ASHLAND -- The "American Pickers" show on the History Channel has inspired a new wave of interest in old "rusty gold," meaning curious, nostalgic junk you can pick up for a few bucks at estate sales or thrift shops, and clean up and sell for a handsome profit.

That show, along with "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS, now in its 22nd season, has invigorated and changed the antique market, say local dealers.

"Pickers" is coming to Oregon in April and is asking for tips on "interesting characters with interesting items and lots of them."

The TV shows, eBay and the internet in general, says Sara Lee, manager of the Hospice Unique Boutique in Ashland, "have significantly increased awareness and access to tools for evaluating finds. Laypeople understand how to research online. In the old days, you had to have antique guides and lots of other books, but now you can search 'eBay sold' and get the real market value."

Hospice Unique Boutique once had a reputation as a “honey hole,” rich in underpriced treasures, but now, says Lee, staff are expert researchers, find lots of rare or unique items and offer them to the larger collector audience of eBay.

On one recent day, she adds, her organization had three dozen items on eBay, usually at “buy now” prices, and had just sold some Swedish glass for $150, a Gorham silver spoon group from 1893 for $95, a Terragamo silk scarf for $91 and pottery tiles for $150. All items are donated, with proceeds going to support Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice. On the floor, Hospice Unique Boutique sells an array of “lightly used,” mostly high-end clothing, furniture, books, art, jewelry, CD music and other items.

At the estate sales of Halstead Helping Hands, run by estate liquidator Phyllis Leilani Halstead, pickers, collectors, dealers and shoppers look for jewelry, tools, military memorabilia, gold, sterling, trains, Native American or Southwest art and pottery, Persian carpets, tractors, collectible paper, women’s art (such as quilts), old wagon wheels, any old signs, and Danish and mid-century modern furniture — and they no longer favor china and antiques, she says.

Often they’re not bereavement sales, but generated by people moving to Mexico, or who just want to simplify their lives by getting rid of decades of stuff. Sometimes, people who want to work out of their homes realize they can scoop up inventory and become dealers, marketing it online, she notes.

Stacy Shelley, owner of Revive Home Decor in Ashland, says “Antiques Roadshow” motivated much antique-buying “in hopes of getting rich,” but it got to the point where the market was “glutted, and now the market for antiques has dropped out.”

As millennials have come of age, she adds, they look at once-valuable antiques and “they don’t want grandma’s old, well-made furniture, big table settings, china and silver tableware. What’s in demand is mid-century modern and furniture made locally of recycled wood.”

As for barns full of old stuff that pickers would love, Shelley says she was invited to such a barn several years ago, with generations of stuff, but it was mostly junk, with some vintage mid-century chrome and furniture.

“It’s out there. You just have to find it,” she says.

It’s not easy to score something underpriced in today’s shops and flip it for serious profit, but Shelley notes she did go picking recently at Pickers Paradise in Medford and bought a mahogany chair for $65 which, she says, she sold for $450.

In addition, Shelley notes, many pickers here have learned the Southern Oregon market is priced well below Portland and San Francisco — and she’s created relationships with dealers in those big cities, steadily moving well-picked items for a profit.

Greg Walter of Antiquarian Books & Antiques in downtown Ashland says that while most customers browse, some 20 percent are pickers, obsessed with niche specialties, such as Kwakiutl masks, Russian Orthodox incense urns or first impressions of ‘60s vinyl records — and as soon as they find something, out come the cellphones to take pics and check values, ever looking for an underpriced treasure to love or flip.

Antiquarian owner David Ralston promotes rare items on Instagram, often causing pickers driving the freeway to swerve into Ashland and make a score, says Walter.

“We reach out to a broad spectrum of people with no specialty left unturned,” says Walter. “We get LP pickers all the time. Sometimes people walk out of here with amazing deals but the TV shows and internet have really helped dealers understand values and helped a lot of people in the arts and collectibles world — and it’s helped the average person get inspired to go to garage sales.”

Antiquarian displays an amazing variety of old books, but, sadly, says Walter, that market has sustained a “huge decrease in value,” because everyone’s on their screens.

If you know of any treasure troves of alluring old stuff for the Oregon tour of “American Pickers,” you can call 1-855-OLD-RUST (653-7878) or email AmericanPickers@cineflix.com.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Photo by John Darling{ } Stacy Shelley, owner of Revive Home Decor, shows a set of drawers made of recycled wood.
Photo by John Darling{ } Peter Arang, volunteer clerk at Hospice Unique Boutique, shows a Leucos Vittoria floor lamp valued at $2,225, on sale for $600. Customer is Claire Baker.{ }