By Paul Kennedy
When Eric Bradley was recently named Public Relations Director at Heritage Auctions I smiled. That tends to happen when great things happen to good people. And Eric is nothing if not a good guy.
You’ll recognize Eric’s name for his work as the editor of Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles
Price Guide and a handful of other books we’ve published at Krause Publications. Of course, Eric Bradley also served as editor of (Antique Trader) before he left for Heritage in 2012.
The Heritage promotion is a big deal. Heritage is the largest collectibles auctioneer in the world with annual sales nearing $1 billion. Besides its headquarters in Dallas, Heritage has offices in New York City, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Springs and Houston, and locations in Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and France.
As Public Relations Director, Eric Bradley rubs elbows with the media’s Big Boys: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, etc. Not bad company for a kid who grew up in Ishpeming, a small mining town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Humble Beginnings to Public Relations Pro
The Upper Peninsula, or the U.P. as it’s known locally, is a magnificent, scarcely populated, natural wonderland. Outdoor enthusiasts abound. And so does the cold. Ishpeming is an Ojibwe word for “on high” but it might as well stand for “Grab the shovel, Emil, it’s snowing again.” The town receives about 200 inches of snow annually.
Residents are playfully referred to as “Yoopers” and the hearty local cuisine is known for pasties – beloved handmade pies filled with meat, potatoes, carrots, rutabaga and onions – and Trenary Toast – a dry, hard toast dusted with cinnamon sugar perfect for dunking in coffee.
So yes, Dallas and Ishpeming could not be farther apart. The juxtaposition is staggering. And yet the fact that Eric Bradley is prospering in The Big D is no surprise. I’ve known him for more than 10 years, working closely with him while he was with Krause Publications and as his career has flourished at Heritage. He is abundantly talented, knowledgeable, connected, reliable and – something that makes my life better – funny as heck. Eric has the quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor of a man who grew up shoveling snow in May. Trust me, you either laugh at your plight or cry when a late spring snowstorm hits. Eric laughs. A lot.
Books, Auctions, and Pasties
I caught up with Eric recently to chat about his books, Heritage and the collecting field. What follows are excerpts from that conversation:
Paul Kennedy: We live in a digital, instant-gratification world, where seemingly everything is available at a press of a button. Yet you serve as the voice of a book now enjoying more than three decades of success. How do you explain the longevity and popularity of Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide?
Eric Bradley: It may be easy to search for a certain item, but books like the Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide educates you about collectibles. A computer search for a “yellow, bumpy glass” is not the same as seeing real examples of Imperial Glass Company’s hobnail opalescent bowl or that a piece might be uranium glass. Books educate those new to collecting and show veterans current prices of their collections or inventories. And nothing beats having a full-color image of the item next to a description describing the piece you’re looking at.
Between the Book Covers
PK: What do you enjoy most when putting the book together?
EB: I enjoy working on a book that is always dependable but never predictable. Learning about the new and interesting directions the market takes every year. We are in a constantly changing hobby. It’s interesting to see mainstay categories hold their value and watch how new categories and a new generation of collectors is steering hobbies in completely new directions. In this year’s guide we present a chapter on Magic: The Gathering (a trading card game from the 1990s). The collectible cards turn 25 years old next year and we show people how to value cards they may find at auction or yard sales.
PK: Heritage continues to offer amazing, sometimes mind-bending items at auction. The Bobby Fisher-Boris Spasky chessboard from their monumental match in 1972 is one of my favorites coming to auction in November. Can you explain what is taking place now with so many incredible items coming to market?
EB: We are seeing a generational turning point. Millions of people are retiring at an unprecedented rate and wonderful treasures that have not been seen in 30, 40, or 50 years are now coming to market. I don’t believe the naysayers who claim the antiques business is anything but vibrant. Every decorator magazine on the shelf now incorporates antiques and collectibles in major articles and a younger generation sees antiques as a “green” solution to mass-marketed, lesser-quality items. People want to own precious objects that represent their personality – nothing does that better than antiques.
In Awe and Inspired
PK: From a personal point of view, what has been the biggest “gee whiz” item you’ve dealt with?
EB: Next month Heritage Auctions is offering the earliest known example of the Ten Commandments. The piece is outstanding in quality and has been studied by Biblical scholars for centuries. It’s difficult to explain the wonder and awe you feel in the presence of objects like that. I’ve had the opportunity to see the moon dust trapped in the hinge of (astronaut) Buzz Aldrin’s safety scissors, work with Green Bay Packer greats, and hold locks of hair from everyone from Thomas Jefferson to John Wilkes Booth. The rare opportunity to play a small role in preserving these important artifacts and works of art for the next generation is extremely fulfilling.
PK: Fantasy time. If you had unlimited resources what item that has come up for auction would you buy?
EB: Something close to Abraham Lincoln: perhaps a hand-written speech, a signed photograph, or an article of clothing. The man fascinates me to no end and his presidency changed the course of our nation. Strangely, I’d also like to single-handedly drive the vintage movie poster market to new heights. I love prewar posters and have added a number of them to my collection.
Impressions of an Evolving Hobby
PK: You’ve been involved in the field as a magazine editor, show producer, author, collector, seller, and now as Public Relations Director at Heritage. Along the way, what evolution in the hobby has most impressed you?
EB: I’m impressed when dealers and auctioneers take on an apprentice or a younger worker to pass on their information. If you visit auctions or shows, many times you’ll see young faces behind the scenes or behind the pipe and drape. Antiques are a passion and by extension often a family affair. At Heritage, we have a strong mission to hire young, enthusiastic, smart people and teach them about specialties in all categories. Most often these staffers remain with the company for decades.
Another evolution that has impressed me is the rise of reality TV and how it has helped the antiques business. People young and old are rethinking antiques as something owned only by the rich to unique and affordable objects that can become an irresistible pursuit.
Early Influence on Present Professionalism
PK: It’s always satisfying to see good people succeed. It’s no secret I count you among those good people. What’s your key to success in a hyper-competitive field?
EB: I truly believe hard work beats talent. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t partner it with hard work then you’ll go nowhere. I’ve worked hard to make my passions my career. It’s not easy; but at every point in my career I understood that only a few people in the entire country get to do what I do. I see that as a privilege and an obligation, not a job.
PK: You’re a Yooper, a native of Ishpeming, an old mining town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That’s about as far away from Dallas as you can get. Ever pause to think how a small-town kid from the U.P. ended up with the best seat in the collectibles house?
EB: A very famous speaker visited my college (Northern Michigan University) and told our first-year English class that we should not expect to ever succeed at the national or global level. He made me angry. I was angry because in a single sentence he set everyone’s bar so low that they could meet it with moderate effort. That’s not what my Upper Midwest work ethic said was possible. That work ethic taught me to complete every task to as close to perfect as possible.
PK: One last Yooper question. Best treat: Pasty or Trenary Cinnamon Toast?
EB: Trenary Toast. I can make a pretty mean pasty.