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Considering core elements of a picking philosophy

Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of someone who picks items antiques and collectibles with the intention to flip for profit? Author Joe Willard shares some elements of picking philosophy, which can easily apply to other areas of life.

By Antoinette Rahn

People all around the world have their methods of approaching the act of picking or collecting antiques and vintage items. Some will say success lies in keeping those methods secret, while others will share what works for them with anyone who asks. Regardless of the school of thought you adhere to, I have to believe very few people would turn down the opportunity to gain advice from someone who has spent years studying and observing the practice of picking and collecting, and continues to refine his/her approach, and seeks to continually enhance their knowledge and appreciation of antiques and collectibles.

Picker's Bible, 2nd

Picker's Bible, 2nd Ed., by Joe Willard, is available at booksellers nationwide, and directly from the publisher at or by calling 855-278-0403 (M-F 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. PT)

This is what came to mind today as I was reading various chapters of the second edition of the “Picker’s Bible”, by Joe Willard. It’s been a couple years since I read this book, which has become one of the most popular collecting references available today. I took it off the shelf today as I was looking for advice to share with a reader who contacted me about proceeding in the field of picking. Upon entering retirement, he realized he didn’t really have that many ‘hobbies; or more specifically, his own hobbies. He said while he thoroughly enjoyed gardening, riding bicycles, and attending concerts and art shows with his wife, he was looking to get into something he could do on his own. Although he is working part time and volunteering as a Meals on Wheels driver, there are still many hours in the day when his wife and a number of friends are at work, he said. This will be the case at least for a couple more years, and instead of going stir-crazy, he thought he might expand his interest in antiques and collectibles to include more than collecting. However, he was a bit unsure if: 1. “I have what it takes to be a picker” 2. “An old dog like me can learn new tricks”.

As I stated early in my email correspondence, I believe dogs/cats/people of all ages can learn new things that benefit their lives, and benefit or inspire others as well. In response to his first question, about if he has what it takes, the wisdom of Joe Willard came to mind, and specifically the second chapter of “Picker’s Bible” 2nd Ed. The title of this chapter “The Philosophy of Picking” does a nice job of explaining elements of a picker’s mindset. One of those elements is the act of being more selective about what you are picking. This is particularly helpful, Willard explains, when dealing with the ‘feast and famine syndrome’. The famine occurs when there doesn’t seem to be anything piquing your interest, or nothing of quality needed to turn a dollar during resale; yet, you feel compelled to buy something. Now, this can become a positive situation, if you one can quickly flip the purchased item and recoup the expense, and then some. The periods of feasting, while appealing, can also be challenging, Willard says. The challenge occurs when there is so much to choose from and examine, that you end up missing out on some great acquisition. Just as I mentioned earlier about the two schools of thought regarding divulging picking tips, there are two paths to consider here as well. One, you methodically chose to be more selective about the items you seek, and give yourself permission to walk away without purchasing something, just for the sake of purchasing. Make a note of the place you visited and plan to return another day, and perhaps at that time there will be something that suits your interest as a collector or a picker. That’s what makes every antiquing opportunity an adventure. The other path to follow, while trying to make the most of the feast and famine syndrome, as Willard calls it, is to use the periods of famine as an opportunity to get creative with bargaining, or consider partnering with another person to purchase high-ticket items.

As Willard explains, each experience (be it during times of feast or famine), serves as an opportunity to develop techniques to use during more profitable times. When I read that bit of insight, the thing that came to mind was a co-worker who redefined bargain hunting. He would frequently purchase meat in a can, and would stock up if the cans were dented or marked as a ‘super clearance’ item — after the expiration date had passed. The same would go for meat at the local grocery. He regularly shopped the clearance meat section, and was heard to say, ‘A little green meat wouldn’t be so bad for a body.’ Needless to say, he was never selected as the person to bring meat to a cookout. However, those practices became his standard, even when he became someone others deemed ‘well off’. He would politely explain that those techniques were what kept him going when things were thin and times were tight, and were some of the reasons he later had the means to enjoy the feasting.

Another truly valuable point Willard makes in this chapter of his book, is the importance of understanding and practicing stewardship. Understanding that we are temporary, and equally so we are temporary custodians of the items we come across, seek out, or are gifted. There is no absolute ownership, Willard states. We are simply the most current stewards in the custodial legacy of items.

“It’s not just about the rarity, or only about pride,” he said. “It’s about respect.”

With that respect and opportunity to be a steward comes responsibility, Willard goes on to say. The responsibility to protect, identify and acknowledge the history of an item, and to preserve it for future enjoyment and stewardship opportunities.

There is so much we can learn from antiques and vintage of the past, and apply (like the practice of stewardship) to other areas of life.

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