“The Hills are Drying Up”, has become the catch phrase for every antique picker that is still in the business. When I started as a wholesale “picker”, over 40 years ago back in Washington DC., the “hills” were load with merchandise.
The “hills” are the backwoods, that are away from cities and densely populated metropolitan areas. We use to say the best prices we could possibly find were in areas that were outside the diameter of a large city by a “days drive”. If you could get outside that invisible rim of driving, turning around and getting home in one day…….then you had reached the best “picking areas you could possibly find.
I use to come across some of the most incredible “stashes” outside the invisible rim that you can imagine. I once came across a “picker” a few hours out of Chicago that for some unknown reason had an affinity for “roll-top desk’s. This was close to 35 years ago. For some reason he loved them. Although he dealt in every kind of antique, he specialized in “roll-tops”. He had a large barn filled with them that he had accumulated over the years; he was in his late 70’s when I met him, from all over the Chicago area. He had a moving and salvage business with his father when he was in his teens. They would clear out old office buildings in the Chicago area of all their old office furniture. Their business did extremely well because unlike other businesses, they didn’t charge a fee for hauling the old furniture away…….most other “haulers” did. They were the go to “hauler” for all of Chicago.
In that barn were probably as many as three to four hundred “roll-tops”. Over the years I lost track of how many I bought from him and resold to dealers in DC.
As you may have seen in a previous blog, the first dozen or more iron beds I ever had, were “given” to me by farmers wanting to get rid of them. Word got out in the hills of Pennsylvania that I would haul away any bed if you wanted to get rid of it. More often than not those beds were used as an inducement for me to “buy” other things from a picker or farmer. Quilts, stained glass windows, things they “did” place a value on and wanted to sell, they felt would be more saleable to someone like me, if they threw in a bed…….that they didn’t really place much value on.
As was the case with the “picker” outside of Chicago, who had all the roll top desk’s, I also came across “pickers”, “haulers” and “junkers” as we use to call them, that bought estates or “close-outs” when people died an had no surviving heirs. They would then clean out a house and take literally everything in the house, from kitchen plates and utensils, clothes and furniture to old cars and farm equipment……home to their warehouse or barn. There they would separate it and sell off all the things they had a market for. Things they didn’t have a market for would continue to pile up and over time become piles of what they considered not very desirable. For the longest time antique iron beds happen to be one of those “not so desirable” items.
I started dealing in beds at a time when the “not so desirable” moniker was still felt. I myself actually fell prey to the same foolish attitude. I had been specialising in “brass beds”, much different and at the time far more popular than iron beds. As an inducement to buy their brass beds, dealers would offer to throw into the deal an iron bed to sweeten the deal. So in turn……I foolishly, I might add for a very short period of time, would do the same with my customers and offer a free iron bed with every brass bed purchased. My eye’s opened when I started having people “come” to me for iron beds. I started by selling them for $10. to $20. and not long after that realised I no longer had any…….that they had all sold. It didn’t take a “rocket scientist” to realise they had started to develop value and desirability. Unfortunately the old boys throughout the hills also started realising this when I started “asking” for them. So now they had become collectible. Over the years that collectability and value has grown way beyond anything I could have ever anticipated. And unfortunately those enormous “stashes” have also been depleted to what now has become next to nothing. Hence ………. “The Hills Have Dryed Up”.
I hope you’ve found this blog informative . I invite you to revisit my website
to answer any and all questions you might have about antique iron beds.
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