On Thursday, Jan. 24 in Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC), Maureen Stanton kicked off a new semester of VOICES at 8:15 p.m. by reading from her book, Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: An Insiders Look at the World of Flea Markets, Antiques, and Collecting.
The audience was relatively small and made up of mostly creative writing students, but it was an enthusiastic group who asked many questions at the end of the reading.
This event was Stanton’s third time visiting the campus, according to Associate Professor of English Jennifer Cognard-Black, who knew the author from college. “We were unlikely research partners for the same professor,” Cognard-Black said. “She was and is the queen of rhetoric. She has always looked at all words as a potential argument.”
As she began her reading, Stanton said, “St. Mary’s is a magical place for me,” because her previously unpublished book was sold when she was in residence at the Artist House. In her newest book, Stanton considered “the subject of the object” and the national fascination with thrifting. Her work began during grad school when she went with a friend to an auction. They traveled 1,000 miles to get a single glass bottle, and she was given a glimpse into the subculture of peddlers.
She spent seven years as a participant observer in the realm of flea markets and collecting, interviewing collectors and seeing the darker side of the subculture.
The first chapter she read was called “Opium Bottles and Knuckle Heads” which discussed the “show before the show” when the dealers trade with one another for the best items. Her friend from grad school, Curt Avery, is a dealer. “The first five minutes in Avery’s world makes treasure hunting look easy,” she read. “This is capitalism down and dirty. Flea markets are the carnal part of this business.” Avery travels to some of the largest flea markets in France, carrying around 30,000 dollars worth of objects in the back of a pickup to set up on a cow pasture. During her presentation, she showed pictures of the markets and objects she described in the book, along with the “seemingly deranged” thrift store customers she encountered.
Stanton asked members of the audience to describe any collections they have to discuss the psychology of thrifting. Most people begin collecting at a young age through objects like Pokemon cards, but it escalates to a near obsessive habit in adulthood. Stanton describes collecting as having “a whiff of mortality and immortality both…it is a reminder of the past.”
“You can make a lot of money through thrifting,” Stanton said, “but it’s a lot of hard work. People do it because they have a love of objects.”
Her book was very well-received by the audience. Junior Ashley Bonner said, “She was really informative and interesting…it was fun to see people take interest in aspects of life we don’t know exist.”