Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Friday, April 12

Gapers Block

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This past weekend, my friend Sam and I were sitting on the back of his truck at the local flea market. Sam is an alley picker who sells what he finds at the market. I was taking a break from a long morning of treasure hunting. At our feet was a pile of the antiques I had bought that morning. Sam was looking at the old stuff and asked me, "You know what I can't figure out? How the heck do you know what to buy?" I asked him what he meant and Sam said, "Well, every week I see you and the other antique dealers shopping this market. Sometimes I look at the stuff you guys buy and I say to myself, who the hell would want that? I can't figure out how you guys know what to buy and what not to buy."

I waited a minute before I answered Sam. On one hand, I could tell him exactly where to go to get that information. On the other hand, he's a good source of antiques and one of the things you don't want to do is educate your sources. So I looked at him and said, "I've got a lot of books."

The antiques business is tough. Finding out what people like and are willing to spend money on can be one of the most challenging parts of the business.

An old-school antique dealer once told me, "Watch what the people are buying, then you know what you should be selling." I took his advice and always watched what people had in their hands while they walked around the antique shows. With the Internet age we live in, you can watch what people have in their hands without ever leaving your couch. Let me introduce you to one of Ebay's best features: Ebay Pulse.

Ebay Pulse shows you the most "watched" items on Ebay. A watched item is one that a prospective buyer is keeping an eye on by using a temporary bookmark. Ebay tracks how many people are watching an item and Pulse is a list of the most popular items currently listed. There is no better way to see what's hot and what people are interested in. When you first load the page, you'll see "popular searches" on the left. Above this is a pull-down menu titled Category. This is where you can refine your searches. The most popular items are usually the ones that end up selling for the most money in that category. Dive into the subcategories and you'll be amazed at the prices some items are getting. One of the best things about Pulse is the items listed are always changing. Every week there's something different in every category.

Ebay has only been around for ten years but it's changed the antiques business in a dramatic way. Guys like my friend Sam are at a big disadvantage. He doesn't own a computer and probably never will. Having an information source like Pulse at your fingertips is like having a huge library of antique reference books at your house. It makes "knowing what to buy" that much easier.


This week's auction pick:

The Fall Petroliana and Advertising Auction
Friday October 28th 12:00 Noon
Will County Fairgrounds, Peotone

This auction features antique advertising related to gasoline, oil and old automobiles. There's always an amazing amount of old signs to bid on. Peotone is 43 miles south of Chicago. If you can't show up in person, you can browse the catalog and place bids here. On Sunday the 30th at the same location there is an antique show which features the same kind of advertising. See the website for more details.

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About the Author(s)

Ron Slattery is a collector of interesting junk and other wonderment, and is one of the experts behind the Chicago Antiques Guide. You can visit him at and

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