Picking History

In the past I have written some of my early memories in the antiques business. In those days I would ride around, find an old home and knock on the door. This method was known as “picking” or “door-knocking.”

I learned to drive by a place that had a swing set or toys in the yard. This was a sign young people lived there. I wanted to find older people as they were more apt to have antiques.

One thing I looked for was geraniums in the windows. Old ladies always had geraniums. Window boxes were another good sign. Another sign was a broom beside the door on the porch. Old ladies always kept a broom next to the door so they could sweep the porch off. These were very neat and tidy Vermonters.

In the early 1970s I was the only picker in southern Vermont. It wasn’t until I got north of Rutland that I encountered other pickers. Vergennes, Ferrisburg, Charlotte and Burlington had a number of pickers.

A common meeting place was a former restaurant in Vergennes. Many of us had nicknames. Here I met ‘Winslow and Homer’, ‘Jiggerman’, ‘The Sourcerer’, ‘Grinch’, ‘Drano’ and ‘Chief Long-Nail.’ Because I was the youngest they called me ‘The Kid.’

There were thieves, bandits, and others of equally fine character. These pickers often went picking together. Sometimes it was a matter of economics, other times for comradeship. It amazed me how they could cheat each other.

One time Jiggerman was being sued. He called me up one night and said, “They’re lying about me.” My reply, “You should be thankful they aren’t telling the truth.”

Being a loaner by nature I most always picked alone especially since there were no pickers in southern Vermont. One funny story I have to tell you about though.


A day’s picking circa 1978. All vehicles were filled inside, those with roof racks loaded as well. Photo by Ron Patch.

One morning the Grinch showed up at my place here in Chester and said, “Let’s go picking.” So we headed over into New Hampshire to try our luck. It was in Sunapee where I walked up to an old house and knocked on the door. The Grinch waited in the truck. Mr. Rollins was very friendly and offered to let me look in his barn. The Grinch got out of the truck and joined us. Soon we were buying antiques of all description.

We loaded the truck and paid Mr. Rollins and went searching for another place to buy. Now there was somewhat of a code between pickers. That was neither of you would ever go back to a house you picked together without your partner.

Well the Grinch lived up in Shelburne and seldom came down in my territory. Sometime later I found myself over in Sunapee. I wasn’t having any luck so I went to see Mr. Rollins. As before, I bought quite a few antiques. I figured the Grinch would never know seeing’s he lived so far north.

Sometime later I ran into the Grinch at an auction. He proceeded to chew me a new one. His eloquence spared no condemnation as he castigated me telling me how I had broken ‘the code.’

“Grinch, how would you know I went back without you if you hadn’t gone back yourself?” I asked. Well he got that dumb look on his face like a deer in headlights, started laughing and said, “You got me Kid.” We shook hands and forgot about it.

One day I was in an old place up in Orwell. At that time round oak tables were pretty hot especially if they had claw feet or other carvings. In the kitchen was a great round oak table. It had carved claw feet and carved lion’s heads where the legs joined the pedestal.

But it also had a problem. There was a six-inch sewer pipe that ran down through the kitchen ceiling almost in the center of the kitchen. Upstairs was a small apartment and the toilet was right over the downstairs kitchen. The farmer had cut a six-inch hole in the center of the tabletop through which the sewer pipe passed. As you sat there eating your dinner and if someone upstairs flushed the toilet, well it must have been appetizing.

We need photos and postcards of Derry & South Derry, Chester, Weston, Andover, Simonsville, and Smokeshire for Chester Historical Society’s new book to be published this summer.

On Sunday, Feb. 18 from 1 p.m.- 3 p.m. Tom Hildreth and other historical society members will be upstairs at Chester Town Hall. Bring your photos in and Tom will scan them while you wait. Here’s your chance to have your photos published in a book. Don’t miss it.

This week’s old saying. “Mary had a little lamb and then she had some mashed potatoes with gravy.”

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