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My father-in-law, Billy Joe Anderson, considers himself to be a junker. I asked him what that meant to him and he defined it as someone who will buy almost anything.
Billy Joe was born in 1932 and was raised during the Great Depression. He grew up in the small community of Olyphant just outside of Bradford. His father owned and operated the Olyphant Mercantile, a general store, and also ran the local sawmill and cotton gin. His mother worked as the local postmistress. As the oldest of six children, Billy Joe remembers the Depression being a difficult time; a time when you had just what you needed but not a bit more. There was no room, or money, for excess.
Billy Joe began junking in the early 80’s when he purchased a car lot and a pawn shop. Having retired as a regional manager of a pipeline after 31 years of service, Billy found he was able to afford frivolous things and thus began his love affair with junking.
So, does an 82-year-old born-and-raised Arkansan that has collected over 2 acres and several storage buildings worth of stuff over the last 35 years think he is helping to preserve history? For him, he says it’s just stuff. He says it is a habit, something he likes to do, and he doesn’t feel like he is really preserving anything, just collecting stuff. Yet sometimes, he finds a cool set of old wheels and turns it into a cannon.
On the other end of the age spectrum, we have Brady Baldridge. Baldridge is an 18-year-old picker and collector that specializes in vintage and antique bicycles. Brady’s father is an antique collector and dealer. Brady came across a 56′ Schwinn Deluxe Hornet Bicycle while on an antiquing trip with his father several years ago. He brought the bike home and found that he loved collecting and even restoring old bikes.
Brady loves to do research on the bikes that he owns and resells. He feels it helps him to speak with potential buyers if he is more educated on the items he is selling. Learning the history is an important part of the process for Brady and he believes that people who find and sell old stuff are helping to preserve history because, “by selling [old items] to collectors they can be appreciated again rather than being stored away in some dark barn where no one will ever see it.”
Brittney Lee is a collector of vintage Fiestaware. Her father was in his 50s when she was born and says they always had older items with a history around her house. Growing up, the family owned an old cookie jar that had been in a mom and pop store in Arkansas and even an old filing cabinet from a wealthy Arkansas businessman.
Brittney loves the story that goes with the pieces she finds. She owns a set of Christmas china that belonged to a woman and her family. The woman had used the dishes to serve Christmas breakfast to her family every year. For one reason or another, none of her children wanted the dishes after the women died. Brittney now makes the dishes a part of her family tradition and loves knowing where they came from.
“I think there is a piece of history that these people preserve. There are some outdated things that you can’t find anymore- for example, a rotary telephone. Even if you just hang necklaces from it, you’ve preserved that piece. I would never know what a washboard was if not for seeing them on the kitchen walls at my aunt’s house. It’s just not a piece we still have around today. These vintage pieces kept by pickers and junkers keep those things alive.”
Laurie is a vintage reseller and entrepreneur whose interest in collecting old items stemmed from both nostalgia and necessity. Her mother collected furniture and items that had a family connection and Laurie is no different. She also found that when she was younger and money was tight, she could dress her children and furnish her home on much less if she was purchasing vintage items.
Laurie believes that people who are rescuing old items from barns and attics are preserving history. She fears that someday there won’t be anything left to save because who really wants to pass on that cheap bookshelf purchased at a big box store? Laurie fears that the goods and products being manufactured today will be in landfills or recycling facilities, and there will be no more vintage to enjoy.
So while Billy Joe thinks he’s just collecting stuff, the younger generations seem to see it a little bit different. Each piece picked and collected holds a story. Whether they truly understand the impact of what they are doing, these four pickers are preserving Arkansas history one piece and one story at a time.
Next time you pass by a shop selling old things, hop on in for a history lesson. Bring your children and explore the history of our state through the things formerly used by its residents.
Not sure where to go to find old stuff in Arkansas? Check out this list of 8 Flea Markets in Northwest Arkansas.
What antique piece do you own that has a story? We’d love for you to share your story in the comments section below.
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