And The Vintage World Sings . . .
Terra Incognita Americanus
by Joshua Ginsburg (Noted author & obscura expert/2023)
Reading independently published books seems to me a lot like vintage and curio shopping (and I do a good bit of both). If you’re like me, that means spending countless hours closely examining things that don’t always strike your fancy, but you continue to do it because you know that somewhere hidden under that cover or lid is some truly astounding treasure awaiting your discovery. Selling Dead People’s Things by Duane Scott Cerny is that rare gem, it’s the original Highway Men painting tucked away in some bin at the back of a St. Petersburg garage sale. Really, it’s that good.
Collectors are a curious lot, all of whom, for reasons each their own, compulsively return time and time again to that place where obsessions and possessions intersect. Quite possibly no one knows this better than Cerny, who has built an extraordinary career on his keen attunement to such ordinary madness – those (often weirdly) specific needs and desires of his mentors, neighbors, classmates, colleagues and customers. Given his unique window into what motivates his buyers and sellers, maybe its not entirely surprising that what emerges from the pages of his book is hard-earned wisdom, a straight-razor-sharp wit, and a cast of characters more memorably peculiar than any ever assembled in a David Lynch film.
A brief list of those individuals includes the inimitable Hy Roth (an illustrator who rather than telling former bosses what to go do with themselves drew them detailed diagrams) and his Goth goddess wife Marilyn, an elderly collector in the market for muscle magazines and dentures, an octogenarian ventriloquist and his foul-mouthed, disgruntled dummy, and two very large sisters who may or may not have been the descendants of Mussolini’s gardener.
Then there are the objects themselves, every bit as fascinating as the people connected to them. From part of an iconic jet plane under a porch, to a menagerie of stuffed, two-headed animals, a haunted desk, and what might be the only surviving program from the Iroquois Theater the day it burned down.
Really though, this is a book about more than just things and their people. While Cerny never lets us lose sight of the fact that vintage is a business, beneath the clatter of cold, hard cash, he offers us glimpses of something far softer. Tender, actually. Even as he presents us with a seemingly endless variety of reinventions and resurrections, he reminds us that the prerequisite of each of these is a death. Virtually all of the stories in the book begin where some other person, place or thing has ended. In light of this it would be hard not to reach the conclusion that after all the countless transactions have been conducted, all the many lives altered for what they’ve gained or lost, what remains is the single greatest collection of all – the stories they leave behind.
Selling Dead People’s Things by gay antique expert Duane Scott Cerny is an unexpected look at the importance of possessions in life and death. Cerny’s Chicago antique shop is a mecca for spectators and serious buyers alike and each item in his store has a story. Over a lifetime of experience, Cerny has seen it all, and his stories reveal great insight into how we as a society view and value property. There are also some surprisingly creepy chapters worthy of inclusion in an anthology of horror. Particularly haunting episodes involve a ghostly writing desk and an abandoned hospital infamous for its experiments. These true tales offer insight into the multibillion-dollar resale trade business but also reveal how our relationship with our possessions often goes much deeper than simple ownership. And with Cerny’s witty and engaging style, the book may have you thinking differently about tossing that ugly lamp your dearly departed great-aunt cherished. (Thunderground Press)
—DONALD PADGETT, Advocate
I’ve always believed that your home should feel layered, like it has been assembled over time. In my own home and in the interiors my firm and I design, there is not one single room that doesn’t include vintage. I’ve shopped Duane’s store for years and sourced some of my best vintage finds there. This book is a beautiful collection of all his years of experience and a twenty-five-year love affair with design.
—NATE BERKUS, Interior Designer and Author
At turns hilarious and poignant, Duane Scott Cerny illuminates a world where one person’s trash is another person’s life…
—RICHARD WRIGHT, Auctioneer, Wright20.com
Steering like a Ouija planchette, Selling Dead People’s Things takes us across personal artifacts of lives passed on, rousing stories and spirits revealing often that life is the greater mystery than death.
—MICHAEL CARBONARO, Creator/Executive Producer of The Carbonaro Effect on TruTV
Ever wondered what lies within the hoarder house? Why people end up with twelve cats? Why some get obsessed with vintage artificial limbs and others with Jadite mixing bowls or railroad timetables? The answers are here—some of them, at least. (As for the rest, as Duane puts it, “What happens in your personal Las Vegas stays in your personal Las Vegas.”) More than a guide to the business of vintage, Selling Dead People’s Things is also a hilarious, poignant set of stories revealed by the oddest of objects and assembled by a skillful, tenderhearted Sherlock.
—ASHTON APPLEWHITE, Author/Activist, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
Selling Dead People’s Things is a Canterbury Tales of flash, clash, and trash—a sociological slice of dealers and collectors, from highbrow to kitsch, from hoarders to refined collectors, and a mix of everything in between and how a dealer finds himself amongst it all. Pick it up and prepare not to be able to put it down.
—LEWIS TRIMBLE, Antique Dealer, Lewis Trimble Decorative Arts
Duane has written a book filled with personality. Best of all are the characters he’s encountered while becoming a master of vintage. One funny guy, he uses humor to bring us into his wild process of becoming an adult in love with . . . Dead People’s Things.
—LESLIE HINDMAN, President/CEO, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
Sharp stories of intriguing objects and fascinating characters . . .
—CLAYTON PENNINGTON, Editor, Maine Antique Digest
Selling Dead People’s Things is a wild romp through the esoteric world of resale furniture and memorabilia dealers and obsessive hunters and gatherers, told by a vintage veteran who learned the biz from musty mid-century basement up to lakefront penthouse. Cerny makes house calls, and his journeys are tear-jerking, haunting, celeb-studded, and frequently fetid. The entertaining adventures, life lessons, and collector tips are relayed with humor and compassion and the underlying message that objects have lives that live on well after we do.
—BRADLEY LINCOLN, Lifestyle Author, Editor, and Design Enthusiast
Not your grandmother’s take on vintage, Cerny’s lively text and take on the characters, collectors, and dealers he’s encountered takes the reader along on his rollicking voyage to becoming a premier dealer in all things vintage. More memoir than how-to, his anecdotes will have you laughing and sometimes rueful—and always entertained!
—DANIELLE ARNET, The Smart Collector, Tribune Content Agency
Basement full, attic full, houseful—Ever think about all the stuff left behind? Whether the world of vintage is new to you or you’re a seasoned antique dealer, Selling Dead People’s Things is a riveting vintage adventure. But it’s not only about the stuff. It’s about the people who left it behind and those who give it a second life. Everyone in the business has a story, but Duane has hundreds. I laughed, I gasped, I held my breath—be ready for anything!
—MELISSA SANDS, Dealer/Promoter, Vintage Garage Chicago
I am like a hawk gazing over the surfaces of lost souls in search of the perfect find. On occasion, these choice selections are for my home, but more often they act as catalysts for my work. They instigate new ideas with their history and human stories. When worked into my art, the past becomes reborn and re-contextualized for contemporary contemplation. Selling Dead People’s Things shares these and so many other objects’ journeys, illustrating how everything we are and everything we touch can be an influencer.
–NICK CAVE, Artist
Others may walk into old homes and buildings, but Duane walks into their stories. Here he finds personalities, history, charm, sadness, humor, and more than just dead people’s things. I laughed out loud as I met so many outrageous characters. It makes one want to visit the marvelous city of Chicago, see the origins of these stories, shop his wonderful store, lean across the counter, shake his hand, and—most of all—buy this book!
—GORDON HUGHES, Producer, An American in Paris, Come From Away
Duane Scott Cerny’s writing brings the dead back to life and tells the “E! True Hollywood” tales behind the stuff we buy at estate sales and antiques markets. The designers, collectors, and dealers who purchase these pieces would hold these treasures ever more dearly if they only knew their backstories. This is a heartwarming, heartbreaking, and HILARIOUS narrative about the way dead people’s things, and their owners, really lived. As an avid reader drawn toward in-depth New Yorker pieces and fascinating historical and nonfiction books, I could not put this one down!
—SALLY SCHWARTZ, Show Promoter, Randolph Street Market, Chicago
This is a hugely charming book about collecting and learning where and who things come from. It’s rich with stories about the places and people connected to things. It’s all about what is perfectly odd and sometimes romantic and joyful. Duane’s book is a nonstop wonder-trip of hunting and gathering. And even better, of the ever-so-challenging and story-filled life of having a shop that sells these objects. It’s a love letter of looking and finding and so many characters worth knowing.
—THOMAS O’BRIEN, Interior Designer, Aero Studios