BRITISH COLUMBIA

Mad Picker in Vancouver cleans out 40 years of finds with auction

11/21/2014 07:53 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - It's the mother of all closet clean-outs.

For more than 40 years, Vancouver antique dealer Wayne Learie has been buying things people no longer need or want.

Now he's winnowing his inventory with an auction to make room for new acquisitions.

Learie, an imposing figure roughly the height of an armoire and about half as wide, pointed out a few of the items he considers most significant: telephones, gramophones, two Victorian chairs, pinball machines, collections of silver, a life-size stuffed bear.

Eclecticism seems the only consistent thing about the apparently random assembly of 550 lots, which includes a Chinese warrior sculpture, bronze statuary, an autographed 1952 snapshot of Marilyn Monroe, which reads "Dearest Joan, All the best, Love, Marilyn," a sought-after Coca-Cola vending machine sold only to Canadian barber shops and hair salons.

"It's the Model 44, with the side-mounted bottle rack, which they don't usually have." Learie said. "In this condition, it'll bring $2,700 to $3,500."

It all goes through his Hastings Street store, The Mad Picker, which is also Learie's nickname, writ large on his T-shirt and ball cap.

No matter what he was talking about, Learie had an impressive array of facts at hand.

"Here we have an African cheetah. Only 3300 left alive in the world," Learie said, pointing to fierce-looking cat, frozen in mid-snarl. "Nice piece of taxidermy. It comes with a permit. You need to have a permit. You're not allowed to own it otherwise. That's about a ten-thousand-dollar mount. Bought from a zoo in Montreal. The cheetah died of natural causes. Very rare thing."

He pointed to a large tin horn, with a hand-painted pink and white floral design.

"This is an Edison gramophone. A very nice tin painted horn. It plays wax records," he said, taking a blue cylinder out of a cardboard sleeve with a label declaring, "Edison Gold Moulded Records Echo All Over the World."

"Built by Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb," Learie continued. "All original parts. Probably a fifteen-hundred-dollar machine.

"French boule cabinet, about 1870. A reproduction of a piece from a hundred years earlier. Being a reproduction brings it down to between three and five thousand dollars."

While Learie is selling off much of his store, he shows no signs of slowing down.

"I'm 66 now," he said. "I started at 21 door-knocking as a professional picker. I'd fill a barn and supply a larger dealer. Over the years you accumulate the knowledge. Every day I learn stuff. It's a continuous learning process."

Estate sales are a main source for Learie's inventory as people dispose of their parents' belongings. And he attends three or four storage locker contents sales per month.

"But something really good comes in only one of every 200 storage lockers."

Friday was the public preview, while the auction was set for Saturday.