The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Oct. 9, 1987.)

It seems like there are more antique dealers than plumbers, and the supply of dealers far exceeds the dwindling number of antiques left for them to sell. Normal laws of supply and demand are not working and whole families are being destroyed by antiqueaholics who can't pass an antique sign without stopping to squander their paychecks.

Meanwhile, at home, there's nothing left in the refrigerator for the wife and kiddies to eat. The antique business should be put under the scrutiny of a federal agency. As things stand now, antique dealers are out of control.

We have a Department of Agriculture, but there are more people in the antique business than there are farmers. We have a Department of Labor, but there are more antique dealers in the average small town than there are people doing anything you could call hard work.

While I'm not normally in favor of more government control, I concede that there are areas of commerce that need to be watched. Who among us would say the stock exchange doesn't need watching by the Securities and Exchange Commission?

There are striking similarities between the people who sell stocks and the people who sell antiques. They all have to be watched.

A broker, for example, is apt to have his best stocks in his own portfolio, and an antique dealer often keeps his real treasures in his own living room. Antique dealers need a watchdog for their own good and for ours.

I've screeched to a halt as many as 5,000 times in my life as I've caught a sidelong glance at a sign that read, "Antiques." I've backed up in the face, or tail of, oncoming traffic and pulled into a driveway with high expectations of finding a Tiffany lamp for $75 or a Philadelphia highboy for $350, only to be confronted with the tattered remains of a few family possessions that J.C. Penney wouldn't have given shelf space 25 years ago. What had been advertised as antiques don't comprise the elements of a good garage sale.

At least 25 percent of the time, the sign advertising "Antiques" by the side of the road was put there by the former owners of the house and never taken down by the new occupants, who are not in the antique business.

If the business does still exist, it doesn't exist the day you stop. The shopkeepers are not tending the shop when you arrive in their driveway. I'm a one-man study in how little negative experiences like this dampen the human spirit when it wants to believe what's been proven time and again to be untrue.

My state government has made it mandatory for me to protect myself from injury in an auto accident by wearing a seat belt. If the government is going to get into that business, it ought to also give me some help restraining myself with antiques.

The city government of New York has methadone programs designed to help drug users end their addiction, but it offers nothing comparable for antique addicts. At every border, there are guards and customs agents searching our cars, our luggage and our person for controlled substances which they confiscate and burn. Yet, boxcars loaded with antiques from England, France and even China are brought into this country daily and get little more than a wave from our border defenders.

The federal government compels tobacco companies to label each pack of cigarettes a danger to the smoker's health. Why don't antiques carry comparable labels? Warning: Antiques may be addictive and hazardous to your financial health.

What makes any government think that a controlled substance destroys more minds than antiques? Why is it assumed that alcohol breaks up more marriages than antiques?

We're dealing here with a problem that has existed since genuine antiques became virtually extinct in this country, circa 1950.

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