Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2012 Issue

Steve Maden:  An American Original

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For his career as an eBay seller, now a quarter of his adult life, he’s in a good place.  The population is aging and looking to sell because the economic recovery here is a whiff and not the thick slice you feel in New York City.  He’s also doing what he really loves.  This makes for deals and deals are what Steve needs.  It also requires a sharp mind because it’s easier to buy than it is to sell and Steve’s living depends on him making a reasonable spread between what he pays and what he receives.

In that quest he is aided by the slow but certain decline in the local economy that once was history and business proud.  For more than a generation IBM had plants here but New York State’s high taxes convinced the area’s largest employer to go elsewhere.

Knocking on his door Steve warns me that his house hasn’t been cleaned recently.  I took that to mean it’s been a week.  It turns out its been a couple of years.  He lives in a bachelor pad just the way the Collier brothers probably did.  His house is not a house, it’s a museum and everything in it in time will go on line and if all works out, be sold and shipped to outstretched hands states and sometimes countries away.  So this is what an eBay staging station looks like.  It kind of makes sense.  It’s interesting, almost magnetic.

He is friendly, if a little apologetic, for the dust that gives everything a rustic patina.  I don’t really notice it because it’s evident Steve has the “eye” and lives in close proximity with his treasures that are dates, not marriages.  The flip side of his eye is the need to sell.  “I like to buy so I have to sell.  No way around it.”  It’s compulsion and urgency wrapped in one package, what most collectors would call a beautiful predicament.  I’m immediately glad I made the trip.  We sit down to talk and out from under chairs and around corners he brings out somewhere between 400 and 500 more photographs of Poughkeepsie fires.  These are what I came for.  What he posted on eBay was the down-payment, all this suggesting the entire city must have burned down several times over the past 125 years.

Some of the pictures appear to be official fire department material for among the pictures are photos of fire department displays with some of the very photographs he’s offering.  There are also images of some of the city’s other signal if unhappy events.  Rapid industrial development preceded effective fire protection by a good fifty years and these evidences of disaster make it a wonder any two boards are still standing.  It almost seems that anything that could burn did and often more than once.  We bargain and I buy them.  What else you have?


Rare Book Monthly

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