MASON CITY | When Mark Dawson walks into his office, he has quite a few stories to tell about what he's done for almost the past half-century.
That's because his office is his garage in northeast Mason City, filled to the brim with various antiques and other collectible items.
For the past 47 years, Dawson has been traveling the country, meeting with other antique collectors/dealers, and then buying and re-selling their items to make a living. This past Wednesday, he met with a woman from Ackley and bought a bunch of old glassware and other similar decorative items from her.
Dawson said his passion for antique dealing started in the late 1950s, when he met his longtime friend Noel Motter at Mason City Junior College. Motter and his parents were passionate collectors, and their enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on Dawson.
Ever since then, he's roamed around the country, looking for someone who might have the next interesting item for sale. Every collectible in Dawson's home has a story: where he bought it, the seller's personality, the environment in which he found it and other unique anecdotes.
Making a living in the business seems challenging, but there's money in it if you find the right item, Dawson said. One of those finds occurred in Monona, Iowa—with a population of just under 1,500.
"Many years ago, I bought what I thought was an Indian rug ... and posted it online," Dawson, 75, said inside his garage Wednesday afternoon. "Immediately, I got eight or nine emails, saying ... 'You idiot, that's not a rug, that's a chief's blanket!'"
The price Dawson bought it for? $250. He later sold it for about $9,300.
Jim Seeck, owner of Seeck Auctions in Mason City since 1982, said he's worked with Dawson since he started working. He commended Dawson for his success, especially given his willingness to search for the best stuff.
"I really am a different field," Seeck, 55, said of the difference between being an auctioneer and a dealer. "I don't have to look for things; they come to me."
Dawson said he is always learning on the job, and has attended many types of antique shows to sell his items in Denver, Des Moines, Rochester and elsewhere.
He admitted he's bought several items that won't sell, which turn into "mistakes" taken to the local dump. Dawson added, however, that his strategy when buying a lot of items has remained simple.
"A lot of times, you gotta listen to your gut," he said.
There's beauty in the unpredicitability of the job, Dawson added — enough so that friends and family have told him he needs to turn his picking adventures into a book.
Seeck said he considers Dawson as one of the pioneers of the picking business, long before it gained any sort of popularity.
"Mark and other people were picking before it was a big thing," he said. "Long before pickers were on TV."
Dawson insists that even though it pays his bills, he isn't solely in the picking business to make a lot of money or hold valuable antiques. It's not always about what items you buy, but when, where and how you buy them, he said.
"For me, the fun is finding it," he said. "It's the hunt, not having."