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Artist and “high-end picker” Doug Taylor of New York City likes to combine his unusual collectibles to create vignettes. This taxidermy dog is quite realistic, and Taylor borrowed the seal pup to pair with the Inuit talisman and carved cowrie shells (each bears a message). Courtesy photo
ColumnsHit the Road

Hit the Road: ‘High-end picker’ takes artistic road less traveled

Ask Doug Taylor, who spent about 16 years traveling throughout the East and Midwest in his oversized Chevy van, if he knows how many miles he drove and he doesn’t miss a beat.

“Yeah, I know exactly how many because I had to report it to the IRS,” says the New York City resident. “It was between 35,000 and 50,000 miles a year.”

Taylor clocked most of those miles cruising the blue highways between New York City and St. Louis. He drove his vans until the odometers turned over at 350,000 or 400,000 miles. He was faithful about maintenance, he says, and that’s why “the vans would finally rust out, but the engines would still be fine.”

Taylor is someone I’ve known since, well, let’s just say sometime in the last millennium. We first met after I moved to St. Louis. When college rolled around, we went our separate ways. Doug tracked me down via the internet a few years ago and we’ve been catching up ever since, via telephone and during a few encounters in St. Louis, New York City and a tiny town in New York State’s Southern Tier.

After a successful career as a graphic designer and illustrator, Doug Taylor of New York City turned to “high-end picking,” traveling 35,000 to 50,000 miles a year searching the East and Midwest for oddball treasures that he sold to wealthy buyers. Taylor drove vehicles like this Chevy Express van because it has generous storage space and lots of windows. Courtesy photo

Ask anyone who knows him; Taylor is one-of-a-kind.

Growing up, he was a gymnast who drove a pink-striped Jeep with fringe on top and a pet monkey that rode along. His explosive creativity, enthusiasm for life and learning, and openness to anything make for a fun and crazy ride when you’re with him.

He played hard but worked hard, too.

Taylor was a successful illustrator (Time, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Fortune and Money magazines; Mercury Records album covers; children’s books); miniature-horse and canary breeder; businessman and realtor; and as of late, a high-end picker.

This carved figure of a boy is about the size of a 6-year-old, says collector Doug Taylor of New York City. The model was carved by Asa Ames, whose rare works are highly treasured. There are only 19 known such carvings, which he created between 1847 and 1851. The boy is a “sales stimulator, much like a cigar-store Indians were in the mid-19th century.” The dog once belonged to his taxidermist. Courtesy photo

“Most pickers are all about objects of known value that you find in catalogs,” he explains. “I created a niche for myself and bought extremely oddball stuff that I see as art – the tractor seat that has a face on it and looks good on a wall, outsider art, insect collections, early-American objects of all sorts.”

And taxidermized animals.

“Taxidermy was a huge thing with Victorians. They were really into it.”

And apparently, some people still are today.

Taylor discovered this at an antique show after using a taxidermized dog to create a vignette with a mantle he wanted to sell.

“I had no idea how powerful these dogs are,” he says. “Some people said, ‘Oh, that’s disgusting.’ Some said, ‘They must have loved the dog.’ But everyone noticed.”

Taylor also learned that well-heeled clients would pay top dollar for these canines, as well as other animals.

“I don’t deal with deer heads. Everyone has one. I can’t get $50 for one, but I can get $500 for a hamster.”

Where does he find such prizes?

Many have been abandoned at taxidermists by their once-devoted owners.

“Their pet dies, they get an estimate from a taxidermist and the cost is high (up to $4,000), but they are grieving, so they do it,” Taylor explains. “It takes six or seven months to do the job, but by this time, they are on to their new puppy and they don’t want their old one. The taxidermist is stuck with them and will sell them for a good price.”

Among his taxidermized menagerie are a two-headed calf, a cycloptic lamb (one eye in the center) and a display case of 50 weasels.

“If I could find a family of rats, I could probably make $4,000,” Taylor says.

On a typical weekend, Taylor would put 500 miles on his vehicle, traveling to shows, delivering to buyers and buying from dealers.

“I basically lived on the road during those years and loved it,” he says, “but I realized I couldn’t stay healthy and eat in restaurants all the time. So I’d start every morning in the grocery store, had all my supplies in two milk crates, and I got really good at one-bowl cooking with a microwave and fridge in my room. Once you learn the spices, you can do everything in a couple of Pyrex bowls.”

Taylor has a wealth of stories about his life on the road; a favorite concerns the taxidermized Husky that rode shotgun.

“It was a hot July day in Indiana somewhere,” he relates. “I pulled into Kmart to buy some tape or something. While I was inside the store, I heard, ‘Would the driver of a gray van with license plates such-and-such please come to your car.’ I thought someone ran into my car. When I got there, I saw a couple of state troopers standing there with their hands on their hips, smiling. They said, ‘We’ve had four calls about your dog (left in the hot car). This one is a first for us.”

To see more of Doug Taylor’s eccentric collection, visit doug.taylor.eye on Instagram.