Canadian Collectors: Confessions of an Antique Addict

Finding hidden treasures has been a source of fun for decades.

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Antiques shop in MuskokaCourtesy: Shelley Bourdeau

For the Love of Antiques

I would like to come clean and confess that I belong to AA. No, not Alcoholics Anonymous but Antiques Anonymous. My vehicle makes frequent stops at antique shops and markets. I like the history that is associated with these treasures, including their era, purpose and use.

My good friend Jean got me started with antique collecting more than 25 years ago. On visits to her family’s cottage in Miners Bay, Ont., our entertainment would be frequenting antique shops and sales to barter for our purchases. We had lots of fun with this. (Here are 20 garage sale finds you should never pass up.)

Jean and her husband, Jeff, also enjoyed stripping—antique furniture stripping, that is. They would purchase antique dressers and chairs and strip the paint off them using tools, sanders and chemicals. Steel wool, sandpaper and toothbrushes would help get down to the fine detail in the antique stripping. One year on a visit to their family cottage, I got a chair to refinish from a local antique shop for free, as it was closing for the season. I stripped the chair and was happy with the results. I became addicted, and over the years I have refinished many items: antique chairs, trunks, a medicine cabinet, a dresser, school desks, a telephone table and smoker’s cabinet. The first house we owned was an older home; my husband and I stripped the hardwood floors and painted doors and wood frames. It was very labour-intensive, but the results were worth the effort.

I developed an interest in folk art in 2006 and took weekly painting classes. I started painting on antique oil cans, saws, teapots, irons and chairs. I entered a few of my creations into the Grimsby Heritage Arts competitions and placed first for the fall barn scene I painted on an antique saw. This past year, my painting of a steam locomotive on a rustic railroad oil can placed second in the adult category.

I used to take my children to local antique auctions and enjoyed watching the auction process. One of the most embarrassing and funniest things that happened to me was at an auction. My daughter wanted to hold the bidder’s card. She was getting a little restless and did a stretch, revealing the card. The auctioneer thought we were interested in this unusual antique animal-skin drum that people were bidding on. I kept shaking my head that we weren’t interested. The next thing the auctioneer said was, “And almost sold for $200 to the cute little fair-haired girl.”

Don't miss these quirky collections from across Canada.

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Antique printer drawersCourtesy: Shelley Bourdeau

One Woman's Trash is Another Woman's Treasure

My favourite antique possessions are from Ireland and include my dad’s match striker from a tram, my mother’s rustic Adexolin capsule tin, which was used for her earnings, and her trunk, which carried all her possessions on her journey to Canada in the 1940s. Both my parents have passed on now, so I cherish these items and their sentimental value.

I have two items that have special meaning to me, as I purchased them for a song. I treasure a black match safe that I purchased from a neighbour’s yard sale for $5. The safe has a picture of King Edward VII engraved on its front. The reverse side has a quote on it, which translated means: “Evil to him who evil thinks.” King Edward VII was Queen Victoria’s son and was king from 1901 to 1910. This item was made in 1911 to commemorate his death. I also love a purchase I made for 50 cents at a Boy Scouts sale. It is a Peter Rabbit Easter Greetings Tindeco tin that was filled with sports collectors’ cards. I was more interested in the tin that held the cards—I could tell by the graphics on it that it was an antique. I have taken these two purchases to antique evaluations at the Grimsby Museum and also to CBC’s Antiques Roadshow in 2006 at Dundurn Castle in Hamilton. I stood in line for several hours to wait for the appraisers to evaluate my items. At that time, they were valued at just under $200 each. I must say that meeting the crew from the show was quite the highlight of my antiquing experiences.

The best thing about antiques is that they are great conversation pieces. Many a story has been told while company has visited and inquired about my antiques. I also used to play a “what is it?” game, where I would place several antiques on a tray and the guests had to guess what they were for a prize. The funniest answer was “a horse’s toothpick” for a large antique ice pick. When I am asked how do I keep all my antiques clean, I respond, “Antiques are meant to have a little character with a bit of dust on them!”

I always say I am like an antique: precious and valuable. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Next, check out the fascinating story behind an antique made-in-Halifax table that was recently appraised for $10,000!

Originally Published in Our Canada