Learning from the past

It was a scene right out of PBS’s “Antique Roadshow” at the Fort Frances Museum on Saturday when area experts shared their knowledge of antiques and artifacts with the treasure-toting public.
Dubbed “The Treasure Identification Clinic,” the four-hour gathering was held in conjunction with Heritage Month–an annual promotion aimed at raising awareness of the importance of family background and the preservation of history.
Regional archaeologist Paddy Reid, curator Stacey Bruyere of Kay-Nah Chi-Wha-Nung (Manitou Mounds), mineral specialist Bill Morgenstern, and Ed Oerichbauer, director of the Koochiching County Museum in International Falls provided the “on-sight” service.
No appraisal values were given.
And while not many people showed up to take advantage of the event, those who did came away with a deeper appreciation for their old china, sterling silver settees, and the like.
“It was a terrific opportunity. I thought it was wonderful,” enthused Linda Bourgeault, who showed up with husband, Dave, with some antique silver.
Although they knew the items were of considerable age, neither one knew exactly how old–a question answered within minutes by Reid, who used a small reference manual to match an ID marking on the silver to a manufacturing date.
“I had no idea of dates,” said Laurel Halvorsen of the items she and husband, Ed, had brought in to be dated. They returned more than once with a new pick of collectibles in tow.
Among them, a music box picked up at a garage sale and her great-grandmother’s ring.
“The music box wasn’t in really great shape but now we know it’s Victorian. And the ring is [circa] 1800s,” Halvorsen said.
“There were also some pieces of pottery that were identified as 200 B.C.,” she added, noting the realization of having something that ancient wasn’t easy to comprehend.
“I have a hard time with that,” she said.
But the experience of the clinic has sparked heightened interest in both of them to be on the lookout for “one man’s junk.”
“It did it for me. Now that I know there’s someone who can [identify things], I’m going to be looking for stuff everywhere we go,” she chuckled.
Halvorsen said low attendance at the event was unfortunate, and suggested an alternate venue if the event is held again next year.
“One thing about having it at the museum is that you get no walk-in traffic. If it was held at the library, I’ll bet at least 100 [people] would come back with something,” she reasoned.
“We weren’t [previously] aware of it being on otherwise I’d be bringing in a basketful of things,” admitted Bourgeault.
She chalked up the low attendance to busy lifestyles and perhaps an elusive avenue of advertising.
“I don’t know just where you have to go to try to get this message out to the public. But the last while has been very hectic with a lot of events going on,” she reasoned.
“Maybe it got lost in the general mayhem.”
A textile workshop also slated Saturday had to cancelled because no one had registered. It would have provided participants with proper storage techniques on old linens, gowns, etc.
Though disappointed at the low turnout, museum curator Pam Hawley said she wouldn’t hesitate to hold the event again, noting it probably will take a while to catch on.
“I’d do it again. Something like this has to develop a following,” she said. “What was most interesting to me is that people came back with more. Obviously it was successful.”
Incidentally, I was among the handful of treasure-toters that day–having quickly returned home after covering the event to grab some of my own collectibles. Among them was a black stone carving tool I had found more than 20 years ago while beachcombing at Lake of the Woods Provincial Park.
I had always felt it was special, having kept it wrapped in an old T-shirt in my dresser drawer for most of that time. Little did I know how special it really was.
Turns out, it was identified at the treasure clinic as being thousands of years old–circa 1000-3000 B.C.
Imagine that!
Needless to say, it isn’t in my dresser any more. I donated it to the museum.