Every Item Tells A Story For Saskatchewan Couple
Saskatchewan’s Bargain Barons have discovered a trove of antiques in unlikely places
With strains of Love Moon playing on an Edison phonograph in the Barons’ living room, the mood is set for stepping back in time.
A time when men tipped their top hats upon meeting ladies, and women wore mourning brooches holding the hair of their departed loved ones close to their hearts.
Rob and Karen Baron treasure the days of long ago and are avid collectors of antiques, including the 1907 Edison phonograph.
With a crank of the Edison’s handle, the record starts turning and the tune from the ’20s featuring a duet by Elizabeth Spencer and Walter Van Brunt is remarkably clear — if a little scratchy.
“Just through a reproducer and series of tubes, it’s able to amplify the sound quite amazingly,” Rob said.
Over the years, the couple has collected 40 hollow cylinder phonographs.
“Before records were flat and round, they were cylindrical,” Rob said.
“Each cylinder has one song and plays for about four minutes.”
The cylindrical phonographs are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the couple’s discoveries.
Sitting on a French provincial couch in their Regina home, the couple talks about their weekend passion of buying antiques to add to their massive collection.
One wall in the living room is literally plastered with portraits in gold-gilded wood and plaster antique frames. Most are images of people unknown to the Barons, but they bought the antiquated portraits because of their love of days gone by.
Karen’s love of collecting antiques began when she was a child and went to garage sales with her mother.
“You never know what you might come across,” Karen said. “There’s always treasures to be found and new things to add to our collection.”
Shortly after Rob met Karen 14 years ago, he started developing an appreciation for her unique finds. Together they hunt for deals at church, estate and garage sales — rarely travelling outside of Regina.
The pair gets an adrenalin rush when they discover exceptional pieces — especially when they can buy them for a decent price.
“If they make other things in my collection look quite tarnished, then I’ll sell them,” Karen said. “People are quite surprised that most of our stuff has come from garage sales.”
Dubbing themselves the Bargain Barons, the couple sells some of their finds. They’ve chronicled their search for vintage and antique items on their YouTube channel (youtube.com/BargainBarons).
Their passion for the past is reflected in their purchase of large and small items that are crammed into every nook and cranny of their 1,830-square-foot character home.
“We’re caretakers of historical items for our lifetime so they’re appreciated and taken care of,” Karen said.
She’s particularly passionate about buying antiques crafted at the turn of the last century.
“The fancier the better,” she said. “We do have a lot of friends that collect vintage and mid-century items, so we do look for that too.”
Some acquisitions, like the Edison phonograph, have taken tenacity.
Rob waited four hours outside a home where an estate sale was to be held so he could get first dibs on the Edison phonograph.
The wait was worth it. Hanging throughout the house, exquisite chandeliers cast light on treasures the Barons have bought in some of the most unlikely places.
One of their most amazing finds was a sterling silver trinket box Karen spied in a box marked “free” at a garage sale.
“It’s an antique that’s worth a lot of money and we got it for free,” Rob said gleefully.
They scooped up an extremely collectible McColl Frontenac tin at a garage sale for a quarter. They sold it for $250.
“It’s so rare, so collectible — we didn’t even know it when we bought it,” said Rob.
Likewise, they paid $100 at an antique shop for four sterling silver golf trophies. They were floored to learn there is $1,200 worth of silver in the trophies.
You never know what you might come across. There’s always treasures to be found and new things to add to our collection.
“At that same antique shop, for $40, I bought an original handsigned etching by the Charles Dickens — it’s worth $1,500,” Rob said. “It’s truly amazing the amount of valuable and amazing things that we’ve collected on a tiny, tiny budget.”
The most they’ve spent on one item is $900, which paid for one of their three turn-of-the century barrister’s bookcases.
“We just love it because not only is it elegant and fancy, this one has its original finish and is in immaculate, original condition,” Rob said. “About 100 years ago, a lawyer would have had all of his law books in here. We’ve ended up filling it with all of the things that we love.”
The Barons found the bookcase advertised online by an elderly couple who were downsizing.
“They were happy to see a young couple appreciate it and want it,” Rob said. “They were happy to sell it to us and we were happy to buy.”
Often they find quality pieces for good prices at estate sales.
“When a parent passes and the kids have ultramodern tastes, they don’t see any value in keeping things,” Karen said.
Although it’s currently the rage to paint antique pieces, that’s not her style and she predicts old, dark furniture will make a comeback.
“I try to preserve the original finish if I can,” Karen said. “It had a life before me and I like that.”
Despite their home being jammed from the basement to the rafters with antiques, if the Barons find an exceptional piece, they buy first and find a place for it later.
Before purchasing furniture, they examine the material, construction and details, such as the presence of porcelain wheels or hardware.
“We look for solid, quality wood, we look for the dovetailed drawers rather than them being nailed or stapled together,” Rob said. “I really love the old fumed oak finishes — that goes to the quality of craftsmanship. When you find a nice piece like that, anything you find at Ikea looks like junk when you put it next to it.”
The Barons are convinced items made 120 years ago stand the test of time and they mourn our “disposable society.”
“Back then, you would only have to buy one and it would last your entire life,” Karen said. “It will last or it can be repaired. That is the difference between then and now.”
From time to time, the couple culls their collection, but it’s painful to let go of items that have survived a century or more.
“There is more keep than sell,” Karen said with a laugh. “As we collect more, we are trying to refine our collection and keep the best of what we have, but it’s hard to sell because you might not see an item like that again.”
Her specialty is mourning jewelry, which was popular in Victorian times and is quite rare now.
“When a loved one passed, they often had special clothing and jewelry that they would wear for up to a year mourning their loved one,” Karen said. “Some of the jewelry would have the woven hair of their loved one. They didn’t want to throw their hair away, so they’d have little receptacles to keep it.”
She owns a receptacle with hair in it that is a century old.
“It was bad luck to throw your hair away,” Karen said.
Her fancier mourning brooches include a double-sided one with a portrait on one side and intricately woven hair on the other.
“They loved someone so much they wanted to have something of theirs close to them,” Karen said.
One of Rob’s favourite finds is glow-in-the-dark uranium glass, which he proudly displays on two shelves in the parlour.
“This is a type of art glass that is very old and long forgotten about — it’s called uranium glass,” Rob said. “When the glass was in the molten stage, uranium was added to it. It gives the glass the unique property of glowing bright green under an ultraviolet or dark light. It’s not something you see a lot of any more.”
Also in the parlour, in a period leather case, is Karen’s pride and joy — a pristine beaver top hat that dates back to 1915.
Typical of the times, a small patch on the underside of the brim is worn where a man’s thumb was repeatedly placed to remove his hat.
“It’s made of awesomeness,” Karen said.
Researching the history of objects is part of the couple’s love of collecting.
“Any time that you can tell the story of an object, that object is just that much more attractive,” Rob said. “It brings it back to life and rejuvenates it and brings new interest. Now you have something to tell people.”
Leery of becoming hoarders, the Barons sell some of their finds for a modest profit.
“You don’t know who the end buyer might be,” Karen said. “It might be another reseller or it might be somebody with a store. To ask top dollar is like trying to find that one person who wants it.”
When purchasing items for resale, the Barons go with their gut feeling about its value.
“If I like it, I think other people will usually like it,” Karen said.
But both admit they’ve misjudged the public’s interest in some objects.
“We’ve had misses when something doesn’t sell and we thought for sure it was going to be popular,” Rob said.
But since the Barons only buy what they like, it isn’t a big deal if it doesn’t move.
The couple’s home is truly where their hearts are.
“We’re happy and content to be at home and why wouldn’t we?” Karen said. “It’s full of all the things that we love.”
Anytime thatyoucan tell the story of an object, that object isjustthat much more attractive. It brings it back tolifeand rejuvenates it.
Rob and Karen Baron sit on an antique couch in the living room of their Regina home. The two, also known as the Bargain Barons, are avid collectors of antiques.
This antique Edison phonograph is just one piece of the collection owned by Rob and Karen Baron.
Rob Baron holds an original hand-signed etching by Charles Dickens that he found in an antique shop and purchased for $40.
Kitchenware made of uranium glass, which becomes illuminated under ultraviolet light, is part of the Barons’ collection and is one Rob’s favourite finds.
A collection jar and a selection of mourning pins containing the hair of lost loved ones are among the many items in Rob and Karen Baron’s compilation of antique finds.
Karen Baron shows off her pride and joy: an antique beaver top hat.