Ev­ery Item Tells A Story For Saskatchewan Cou­ple

Saskatchewan’s Bar­gain Barons have dis­cov­ered a trove of an­tiques in un­likely places

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - PAMELA COWAN

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.

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