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Mountain-town Antiques

by Anna Stewart
Mountain House and Home

Every other mountain home seems to showcase antiques unique to the area, from wooden skis or snowshoes to old mining implements. If you’ve ever wondered where people get the memorabilia, or how to tell the genuine articles from modern knock-offs, the best place to start is with the folks who know mountain antiques. To help steer clear of junk and to inspire you on how to work interesting objects into your own home, we asked some established Rocky Mountain experts for their guidance.

Ski memorabilia

The reason people go for mountain antiques is simple: They want to add some of that classic ambiance to their home – especially if it’s a ski retreat. Even a modern condo can benefit from a touch of old school, says Harvey Gilmore, owner of Little Bear Antiques in Carbondale, CO.

“I think everybody in the mountains wants to have a little feel of the outdoors ” a little bit of a lodge look, even for a condo, rustic, furniture, trophy mounts, that Bavarian look, that mountain look,” he says.

And yes, old skis and snowshoes are popular items. They’re not too hard to find, either, with authentic pieces available in High Country antique shops as well as online. But how do you know how old a piece actually is?

“There’s lots of little indicators of how old a ski may be,” Gilmore says. “In the ’50s and ’40s you might see metal edges on the bottom of that wooden ski. And there are manufacturers’ marks. Also the bindings might tell you the era of that ski.”

For example, in the 1800s, especially with touring skis from Scandinavia, some of the older, longer skis had a simple loop of leather going through one side of the ski and coming out the other, rather than metal bindings applied to the top of the ski.

Mining and railway treasures

Modern ski towns like Aspen and Breckenridge also happen to have rich mining histories, and there are plenty of artifacts left over from those boom days. Junktique in Frisco, CO has period mining hats, gold pans and other items that can truly underscore that Colorado feel in a mountain home.

“The trend here is playing up the mining aspect of our area, Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon,” says Dee Dee Byers at Junktique. “Even some of the condos have ‘the mine feel’ where they look like a mine. Some houses have game rooms with entrances that look like you’re going into a mineshaft.

And, of course, there are also great finds for the railway collector. The shop boasts a real, full-size mail car, which is on the historic record. There are also smaller finds in the railroad theme in the shop.

Howdy, Tex

Of course, Colorado has its share of cowboy history as well, so antique saddles, bridles, spurs and bullwhips can also jazz up a wall. When collecting in this genre, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the genuine article – but it pays to do your homework before buying.

“On saddles, what we want to look at is any repair work that’s been done,” says Glenn Miles of Cowboy Collectibles in Hotchkiss, CO. “Any alterations kills your collectible value on a saddle. You’ve got to look at the cartouche, which is the maker’s name, and know your maker. You want to make sure the parts all match.”

Switching stirrups is not all that uncommon, cautions Miles. “Sometimes the stirrups may be stamped ‘R.T. Frazier,’ one of your real collectible makers, but the saddle was never made by R.T. Frazier.”

Switching parts is notoriously done on the old guns too. “One of the things on your Colts is getting all your serial numbers to match up,” he says. If you’re in the market for a high-ticket Colt, Miles advises seeking a knowledgeable dealer and becoming a member of the Bit and Spur Association.

With spurs, the dead giveaway of a fake can be the shape of the rowel (the spiked disk at the end of the spur), as well as the appearance. “You can drop them in acid and make ’em rust, put old straps on ’em that you’ve made to look old. You can take strong coffee, darken leather, give them a real worn, dark look. There’s just tons of little tricks to it.”

Old World

In addition to items that conjure the American West, Europe can also be an inspiration for a mountain home.

“We sell world-class Black Forest carvings that were all originally carved in Switzerland in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” says Michael Daniels of Daniels in Aspen. “We’ve got chandeliers, full-sized eagles and bears. But our carvings of dogs are probably the most popular and are the most rare. The Swiss often carved mountain rescue dogs like St. Bernards and Bernese Mountain dogs. And they carved them as puppies ” prices can go from very little to priceless.”

Daniels says he sells items from a couple of thousand dollars up to $350,000 “which would buy a clock reputedly owned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The clock has a music box that plays “God Save the Queen.”

He also carries items that harken to the European hunting tradition, like stags’ heads, game plaques and heavily carved wall clocks.

As with any interior design elements, antiques need to be matched with the overall theme of the room. Consulting a designer before plunking down big money for mountain collectibles is not a bad idea. It also pays to be wary of fakes if you’re paying for an original.


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