Collectable Treasures: canoes, paddles, and memories of the Ottawa River

By Shaun Markey – 

I found it hanging on a wall in a small, local antique shop. It is a crudely made wooden canoe paddle that obviously served someone well over the years.

The owner thought enough of the paddle to paint the words Ottawa River on the blade and the date, presumably the year, “49”, at the base of the handle. I suspect it was made for use in a wooden canoe, which at the time would have been seen all along the Ottawa River. Another paddle I bought from a home in McKellar Park was likely made in the late 1800’s and the blade displays an oil painting of a campsite along the river.

Imagine the stories these paddles could tell! Like the vast majority of antiques, however, they will keep their secrets and leave us to wonder about the makers and the many adventurous trips for which these paddles must have been used on the Ottawa River and nearby tributaries.

As local residents well know, the Ottawa River forms much of the northern boundary of several Kitchissippi communities. For that matter, the river defines the northern boundary of much of Ottawa.

Centuries ago, the Ottawa was the major transportation route to the upper Great Lakes and beyond. This is the waterway that underpinned the life of indigenous people dating back thousands of years and which also supported Europe’s insatiable quest for beaver pelts in the 17thand 18thcentury, as championed by the Hudson Bay Company founded in 1621 and in 1779 by the North West Company. (The two competitors merged in 1821.) It was the humble birch bark canoe that provided the means to reach the fur-bearing regions of Canada and to transport the product back to Montreal and other points in East for shipment overseas.

Indigenous people had long been plying the waters of the Ottawa and its many tributaries in dug out and birch bark canoes. The lightweight birch bark canoe was perfect for Canadian rivers and lakes. It was waterproof, durable and could be repaired, if needed, right on the spot.

Early fur traders of the North West Company recognized the importance of the birch bark canoe and adopted it for their needs including the construction techniques used by indigenous makers. The traders not only adopted the design but also expanded on it, developing huge freighter canoes, the canot du maître, up to 40 feet long, capable of transporting six to twelve men and 5,000 pounds of cargo. What a sight it must have been to see one of these behemoths being paddled down the Ottawa!

[Click images to enlarge]

Beyond Lake Superior, traders used the smaller more versatile canot du nord, which was half the length and width and could transport half the amount of cargo. The fur traders used birch bark canoes until airplanes came on the scene after 1920.

Today, antique dealers and pickers occasionally come across a vintage birch bark canoe tucked away in a barn or outbuilding in the Ottawa Valley. It is always an exciting find as early birch bark canoes can be worth thousands of dollars depending on their condition.

I well remember coming across a child-size bark canoe, about six feet in length, tucked up in the rafters of a building just west of Ottawa. As is often the case though, finding an antique is one thing – buying it is another! Try as I might I could not purchase the canoe from the owners and as far as I know, the little beauty is still resting in the rafters of that old frame cottage.

Accessories, like early paddles, “crooked” knives (used in canoe construction) and canoe cups (carried by paddlers to dip into the water) are also popular. In particular, collectors search out cups and knives that are carved and decorated with animal forms.

The first commercial wood canoe building shop was started by Thomas Gordon of Lakefield, ON in 1858. Wood and wood canvas canoes accounted for the decline of the birch bark variety. The cedar and basswood used in their construction was plentiful in many parts of central and eastern Canada and there were many individuals experienced wood workers in these areas that turned their skills to making wood canoes.

The Peterborough/Lakefield region would go on to become a hot bed of wood canoe manufacturing. Undoubtedly many of the canoes produced by companies like the Peterborough Canoe Company, the Canadian Canoe Company and the Lakefield Canoe and Manufacturing Company would have found their way to Ottawa for use by customers on the many rivers lakes and rivers in this area.

By the late 1800’s, canoeing had become a popular recreational pastime in North America. There were dozens of manufacturers in Canada and the U.S. fabricating wood and wood canvas canoes in a range of sizes and shapes. They added features that would allow one to sail their canoe. Another popular modification, a flat stern, enabled the canoe to be motorized. (I saw one model in a garage near the Civic Hospital that featured a small wind up record player in a space under the front deck!)

Canoe clubs and regattas were popular in many locations and likely would have included groups in locations along the Ottawa River.

Ottawa had at least one canoe manufacturer: Dey Brothers, located near the Laurier Street Bridge that was active from about 1890 to 1920.

Just as birch bark material was replaced by wood and canvas, these materials themselves have since given way to aluminum, fiberglass, Kevlar and other modern synthetics used in canoe fabrication.

Today, canoes and canoeing continue to be a popular with Kitchissippi residents. The canoe, particularly the birch-bark variety, has become an icon and probably is more representative of Canada than any other symbol. This humble yet critical invention supported and enhanced the indigenous civilization of North America and beyond.

The birch bark canoe played a vital role in the early development of Canada and, in its modified forms, continues to serve the recreational needs of Canadians to this day. Most importantly, the river on which an important part of this historic saga took place still flows majestically at Kitchissippi’s doorstep, always there for new generations of paddlers to enjoy.

Shaun Markey is a resident of Westboro and author of a memoir called Folk Art in the Attic. He also blogs about antiques and folk art at




Collectable Treasures: A very vintage Christmas! (PLUS, eight church bazaars & craft fairs in Kitchissippi)

By Shaun Markey – 

A common characteristic of almost all collectors is that they collect more than one type of antique. It’s not surprising therefore to find collections within their collections.

As we move toward the winter months, many collectors will be hauling out their Christmas decorations. For antique lovers, that often means antique or vintage decorations.

Christmas is a religious and cultural celebration that is observed by billions of people around the world. In North America, the tradition developed over time into what we know as Christmas including the tree, ornamentation, cards, gift giving and, of course, overseeing it all – a veritable saint – Santa Claus. By about the 1860’s Christmas represented a flourishing industry in North America.

Antique Christmas decorations are a fascinating and unique area of collecting. The category fulfills the criteria for successful collecting. First of all, although somewhat hard to find, decorations and cards, the two most obvious items to collect, are available. Families were generally careful to preserve and protect their Christmas items which means every year they were put away in safekeeping.

The variety of designs, colours and forms of both decorations and cards is seemingly endless. I can certainly remember my family’s Christmas decorations from back in the 1950’s and 60’s, mainly the ones made from “mercury glass” – those shiny but fragile balls, bells, Santa Claus figures and clip-on birds with spun glass tails.

Of course, at the time, we all wanted to participate in decorating the Scotch pine tree my Dad used to buy from Kiwanis for $2 and tie to the top of his 1958 Ford Meteor station wagon. But, oh my, woe be the child who, in their haste to place their decoration on the tree, accidentally dropped one on the hardwood floor! At a special time like Christmas, accidents around the tree took on a special significance. Still, after stern looks and the occasional tear, the work of decorating the tree restarted in earnest and the broken ornament was forgotten.

Today, collectors search out these decorations and cards at all the usual venues: garage and estate sales, auctions and flea markets. I don’t know how many times, wandering through a summer time garage sale, I have been transported back in time at the sight of a box of Christmas decorations from the 1950’s or a set of lights from that period, still in their original box. Of course, the Internet abounds with all manner of these items and collectors will often resort to searching and buying online to find a particularly desirable item.

Santa Claus candy containers made from paper mache are popular with collectors. They are fragile of course, but they were manufactured and imported by the thousands, largely from Germany.

Collectors also eagerly seek out die-cut Christmas cards, especially examples from the Victorian era. The variety and forms are almost endless and the cards are colourful and often embossed. Perhaps the best-known manufacturer of these cards was London-based Raphael Tuck and Sons. The company flourished in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s – the heyday of cards. The Hallmark company started in 1910 and quickly rose to prominence in North America.

In addition to cards and ornaments, collectors will also seek out tree lights. Again, the shapes and sizes vary and collectors watch for bubbling lights, electric flameless candles, figurals and specialty shapes like stars and hearts. The teardrop shape in lights came to prominence in the 1950’s and remains with us today. Christmas advertising items are an area that also interests many collectors.

Is there a memory more vivid to us than waking up Christmas morning and approaching a tree festooned with twinkling lights and colourful decorations, gifts and packages stretching out from underneath it and covering the floor in all directions? I doubt it. It is those emotionally charged moments and occasions in life that prompt people to collect objects that remind them of a particular time and place.

The next time you’re at a local rummage sale, church bazaar, garage sale or auction, keep an eye open for the old Christmas decorations and cards. They will likely be there, perhaps still in an original box in which they were kept safe for many years. See if they don’t tug at your heartstrings and take you back, at least for a brief moment, to your Christmases past. Be careful though, you might just start a collection of them!

Church bazaars and fall fairs are a great place to find vintage Christmas ornaments to add to your collection.

Upcoming church bazaars and craft fairs in Kitchissippi

  1. November 17-18: OHS Auxiliary’s Christmas Craft Sale
  2. November 19: All Saints Village Fair
  3. November 19: Champlain Park Craft Fair
  4. November 19: Fall Fair at First
  5. November 19: Hintonburg Artisan Craft Fair
  6. November 26: Churchill Alternative School Craft Sale
  7. November 26: St. Martin’s Christmas Bake Shop, Bistro & Baubles Bonanza
  8. December 3: Fisher Park Christmas Craft Show and Sale

For details, see the community calendar. Want to be notified of community events? Follow KT on Facebook!

Collectable Treasures: The ups and downs of collecting

By Shaun Markey – 

There’s an ebb and flow to the antique market, which in part is caused by the state of the overall economy. There are other factors too. Personal taste and social trends also play a part in determining what’s popular.

Let’s take a moment to look more closely at antiques that have fallen out of favour in recent years.

While prices for all antiques have been down considerably since the economic slump of 2008, in large part due to Wall Street zealots who sold the world investment community a pig in a poke, otherwise known as mortgage backed securities, some categories of antiques have suffered more than others.

Brown furniture (a.k.a. mahogany and walnut furniture) has really taken a beating in  the marketplace over the last decade. The dark colour doesn’t resonate with today’s collectors.

Although not antique, but still well crafted, solid walnut and mahogany furniture made in large quantities between the wars, 1920 to 1950, has reached almost give-away prices. I have seen people struggle to make a few hundred dollars for entire dining room sets.

Of course, since there is so much of this furniture it is sitting in many, many homes and apartments across the country. It continues to flood the market but is met with a cool reception by dealers and collectors. It’s been sent to the sidelines by mid-century modern, shabby chic and other popular trends.

It’s a shame, because the brown furniture of that period was made from solid wood, following classic lines and will be around a lot longer than some of the trendy furniture examples that have replaced it.

True antique furniture from the 19th century and earlier fares somewhat better although prices and demand for this category is also weak.

Canadiana pine furniture, so much of it stripped of its original colour in the 1960’s and 70’s, has also suffered the same fate as the walnut / mahogany category. Good form in a piece of Canadiana furniture will help preserve the value over time, but run of the mill pine furniture struggles at auction and in shops.

Another factor in the weak demand for furniture is living space. The size of homes and condos is often not conducive to larger furniture pieces.

Glass, china and ceramic figurines have also suffered a similar fate. Once steady performers, these categories have sunk in popularity to a point where there is barely a pulse in their market. Chintz china was in vogue several years ago but that ship has certainly sailed. At one point, rare stacking teapot sets in hard to find patterns fetched $1000. Not anymore.

There are exceptions of course. Certain types of glass, pottery and ceramics continue to fetch robust prices. Some Moorcroft pottery, American art pottery and French art glass still fetch good prices but the quality, condition and particular style have to be exceptional.

The rarity of an antique or collectable has a huge impact on its value. It stands to reason that if an antique item is available in large quantities, the price will reflect the availability. It’s a case of supply and demand. That rule can be applied to just about any type of antique or collectable. There are many exceptions, however, to this rule.

While prices may be down, antiques and collectables are still extremely popular. Design magazines and TV shows promote antiques with continuing zeal. The problem, though, is that so much material has become “collectable.” There’s a veritable sea of stuff out there. It’s flooded flea markets and other venues, which further adds to the problem. It’s difficult to find good antiques when surrounded by junk.

It’s perhaps only natural to equate the quality of an antique to its monetary value. For some collectors, what an antique object is worth in hard currency is secondary to their joy in finding and collecting a particular item. If you enjoy an antique or collectable, that’s terrific. This is how it should be. The majority of collectors don’t plan on selling their things so market value is totally secondary. Sentimental value can often far surpass market value. I don’t own any family antiques but if I did, wild horses couldn’t drag them from my grasp, let alone a bundle of money.

A wise individual once told me to only collect the best. Those words still ring true to this day. If you are going to put the time and effort into finding certain antiques, be patient, wait for the best example to come along. Buy that one. Excellent things will always hold their value.

Shaun Markey is a resident of Westboro and author of a recently published memoir called Folk Art in the Attic. He also blogs about antiques and folk art at folkartintheattic.blogspot.caIf you have an antique or collectable and are curious about its past and approximate value, email a photo to Please make sure it’s high enough resolution so that details are visible! Any extra information you can share about your treasure is helpful too. Your item – and its story – might just be published in the next column. 

Collectable Treasures: This silverware might be 100 years old,
 but what is it worth?

Hi Shaun,

I always enjoy your articles. I hope you might be able to tell me something about the child’s knife and fork shown in the attached photos. They have been passed down in my family and I used them as a child. I will be 70 this summer. Can you tell me anything about the set – where made, age, etc. I do not see any marks on them other than the name.



Hello Bonnie,

How well I remember as a child at the dinner table being mildly and repeatedly scolded by my mother: “Don’t eat with your fingers Shaun! Use your knife and fork!” With six children at the table it’s a wonder Mum could keep track of who was using what, but she did!

I am happy to report that my Mum’s admonishments paid dividends and I now only rarely resort to using my fingers at the table. That was roughly 60 years ago and I imagine that a century ago, in the late Victorian period, mothers were saying the same things to their children (although perhaps with more vigour).

Table etiquette has likely been a priority around the world for centuries. Dining in the appropriate manner was important to families and the proper ways of doing so was transferred to children at an early age, especially in Victorian times when touching food with anything but a utensil was a serious breach of etiquette.

The name “Bonsa” on your utensils was the trademark of Bontgen & Sabins of Solingen, Germany, also known as the “city of blades” because of the many manufacturers there that produced knives, swords and other products. Bontgen & Sabins was active from 1867-1983. The company made many products including pocketknives, spring knives, camping knives, straight razors, scissors, as well as edged weapons.

Your little knife and fork was likely made by the company in the 1920’s, possibly earlier, and sold through a fashionable retailer of such items. Since the set lacks any other markings, we may assume that it is made from silver plate. Sterling silver items will feature stamped hallmark symbols that identify its purity as solid silver.

Knives and forks have been in regular use at dining tables since the 16th century. People often carried their knives with them to use with meals. By the early 1700’s people were acquiring sets of silverware to be used in homes, which by that time frequently had dedicated rooms for dining. Silversmiths turned their attention to designing cutlery for this expanding market.

Smaller hands required smaller utensils and silversmiths created cutlery that was smaller in scale but still functional. Sometimes various characters or symbols were included in the design to encourage children to use the cutlery.

Through the course of human history, silver has played second fiddle to gold but it still occupied an important place in society. Owning a case of sterling silver or plated flatware became, and to some extent, still is, a symbol of familial success.

While collecting sterling silver has lost its lustre, it remains a valuable commodity and is treated as such by pickers and dealers who sell it by weight to individuals who, in turn, re-sell it to speciality operators who melt down the sterling silver and also extract the copper used in plated silver objects.

Leaving aside the notion of the value of the metal, small antiques and collectables often have great sentimental value to families and individuals. It is easy to tuck away cutlery, a crib sized quilt or a toy as a remembrance of a child’s progression through early life. As they are passed down in families from one generation to the next, the passage of time further enhances the sentimental value of these objects. In your case, the sentimental value of your cutlery surpasses the market value of the objects.

In today’s highly transient society, jobs, careers, retirement and other factors can uproot families on short notice. Sentimental objects are often the victims of these circumstances. This is especially true of larger items like dining room sets or bedroom furniture.

I encourage individuals to collect smaller-scale antiques like your knife and fork. They can be brought out on occasion to be admired and enjoyed, which, when you think about it, is what all collectables and antiques do for us. They take us back to a different time and place to remind us of what is important, and of the individuals, families and friends who came before us.

Shaun Markey is a resident of Westboro and author of a recently published memoir called Folk Art in the Attic. He also blogs about antiques and folk art at folkartintheattic.blogspot.caIf you have an antique or collectable and are curious about its past and approximate value, email a photo to Please make sure it’s high enough resolution so that details are visible! Any extra information you can share about your treasure is helpful too. Your item – and its story – might just be published in the next column. 

Collectable Treasures: the “church bazaar challenge”

[Our resident antique and collectables expert Shaun Markey went to the Kitchissippi United Church bazaar. His recap is below. KT editor, Andrea Tomkins, tagged along and shares her perspective further down this page.]

By Shaun Markey – 

It was a Friday evening in late April. A middle-aged guy with hands stuffed in his pockets and a toothpick protruding from the corner of his mouth lolls casually against the wall beside the back door of Kitchissippi United Church. A line of people stretches away from the door down the asphalt laneway and into the substantial parking lot.


All of us are here for one reason, it’s the church’s bi-annual rummage sale. More specifically, my wife and I are here at the suggestion of Kitchissippi Times editor, Andrea Tomkins. Chances are I would have been in this line anyway so Andrea’s suggestion simply guaranteed my presence.

Like any event where an abundance of material is offered for sale, collectors know there is an opportunity to find something interesting and potentially valuable. That’s why the line up has formed a full hour before the doors open. If there is something worthwhile, the only way you’ll know about it is if you’re the first one to get your hands on the item.  Or, to put it another way – make sure you’re there early!

Scanning the line in the minutes leading up to the opening, I recognize at least two dealers and an avid collector. They are all well ahead of me in the line. I am at a disadvantage. I comfort myself with the thought that the people closer to the entrance can’t be everywhere in the hall at once.

I also know that the chance of there being something truly special to be found here is remote. However, there are all kinds of stories of valuable antiques being found at rummage sales, so why not this one.  It’s happened for me in the past. Apparently, the other 75 people in line think the same as I do.

The half hour wait passes quickly as I chat with my companions, passing along a few instructions based on past experience. Joan is convinced the man standing in front of us is eavesdropping on our conversation. The anticipation grows.

A few minutes before 7 p.m., the single door swings open and the crowd funnels into the staircase leading up to the hall where the event is being staged. The three of us make for a long table at the front that stretches across the width of the room. A single row of customers has already formed in front of the table but we manage to find a spot where we can view the items directly in front of us.

It is the nature of sales of any kind that unless you have prior knowledge, you won’t know specifically what will be offered. Earlier in the line outside, Andrea had posed the question: “How will you know what to buy?”

“I’ll know it when I see it,”I replied.

The challenge for all collectors when looking at a table full of items is to focus on the antique and collectable items and to do so quickly. This is not easy, especially when there is noise and the distractions of other customers jostling you on either side.

A pair of small painted wood carvings first drew my attention. They depicted an elderly man and a woman sitting on rocking chairs. I knew at once they date to roughly the 1950’s, and were likely by the Bourgault family of carvers from the Saint Jean Port Jolie area of Quebec. I quickly picked them up, turned one over and noticed the name “L. Bourgault” signed faintly in pencil on the underside of the base.

I also noticed two larger carvings to my right, which were also from Quebec. I picked them up and bought the four of them. The carvings are not particularly valuable but they are collectable and it was fun to make the discovery and the purchase.

Adjacent to the carvings were some interesting pieces of china. There was a nice Victorian hand-decorated bud vase, which was signed on the bottom, and an unmarked china basket decorated with strawberries and likely dating to about 1920. Joan pointed out a small ceramic “Peter Rabbit” figurine. I quickly bought all of them. Again, these are not valuable items but fun things to find and purchase.

We proceeded down the length of the table. I noticed one individual pick up a small, framed print or painting. I could tell from the frame it was antique. I waited briefly to see if he would put the frame back down on the table. He did not. We moved a few paces further along the table.

At the far end of the table, I noticed a large pressed glass vase with handles. Unlike most of the items on the table, the vase had a price of $15 marked on it. Since I don’t typically buy pressed or cut glass, Joan had to provide some encouragement. I bought the vase and it went into the shopping bag.

By this time, the room was full of people. Everywhere I turned there were groups of people examining the items on all the tables. We couldn’t even get near the costume jewelry table. I know that collectors there would be looking closely for Sherman costume jewelry from the 1940’s and 50’s, among other things.

We continued to wander about the room. I bought two more inexpensive pieces of china from one table and a gooseneck 1940’s table lamp for $5, which will likely need $25 worth of rewiring and repairs. In retrospect, this was probably not a good buy.

We took one last scan of the textiles and linen on a table in the centre of the room and decided that we were finished with the sale and headed for the door. When we emerged into the parking lot I turned and asked Andrea for the time: “It’s 7:29,” she said.

So, from start to finish our visit to the sale had lasted 29 minutes. Did we find valuable antiques and collectables – no. Did we have some fun and spend a few dollars that went to a good cause – yes. Will we do it again? Of course, because you never know what you might find at the next rummage sale!

Shaun Markey with a few of his finds from the Kitchissippi United Church bazaar. Photo by Andrea Tomkins
Shaun Markey with a few of his finds from the Kitchissippi United Church bazaar. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

A treasure-finding adventure, from the newbie perspective

By Andrea Tomkins

We were 30 minutes early and there were at least two dozen people ahead of us when we arrived at the Kitchissippi United church bazaar on Friday April 29. I was with Shaun Markey – KT’s resident antique expert – and his wife Joan. My mission: to see how an expert approaches flea markets, church bazaars, or yard sale. I was not to be disappointed.

As we waited, the line behind us started to grow longer. By the time the doors were scheduled to open there were probably 75 people in line. I was taking a few photos when the crowd started to shuffle ahead. My eyes sought out Shaun and Joan. He looked concerned. As I approached he turned to me with a serious look: “Now you stick with me.”

He meant business. The doors opened, and it began. It was a frenzied rush and I got caught up in a tidal wave of bodies as we filed through a hallway and crossed the threshold into the gymnasium. At that point, eager buyers started to spread out. Some people made a beeline for the books, others to the toys, household goods, and jewellery, but I stuck to Shaun as per instructions. It was surprisingly hard to do given how busy it was in that initial rush. The excitement was palpable.


I knew that Shaun’s plan was to hit up the “collectables” section of the sale. On first view it appeared to be just a bunch of knick knacks. This stretch of tables was accessible only from the one side and nothing was priced. It was immediately clear that speedy hands and knowing eyes –not to mention a bit of knowledge – is a big advantage here. Also, height. A shoulder-to-shoulder row of people immediately formed in front of our table, which made it hard to get a decent view.

According to Shaun, possession is nine tenths of the law here. Quick reflexes are key. Snap it up first, and ask questions later! If you think you might like to buy something, put your hand on it as soon as you spot it, then take the time to take a closer look to assess. Once you put it down, it’s fair game.

Shaun examines a vase. This turned out to be one of the purchases he made.
Shaun examines a vase. This turned out to be one of the purchases he made.
At one point I spotted a rustic hand-carved rooster. It was about the size of my palm and was made out of a tree branch. I picked it up, set it down, and when I came back it was gone. Clearly, this is a “you snooze you lose” kind of deal.

I have collected numerous things over the years. They range widely but they include vintage Pyrex, cameras, salt and pepper shakers, and board games, but there is a soft spot in my heart for vintage kitchen items. I have a few beautiful bowls, wooden spoons, more than a few ladles (this is actually a running joke in my family) so when I spotted a set of aluminum measuring spoons, I knew they had to be mine.

“How much for these,” I asked the man behind a table overflowing with plates, mugs, crystal, and every kitchen utensil you can imagine. I held up the spoons. Some of them were still dusty with spices from yesteryear.

He responded with a phrase that makes newbie collectors break into a sweat: “Make me an offer.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out two toonies. “How about four dollars,” I asked.

He smiled. “How about one?”

I gave him two dollars and tucked the spoons in my purse, fully aware that I just did the very opposite of what I probably should have done, that is, bargain from a low starting point.

My new measuring spoons!
Shaun and I were secretly hoping to make an amazing find. He has an impressive collection of folk art, furniture, and paintings and I am sure it would have been nice to add to it. We joked about finding a Grenfell mat. Alas, that was not to be.

He did, however, make some smaller purchases that he said he was pretty happy about. One of his finds was a pair of wooden figures made by a member of Quebec’s Bourgault family, famed for their wood carvings.

Shaun’s new carvings

Another set of carvings purchased by Shaun
Our excursion wasn’t a complete waste of time. I did get to experience that famous adrenaline rush and also learn from an expert. I did nab those awesome spoons too!

I’ll be better prepared next time!

Some tips from the pros:

  • Go early! Whether you are a collector or just appreciate a good deal, be prepared to wait in line.
  • Bring cash, preferably in small denominations.
  • Be prepared to bargain, especially if items are unmarked.
  • Prices are often negotiable but it’s good to keep in mind that many second-hand sales represent a significant fundraising effort for a local church, school, or other non-profit. Kitchissippi United made over $3770 at this particular sale.
  • Dress appropriately. It sounds silly to mention, but man, does it get hot in church basements. Layers are smart. So are comfortable shoes.




Collectable Treasures: message in a bottle

By Shaun Markey – 

My last column about the stunning auction price of an amber fruit jar that brought $14,500 at a Canadian Internet auction likely caused some KT readers to take a second look at the old bottles stashed in their basements, attics and garages.

Like all antiques and collectibles, bottles provide a material link with the past, a connection to the time and places of history.

Bottles, as a category of collecting, meet many important criteria. First and foremost, it is a wide and deep field so the opportunities for collecting are numerous and varied.

The variety of bottles, their uses, design, colour and the packaging that often accompany them is endless. Some collectors go after specific types of antique bottles: perfume, medicine, liquor, ginger beer, pop bottles, fruit jars, milk bottles – the list goes on.

Early bottles were mouth blown, a process whereby a solid piece of glass is heated and attached to a long tube into which the maker exhales his or her breath to expand the glass into the desired shape. Later, bottles were made from moulds, a much simpler process.

While colour attracts many individuals because they like the way daylight shines through them, the majority of collectors seek antique bottles because of their age, manufacturer or store and brand names that appear on them. A collector can focus on mouth-blown bottles or define their search geographically, to bottles from their hometown, for example, or from one region or province. You could even get as specific as collectible bottles from Westboro!

Stoneware, redware and the other products of Canadian potteries are cousins to bottles and are also highly sought after by collectors.

One of the attractive aspects of bottle and stoneware collecting is that these objects turn up in a variety of places including garage sales, flea markets, consignment stores, antique shops and auctions.

Some collectors even dig for bottles in old dumpsites. Others dive for them underwater. The creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway resulted in Eastern Ontario communities being flooded by the river and enthusiastic collectors continue to find bottles, stoneware and redware during underwater dives to those now submerged villages.

Of course, collectors place a value on items based on a number of factors. An object that is more difficult to find typically has a higher value to collectors. One can also focus collecting efforts on visually interesting but low cost antique bottles. Or, collecting items at the top of the chain, the hard-to-find and rare bottles, which command top dollar – the aforementioned amber fruit jar being a prime example. Most collectors start slowly with inexpensive bottles and stoneware and gradually move up to more highly sought after items with higher prices.

Stoneware is prized by collectors for the graphics and the merchant stores noted on the front of them. Potteries in Eastern Ontario produced these containers in many shapes and sizes. For a fee, the potter would impress the name of the business and location on the front of the crock. For a higher fee, the potter could include a cobalt blue decoration such as a bird, flowers or, on extremely rare occasions, a fish, horse or a locomotive. In 35 years of collecting, I have seen one small Ottawa merchant crock with a fish decoration and one with the image of a horse.

The names and type of decoration on stoneware have a direct relation to its value. The more interesting the decoration, the higher the value becomes.

Age and condition are also important factors. One example is a salt glazed three gallon open storage crock with the words Duffy & Campbell, Dealers in Groceries, Wines and Liquors, Sussex Street, Ottawa inscribed on the front.

Collectors seek stoneware made and marked “Canada West” or CW. This indicates that the piece was manufactured before Confederation in 1867. In good condition, because of the rare merchant name, the Duffy & Campbell crock would likely be worth about $500 and perhaps more.

The second example is an amber-coloured McLaren whiskey bottle. John A. McLaren distilled whiskey in Perth, 50 miles west of Ottawa in the 1880’s and his products became very popular in hotels in that town and neighbouring communities.

The amber colour of this bottle makes it a rare find and valued at $300. Both the stoneware crock and the McLaren whiskey were part of the “show and tell” feature at a recent meeting of the Bytown Antique and Bottle Collectors Club.

Shaw’s was one of several independent Ottawa breweries and soda water manufacturers that operated locally. John R. Shaw operated his business from 1905 to 1919. Transfer printed stoneware bottles from these companies are sought after by collectors. The Shaw example shown in the accompanying photograph, a later one is worth, in good condition, about $200 to $300.

Other highly desirable Ottawa bottles are the E. (Edmund) Miles Hair Bottle valued in the $400 to $500 range. Mr. Miles ran a high-end barbershop on Sparks Street in the late 19th century.

The Proderick Soda Bottle is from the Proderick confectionary. It is the oldest glass bottle known from Ottawa and dates to the 1850’s. It has a value in the $2,500 to $3,500. As you can tell from these prices, higher end bottle collecting is not for the faint of heart!

It’s worth noting that while many areas of collecting have been impacted by the sluggish economy of the last several years, prices for antique bottles and stoneware have remained strong. It’s a comforting fact to know that a bottle or stoneware collection, as well as being visually interesting, can be a relatively secure investment too!

Similar to other areas of antique collecting, the search for bottles and stoneware can, if you let it, become the driving force in your life. Weekends, vacations, most, if not all of your spare time, can be devoted to the search.

Bottles and stoneware give participants a fascinating insight into history and functioning of our local cities, towns and villages. Through these collectibles, we can better understand how early business and commerce were conducted before mass production and mass communication. Collecting any antique object is akin to holding history in your hands and there’s no other feeling quite like that!

For more information on collecting antique bottles and stoneware, visit the Bytown Antique and Bottle Club’s website Scott Wallace of Maple Leaf Auctions kindly provided photos for this article. You’ll find more information at Jim Winton owns the amber McLaren whiskey bottle pictured above, is President of the Bytown Antique and Bottle Club and also represents Otter Creek Antiques of Lombardy, ON.

Shaun Markey has been a collector of Canadian antiques and folk art for over 30 years. He is a longtime resident of Westboro and the author of Folk Art in the Attic, a memoir of his antique collecting experiences.  He also writes for some of North America’s leading antique publications including the Maine Antique Digest, Canadian Antique and Vintage, New England Antiques Journal and The WayBack Times.


Collectable Treasures: your old glass canning jar might be worth $14,500

By Shaun Markey –

Twice a year, a friend of mine organizes an online auction of antique ginger beer bottles, fruit jars and stoneware. That’s essentially all he offers for sale in the auction.

At first glance, one might think that’s an overly tight focus for collecting and selling antiques. I mean, what’s the market like for these objects? And, wouldn’t it be better to offer a broader selection of antiques for sale?

Well, one has to only look at  the results of my friends’ last auction to quickly realize that the market for these types of collectables is very strong. In fact, one might argue that the market is stronger for these collectables than many others.

Case in point: a fruit jar sold in the online auction last month for a whopping $14,500! I kid you not! What could possibly be so special about this jar that it could bring in that kind of money?

Some Canadian-made fruit jars, such this amber American beaver half-gallon jar, are highly collectable items. You may want to check your grandma’s box of canning supplies. Photo submitted by Shaun Markey
Some Canadian-made fruit jars, such this amber American beaver half-gallon jar, are highly collectable items. You may want to check your grandma’s box of canning supplies. Photo submitted by Shaun Markey

In previous columns, I’ve mentioned the factors that contribute to the desirability of an antique.  If something is rare, it will be worth considerably more than an antique that is readily available. Age, size, condition and colour are also critical.

The $14,000 jar in question is an American half-gallon “Beaver sealer,” or fruit jar. These sealers were made in Canada between 1900 and 1910. They were made in both Canadian and American sizes, hence the reference, in this case, to the American half-gallon. Another important feature of this jar is the embossed beaver on the front. The colour of the jar, golden amber, is also important as very few of these jars in this colour have been found.

So, add up all of those factors and you have an object that is very desirable to collectors.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of “focus” in collecting. The highly focused collector has an advantage. He or she is only looking for a specific type of item. In this case: fruit jars. They are not going to spend time searching for items outside that category. This also allows them to target their available dollars.

I have often said that if I were starting over, I would collect fewer objects and try to buy only superb examples. It’s a “best in class” approach.

This means that you may have fewer examples in your collection but it also means you only have great ones. Plus, by definition, great objects will take longer to find but the thrill of acquiring a great item is more satisfying than getting hold of an average quality piece.

With all this in mind, it’s much easier to understand why a collector of fruit jars might pay handsomely, in this case $14,500, for the rarest of all jars. It will be the showpiece of his or her collection for years to come and, I suspect, when it does come time to sell it, the half gallon American beaver fruit jar will command an even higher price.

So, the next time you come across a box full of old fruit jars, don’t scoff. You never know, another American Beaver amber half-gallon sealer may be in the bottom of that box!

For more information on antique fruit jars, stoneware and ginger beer bottles visit

Shaun Markey is a resident of Westboro and author of a recently published memoir called Folk Art in the Attic. He also blogs about antiques and folk art at  If you have an antique or collectable and are curious about its past and approximate value, email a photo to Please make sure it’s high enough resolution so that details are visible! Any extra information you can share about your treasure is helpful too. Your item – and its story – might just be published in the next column.