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Monday Morning ‘MUG’ing: A treasure-hunting business (8 photos)

This week’s Monday Morning ‘Mug’ing focuses on Black Cat Antiques, an antique store in the heart of Westfort.

THUNDER BAY -- Antiques run in Paul Kimberley’s family. His grand aunt had an antique store and his parents and grandparents are/were avid collectors. “It’s been something I grew up with. Most of my siblings are in antiques too,” he says.

Kimberley and his wife Lee Searles opened Black Cat Antiques in 1993. For the first decade, second-hand furniture was a large part of their business. Kimberley refinished and sold at least a dozen dining sets a year. “20 years ago you could sell almost anything,” he recollects. However, with baby boomers glutting the market as they downsize and the younger generation not interested in any of it, prices have come down drastically. “I saw dining sets go down to about $250; a whole set with a table, chairs, china cabinet and buffet,” he says.

Now, his store on Frederica Street is full of china, books, camera gear, jewelry and collectibles of every kind. (There are also 38 black cats (not alive) all around the store; gifts from customers and friends over the years.)

A certified appraiser, Kimberley will buy and sell just about anything. Some of the merchandise walks in the door, some of it he gets at auctions, and some he buys when clearing out a house. “You give us the keys, we go in and take everything we want, and if you pay for it, we’ll also empty out the house for you,” he explains. The service can be very valuable for people who no longer live in town, need to sell the house of an elderly relative and don’t have time to clear everything out themselves.

The couple sell not only out of their store, but also on various Facebook groups and eBay. They recently acquired a 4,000 square foot warehouse across the street, which allows them to do large-scale estate sales.

People are often disappointed when bringing something in for appraisal. Flatware is one item that people overvalue, “because their parents would have referred to it as ‘the silver.’ And they’re thinking sterling, but often it is silver plate. So it’s not worth the weight,” Searles explains. Jewelry can be out-dated and gold-filled, not solid gold. Silver rings are common and Black Cat Antiques get more than they can sell, even with a starting price of around $17.

While not all that glitters is gold and not everything that is old is valuable, there are things that people often overlook. “Part of our job when we go through an estate is to not let things slip through the cracks,” Kimberley says. The couple have found valuable antiques in unlikely places.

“People hadn’t realized that underneath that Christmas cactus, which was half dead, was a Moorcraft bowl,” says Searles. “That ugly - and it was ugly - piece went for $800,” her husband continues. “It was a rare form, a very sought-after piece.”

They have found a Hummel vase (which eventually sold for $3,000) in the back of a cupboard and a broken Omega watch worth $300 in a pile of other broken things. “If you don’t do the research, things could go for a lot less,” Searles says.

“The biggest skill I can have is knowing where to research. We know a lot over the years, but we know how to find out more. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun,” says Kimberley. He admits that the treasure-hunting aspect of his business is one of the main things that keeps him passionate.

One last word of advice for those clearing out their houses - don’t throw anything out, even pieces of paper. Kimberley recently listed two pieces of paper on eBay; a sell sheet for tools from the 50s. Both were bid on right away. (They were listed at $20 and $30.) “Paper can be a very interesting thing,” he says.