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Reynolds museum ancient artifacts hit the auction block

Edmonton antique dealer parts with massive collection of ancient artifacts acquired from the Stan Reynolds collection--plus a few extras of his own.

Do you ever wonder if the belongings gathering dust in your basement or attic are worth something--really worth something?

Edmonton antique dealer/collector Alex Archbold didn't have to wonder when he was invited to check out Stan Reynolds' basement of treasures. Describing it as one of the most historic finds of his career, Archbold acquired the Alberta businessman's collection of museum-worthy artifacts--from ancient Roman coins to an American Civil War pistol to Mayan masks--that had been stored in Reynolds' basement and which his family disbursed after his passing.

The Reynolds-Alberta Museum, which opened in Wetaskiwin in 1992, is provincially-owned, with a focus on transportation and agriculture. While the aviation enthusiast and world-renowned collector donated some 500 vehicles, 130 aircraft and 5,000 pieces of agricultural equipment to the museum, Reynolds' interests went further. Over decades, he brought back a huge range of varied pieces from trips to Mexico and beyond--a collection that mostly stayed in storage until Archbold took it on.

While Archbold kept most of Reynolds' pieces in his own basement for the last few years, displaying as many as he could at his antique shop/general store Curiosity Inc. in Edmonton's Westmount area, he's decided now's the time to put much of it up for auction.

"I know enough to buy something and save it--after all, I'm known as the guy who finds weird stuff--but I'm just the caretaker for these pieces. Many of these items are once-in-a-lifetime things, and not meant to be in one person's possession. They should be under glass in a museum. I hope that's what will happen," said Archbold of the online auction set for April 24. Though he's placing the over 500 items without reserve bids through Edmonton's Kastner Auctions, so that 'everyone feels they have a chance at owning a historical piece', Archbold hopes word gets out to local and international museums and collectors about the rare artifacts up for grabs. 

Lucas Provencher, marketing manager at Kastner Auctions, said the Reynolds artifact auction "without a doubt, has some of the most unusual and oldest items (most with documentation) we've ever had in the building. These are things you'd see at a Sotheby's Auction, but what's also unique is it's entirely a home-grown collection from one Canadian collector via another (Reynolds). Auctions like this just don't come around in Canada very often.

"My phone is buzzing nonstop about it," he added. "We've had a ton of interest, (over 1,000 are already registered to bid) from all over the world--firearms collectors, military history buffs--and we're talking with as many museum acquisitions people as possible. I'm participating too, though the item I was looking at (the 1863 Civil War colt) already passed my budget in pre-bids."

Provencher said a centrepiece for the auction has to be the 10-inch, Aztec seated figural statue, which he calls "pre-brutalist, and in remarkable condition", as well as the green jade mask dated from about 250 CE (Common Era). A similar mask recently sold for over $60,000 U.S. "Join early, because the big stuff, the older collections of ancient items will be at the front end of the auction." 

Archbold recently got a call from the Government of Canada's heritage department. It caught wind of the auction and is inquiring about some of the rare pieces-- the jade Mayan mask, a Teotihaucan early civilization-era artifact, and the 1870s full-size Canadian flag--one of the country's very earliest-might be of value to the country overall. 

"You know you have something truly special if the Government is on the phone. It shows there's great historical value to many of these items--Indigenous baskets, jewelry, art and tools, military swords and lanterns, pre-columbian stones and carvings, 17th century books, a lost translation of The Tutelo Tribe by Horatio Hale, even that 10-by-15 Canadian flag, from early in Confederation. It's truly amazing stuff."

Bidders will also have a chance to own a Spanish bronze bracelet from during the slave trade, a Second World War Japanese sword with folded steel blade, Indigenous baskets from the 1800s, folding cameras from the Edwardian era, and Settler-era rail lanterns among other relics. The modern art is one area to take note of, and is sure to attract art collectors, Archbold said.

Archbold recently snapped up the contents of Edmonton's former Woltjen Gallery, with mid-century modern art prints dating back to the 60s and 70s. Rare artist proofs would typically sell for $1,000 each, estimates Archbold, adding many other items in the auction include things he's found over the years on his own, from digging in barns, basements and attics. Bidders will see baseball cards--even art work by Archbold's son at this auction too.

"We're hoping to get around $200,000 from this sale," said Archbold, acknowledging that a few pieces are worth tens of thousands of dollars on their own. "I'd love to see a museum in Mexico get some of the ancient artifacts--for the auction to go in that direction and items to sell for a fair price. But whoever wins these pieces, I hope they'll give them the respect they deserve. It'd be a shame for them to wind up stashed away in someone else's basement somewhere."

"We'll keep a couple items--two of the ancient masks--for display at the shop, but it's time to let the rest go," Archbold added.

"It's definitely going to be a special auction. For my wife Melissa and I, there's a lot on the line. We took a leap of faith buying the collection, and it's important to us to recoup our investment for our family's future."