Nicole Leslie found herself drawn to the array of old silver, turquoise, bird feathers and rattlesnakes that adorned her heavy brown felt top hat, which looks like something out of an Old West medicine show.
If You Go
What: Clark County Antique & Collectible Show
Where: Clark County Event Center, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: For both days, $6 for adults, $3 for ages 12-17, free for children younger than 12.
You might say the strange hat — with two dead rattlesnakes around the brim — spoke to Nicole Leslie from the first time she saw it.
Fortunately, it didn’t bite her.
Leslie, who owned Vancouver’s Old Town Antique Market until it closed a few months ago, first came across the oddity after a dealer put it on display at her store.
For some reason, she found herself drawn to the array of old silver, turquoise, bird feathers and rattlesnakes that adorned the heavy brown felt top hat, which looks like something out of an Old West medicine show.
“I was fascinated by it, and finally (the dealer) had a big sale, and I bought it,” Leslie said.
She still loves the unusual treasure, but with the financial issues related to her store closing, she plans to put it up for sale at this weekend’s Clark County Antique & Collectibles Show.
“There is a person for this,” Leslie said. “Somebody somewhere would just salivate over it. That’s the cool thing about the expo. For every item, there’s a person that would just love to have it.”
The show is part of a traveling antique exposition that comes to the Portland area four times a year — three times to that other side of the Columbia River and once a year to the rolling green hills of Clark County.
The event will feature hundreds of exhibitors from the Pacific Northwest selling a broad selection of items. Visitors can also bring their own items to the show and get a ballpark value estimate from an expert for $5 per item.
“It’s a verbal evaluation off the top of our heads and not a written evaluation,” said Gary Germer, a Vancouver native and professional appraiser. “But we can give you some parameters for what a thing is worth.”
Looking at Leslie’s strange hat, Germer said he thinks it was probably put together in the late 1960s or early 1970s and then made to look older.
“My guess is that somebody put it together as a costume or something,” Germer said. “It’s cool. I could see somebody wearing it in a steampunk show.”
Jim Beriault, who does publicity for the event, had another notion.
“If Slash (former lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses) had a girlfriend, she’d definitely wear that,” Beriault said.
The silver belts that adorn the hat are old and valuable, and the carved bird on the front is made of real turquoise, Germer said.
“I think about $800 to $1,200 would be where you’re at, value-wise,” he said.
Leslie said the only thing she knows about the hat’s origins is that the man she bought it from found it at an antique shop 20 years ago. She’s not even sure what state the dealer purchased it in.
“I’ve thought about trying to learn more about it, but I’m afraid to take it apart and look at the details on the silver and turquoise,” Leslie said. “The silver work is certainly antique.”
If it doesn’t sell at the show, she’ll probably try to sell it at one of the inventory sales she’s planning through her Web site at http://www.oldtownantiquemarket.com, Leslie added.
The hat’s not even close to the strangest thing Germer has appraised.
“I’ve done everything from high-end art to bags of dirt,” Germer said with an amused smile. “Yes. Dirt. This guy had an organic soil company that went out of business and he donated his last inventory. So I evaluated the dirt.”
Sometimes, value turns up in the oddest places, he added.
When working with another local client, the 52-year-old Ridgefield High School graduate found a prize that ended up selling for tens of thousands of dollars.
“It was a woman sorting out her aunt’s estate, and the aunt had five of the ugliest figures you ever saw,” Germer said. “It was four people and a bear with blood coming out of its mouth. I thought, ‘this is really well made — but how can anybody craft something this nice that’s also this hideous?’”
The answer seems obvious in retrospect: The Nazis made it.
After some research, Germer found that the set was made by Allach, a ceramics company owned by Heinrich Himmler from 1936-1945. The most rare piece was the growling, sword-wielding porcelain bear, which was a commemorative piece designed to celebrate Finland (forcibly) joining the Axis powers in 1941, Germer said.
“I put them up on our blog site (http://bit.ly/ABZ1wj) and within one day, I had calls from all over the world,” Germer said. “And (the niece) was going to pack them up and give them to Goodwill.”
Often times the items that are most valuable aren’t the obvious ones. Once he went to a client’s house to look at a China cabinet, which turned out to be worthless. Sitting next to it, though, were two beer steins worth about $5,000 each, he said.
“That piece that your grandma keeps telling you is worth money isn’t, but that weird thing sitting next to it — that might be worth a fortune,” Germer said.
Collecting is also somewhat in the eye of the beholder, he said.
Personally, Germer collects a few things that just have sentimental value to him.
“I like things that make me laugh,” Germer said. “My favorite is my Betty Boop chalkware and my Liberace Hot Nuts dispenser.”
The Betty Boop figure, like most chalkware (which are gypsum or plaster figurines), was made during the Great Depression. He likes it because his daughters, when they were babies, used to hike themselves up next to the table it was on to stare at it, he said.
“How could I ever get rid of it after that?” Germer said.
He also likes Space Needle memorabilia — like his 1960s lighter in the shape of the Seattle tourist attraction.
“I have a friend that collects toilet paper rolls from various manufacturers,” Germer said. “They’re not used. She just stacks them all around the bathroom.”
Leslie will have a sales booth at the show, but she also collects a few strange things that she keeps for herself, including industrial restaurant ware, she said with a laugh.
“I have these huge mixers and things stacked on top of cabinets in my kitchen,” Leslie said. “I appreciate beautiful furniture, but also the odd and bizarre things, like the hat. The things that make you just shake your head and say ‘wow, somebody thought of that.’”
If you haven’t gone to the show yet, you should really check it out, she added.
“It’s cheap thrills in this day and age with the economy the way it is,” Leslie said. “It’s a great place to not only find anything you’re looking for but also to find things your customers, friends or family might be looking for.”