Flashback to the Fifties

Kamloops treasure hunters specialize in buying, selling classic 1950s memorabilia

For Del Basaraba and his '50s antique business, the thrill is as much about the hunt as it is about making profits.

Basaraba just returned from an antique swap meet in Phoenix, bringing back a shipment of 1950s memorabilia. His finds included a toy 1932 Ford truck and a carousel circus horse.

"They don't make them like that anymore," Del said of the metal signs and toys from the '50s. "Old ones are rare and a lot have character."

Del's wife, Claudine, dates the obsession back about 15 years, when she purchased an antique gas pump for display in Del's office. That was when the two lived in Williams Lake and operated a propane supply store.

They agree that the thrill of the chase is a major attraction of their memorabilia business, which specializes on Coca-Cola and petroleum merchandise but has a wide array of items, including reproductions.

In addition to Phoenix, Del and a friend, a Vernon store owner, recently went to a meet in Portland. Next up is an event in Red Deer.

Some of the most outstanding items at the colourful store - dominated by the iconic red and white of Coca-Cola - include a 60-year-old Coke dispensing machine (valued at $4,500) and a juke box with a remote wall-mount in perfect condition ($3,000).

But it's not all big-dollar merchandise or completely "a man's world" as Claudine called it. There is a 1950s cracked ice table, beverage bottles, glass jars for oil as well as original and reproduction metal signs. On the lowest end of the price scale are back issues of Life magazine as well as 45-rpm records.

"I don't think there's a typical customer," Claudine said. "It's all ages. This store is more of a man's store, but women do come in to buy."

The most valuable items are Coca-Cola branded merchandise, but Del said customers are increasingly looking for Pepsi as well. Harley-Davidson is rare and sought after.

Del's Oldies Garage in the 1100 block of Battle Street opened in December (its hours are limited to Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.) following three years of buying and selling without a commercial storefront.

Any collector - or any customer browsing online - will agree the Internet has changed the world of collectibles. What was once only available for viewing by trips to out-of-the-way shops is now a mouse click away.

Claudine said buyers willl typically look at online ads without purchasing. For purchasers, Del said it's too easy to get burned.

"You'll never know what you'll find," he said. "I've bought things and I've been hung by them."


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