Antiquing and Alaskana

If you fancy antiquing or are interested in Alaska’s early years, local Antique stores are a great place to root around. You can get a taste of what it was like here, from Gold Rush days up through Statehood in 1959 and the discovery of oil and building the oil pipeline.

“Antiquing” isn’t nearly the rarified, gentrified experience here that you might be familiar with on the East Coast. Around here, most usually, it involves digging through piles and getting pretty grubby, which can be half the fun. Most Alaskans don’t put a lot of value in “old stuff.” In a lot of cases, you’ll see something you might consider a priceless antique rotting in a pile on the edge of someone’s property or in a bin at a second-hand store. Earlier this fall when I took a load of old clothes to a used store in Palmer, the pickup truck in front of me unloaded about 6 pairs of rustic old snowshoes and several sets of wood cross country skis that had to be 50 years old. It took every ounce of my willpower not to grab those from the donations door and dash.

A friend and I spent one hot afternoon last summer antiquing in Anchorage. How is it that every antique shop smells the same in hot weather? That was fun, and I got to know my way around many of the best spots. Most are in the area of the Old Seward Highway, and are full of Alaskana that show how different Alaska was back in the day. Alice’s is a staple at 4131 Old Seward Highway, and the Pack Rat Mall is nearby, too. Right around the B&B, there are several good shops to check out. CoverUps along the main street in Palmer is the home to “the Alaskan Picker,” a local fellow who travels the state looking for old signage, furniture, and other collectibles. Chickadees at 175 W. Arctic Ave. is a nice new addition to Palmer shopping, too. Alaskana Books at 564 S. Denali St. in Palmer has rare and unusual books and publications that might be right up your alley. They have limited hours so be sure to call first (907 745-8695) .

Antique stores can be even better than some of the museums to see varied examples of ivory carving, scrimshaw, art and items made from whalebone, hides, furs, walrus tusks, and other items that are now protected and limited to use by natives. Signs, maps, drawings and other printed items such as aprons and tablecloths tell fascinating stories of how Alaskans used to see Alaska, and what it looked like to tourists–sometimes quite different from how we might perceive this place now! I always find it interresting to thumb through old books which make mention of the Matanuska Valley. Even back to the 1930s at the advent of motor vehicles in the territory, city folk from Anchorage used to come out to the Valley in the early summer for fresh Valley peas and produce, grown by Palmer’s colony farmers.

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