TWILLINGATE, NL – Father and son Jim and Robert Anstey’s passion for scavenging and rebuilding antiques clearly runs in the blood.
The vast collection stored in a rebuilt two-storey shed is equipped with old bottles, tobacco cans, rifles, soap boxes, merchant signs, wood carving and hardware tools, and a variety of other items.
At any turn inside the Anstey shed there’s something guaranteed to catch a person’s eye. It’s a unique collective of artifacts with a distinct history and story behind every knick-knack placed along its floors and walls.
“There’s always things around to restore and everything’s got its own little story,” said Jim. “We’re always looking forward to spring cleaning, it’s really exciting.
“You don’t know what you’re going to find.”
There are generations of work put into the stockpile of offerings at the property, with items given, inherited, hunted and scrounged over the years.
The bellows table
One particularly fascinating item is an old blacksmith bellows dating back to the 1800s that has been restored and refurbished as a table for drinks and playing cards. It was an item that took quite a haul to claim.
Back in 1973, Jim was given a job as the Twillingate Museum was coming into business.
Jim had his mind set on an abandoned blacksmith shop on Black Island – a former community located off the Kettle Cove and Bayview area of Twillingate Island – and the bellows left behind within.
Taking his ’68 Dodge across the frozen ice to Black Island, Jim and a friend got the bellows off the beach and onto the back of his vehicle. Considering the weight of not only the Dodge but also the hefty blacksmith bellows, it was a considerable risk trekking it across the ice.
Jim then spent a full month restoring the item with new leather and new screws and rope packed inside it. After that month’s work, the blacksmith’s son got word that the bellows was on display at the new Twillingate Museum.
“He said ‘you should’ve seen that guitar-shaped thing Jim Anstey got over at the museum,’ the ‘billus’ he called it,” Jim said with a laugh. “After I spent a full month working on it and getting over here, he was saying ‘that’s mine, that’s my father’s.’”
Eventually a deal and payment were made and Jim now has the item himself, flipped on its backside as a table with its “Made in England” inscription still visible.
Building the spot
The store itself is a product of the Anstey’s ability to find treasure in another’s trash.
Robert had heard word that a degraded and abandoned shed was being torn down in town and the owner was offering $15,000 to have someone come do the job.
“I told them I’d take it for free, and me and dad will take it down ourselves over the winter,” said Robert. “So, I went down one morning and looked around the house and said, ‘best kind, I’ll take the chimney, windows, everything.’
“I gave him a bottle of Old Sam and that was the deal for the house.”
Throughout the winter Jim and Robert took down the property and retained every un-rotted pine board and every chimney block. In June of 2015, they began rebuilding the property to a near-identical state outside their own home.
Each board was numbered and plugged into an online program to plan out the rebuilding. The chimney was made of lime and sand, and the father and son had no trouble taking apart each brick.
The property that was once a rotting and deteriorating heap now not only stores their expansive collection of antiques, but also functions as a workshop for all their building and restoration needs.
Jim’s work as a woodcarver is a distinguished feature of the shed – with many tools and completed and in-the-works projects placed around the table tops. He has various face and animal carvings, with a Virgin Mary carving in the works for an Ontario couple.
One of Jim’s most prominent carvings is a common sight dangling from the shed’s ceiling. Jim carves a duck’s head into the end of a moose antler, with the antler itself becoming the duck’s wings as it comes landing into the water.
On a journey to Chance Port near Moreton’s Harbour, Jim came across a birch tree hanging over the port beach and ready to break at any moment. He lugged the log back home and peeled off its bark for a carving project. Jim used the unique shapes and bumps of the birch to his advantage, making a polar bear’s gaping mouth out of a crevice and carving a hunter’s face underneath.
It gave him a creative backstory to add to the piece, with the hunter becoming the bear’s protector.
“The habitat for the polar bear is getting destroyed because of human activity, so it’s ironically left up to the hunter to save the bear,” Jim explained. “The hunter has the polar bear carried on his shoulders to take him to a better place, and the bear is angry because this is what it’s come to.”
A vast collection
Noteworthy articles can be found in the shed, with fruit boxes plastered with the image of Queen Victoria, a 1948 telescope, 100-year-old barrels big enough to take a bath in, and an old accordion that belonged to Robert’s great grandmother – with a few minor repairs that still makes it playable.
A Twillingate Sun newspaper from October 1912 is framed above some hardware tools, and the paper coincidentally has a front page article about Jim’s grandfather nearly drowning after going overboard.
A flying V guitar made of birch and mahogany wood – a high school project Robert made with help from his father – sits in the upstairs of the shed still ready to plug in and play.
A couple restored ship wheels are laying around as well.
“This [ship’s wheel] from an old salvage boat that went down in the late ‘60s just off of Back Harbour,” Robert said. “The whole wheel house washed ashore, and dad went down to the beach and went inside the wheel house and picked this one up.
“Like me, he scrounges for that stuff.”
Antique rifles are another common sight along the shed walls. One flintlock rifle Jim restored is a particularly rare sight. As well as a rotted and rusted rifle Jim’s grandfather found – of all the places – 100 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The rifle somehow got hooked onto the troll when grandfather was hauling up codfish,” Jim recalled. “He shoved it onto a rack in his store so I preserved it and put in on a piece of old board.”
The rustic relic from the sea now hangs on a ceiling board still in preservation.
Now as the winter is slowly coming to a close and spring cleaning is on its way, the father and son are already fantasizing about the new finds that will soon be added to their already vast reservoir of antiques.
“We do a good job spring cleaning – that’s like Christmas to us,” said Robert.