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Love Antiques? LeClaire Is Pickers’ Paradise

We get the inside scoop on where to shop at this Iowa hotbed of vintage treasure hunting.

Antique Archaeology   Photo: Mike Wolfe/Courtesy of Antique Archaeology

Just over the border in Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi River, lies the hotbed of vintage treasure hunting that is LeClaire, Iowa. In 2000, the History Channel’s American Pickers cohost Mike Wolfe opened Antique Archaeology in town, spurring a trend of salvage shops distinct from traditional antiques havens. Here, any kind of collectible goes, from Americana to country chic.

For conversation pieces

Antique Archaeology

Serving as home base for American Pickers gives this store a certain star-tourism appeal (Mike Wolfe sightings, though unusual, do happen). Celeb factor aside, hot vintage items you might recognize from the show, like gas station signs (hello, man cave) and Wolfe’s personal collection of rare motorcycles (for ogling, not purchasing), make it worth a visit.

For visionary finds

West End Architectural Salvage

This trove of upcycled castoffs—think chicken feeders repurposed into lamps and reclaimed barn doors—is the newest outpost from the team behind HGTV’s West End Salvage. Opened in November in a former riverboat captain’s house, the shop focuses on industrial objects perfect for creative types who can envision that metal bench as trendy interior decor.

From top: Mississippi Cottage Antiques; West End Architectural Salvage Photos: Miriam Bulcher
For old-school collectibles

Mississippi Cottage Antiques

Room after room of period pieces and dainty housewares make for more traditional antiquing: Browse 19th-century mahogany desks, handblown Moser miniatures, grandfather clocks, silver plates, and Civil War artifacts.

For funky surprises

Picker Paradise

From May to October, a flea market takes over the old lumber mill storage sheds (behind Aunt Hattie’s Fanciful Emporium), where you can rummage for unexpected finds from dealers and collectors—everything from vinyl records and neon beer signs to golf clubs and vintage typewriters.

Stay:Book the two-bedroom Grasshoppers Guest House ($150) for a deck with river views or the Old Mill Guest House ($175), a new lower-level unit in a restored riverboat captain’s house paces from the Mississippi and—fair warning—train tracks.

While You’re There:Board the riverboat Twilight at LeClaire’s pier for an hour-and-a-half old-timey paddleboat cruise ($16). Departs June 17, July 15, and August 19 at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.

 
Illustration: Adam Hayes

Pro Tips: How to Pick

Antique Archaeology store manager Emily Gwin on scoring the best finds

Look for pre-1960s. “Rule of thumb—but not a hard rule: The earlier the better; older items tend to have more value.”

Leave as is. “If you find something old, sandblasting, painting, or trying to clean it up is a big no-no. Rust is in. So are industrial items like factory carts, no-frills metal pieces, and old
pendant lights.”

Watch for reproductions. “If it’s spotless, perfect, and a lighter weight—like aluminum instead of cast-iron metal—it’s probably not the real thing.”

Go with your gut. “The cool thing about antiquing, thrifting, and picking is not so much what’s hot but what catches your eye. If something speaks to you, pick it up.”

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