Urban treasure hunting</p><p>The finer points of Seattle antique shopping

Antique shopping means lots of things to lots of people, but the shoppers who seem to have the most fun are the treasure hunters. The treasure hunters cruise for sport, adding those perfect pieces to their collections, and sometimes something new - to them, at least - for their homes.

Antique shopping comes in several distinct styles depending on the shop. At one end are junk stores (and junk is not a pejorative here). These are the places with chipped and cracked glass and china of no great age, piles of stuff to root through and enough unmarked items to let you know that bargaining is part of the experience. When you leave you may need to wash the dirt and rust off your hands, but browsing can be its own reward.

At the other end are what might be called the suit-and-tie antique shops. Their stock is beautiful, their showrooms are beautiful, their staff is beautiful. These are the kinds of places you go to wish, or buy a single, carefully selected piece that was and will remain an heirloom.

But in between are the shops and antique malls that offer a huge selection of items from good to excellent shape and so much stuffed into shelves and glass cases that the merchandise dazzles the eye. This is the home of the treasure hunt and the favorite haunts of the inveterate antiquer.

Seattle offers its share of such shops, but you need to be willing to move about because there is no antique row in Seattle where you hit several in just a few blocks. Even downtown, it means stout shoes or a bus map.

A good place to start is the Pioneer Square Antique Mall. The business, on the ground floor of the picturesque Pioneer Building at 600 First Ave., is down several steps. It sprawls maze-like through its several rooms, with glass cases setting up pathways for treasure hunters and aisle after aisle of glittering whatchamacallits. The space is home to 65 different vendors. The shop's proud boast is that it is the oldest antique mall in Seattle.

"Oh, we used to have one of these..." is heard over and over in many permutations (Grandma, Aunt Effie, Great-Uncle Charlie). The universal rejoinder is, "Yeah, whatever happened to that?"

This mall is filled mostly what is called in the trade, "smalls." That means items will usually fit in a pocket or small bag or package. Glass cases are cluttered with jewelry, toys, books, desk accessories, silver, coins and doo-dads. For the unwilling husband there are refurbished antique telephones, old tools, scientific instruments, pipes and smokers' accessories. In the back is an amazing variety of African art and masks. Books and pictures are everywhere, and some of the most desirable Bakelite items in town.

"You have to mention the Mexican jewelry and antiques," Jonna Hough said. "Those are mine!"

The low ceilings of the 6,000-square-foot mall can make things feel close, and in places you need to be careful how you turn around. There are just a few pieces of furniture, not much.

"It's not deliberate," Hough said. "It's just difficult to get furniture in and out."

It's a bit difficult getting people in and out, too. This shop is not handicap-accessible.

It is, however, tourist-accessible. In fact, there is an entry direct from Bill Speidel's Underground Tour gift shop next door.

"We get lots of tourists, and with the cruise ships we get a lot more people," said Marion Anderson, the mall manager.

English Flavor

In contrast, Antique Importers, at 620 Alaskan Way, is mostly filled with furniture. You'll find British antiques, some as old as Edwardian or Victorian, some Danish modern from the '60s, '70s and '80s. Owner Chris Kappler keeps his 5,000-square-foot shop stocked with buying trips to England several times a year.

"I pick out all my own stuff," he said. "We kind of specialize in mirrors and windows. That's two things we carry a lot of."

The walls of the high-ceilinged warehouse space testify to that. Those looking for chairs, tables, bookcases, desks and wardrobes will find them here in great profusion. There are even some of the old-fashioned round, cast iron-legged English pub tables.

Kappler has some smalls guaranteed to amuse the reluctant husband: ancient wood and woodworking tools, lawn bowls (balls, actually) of solid lignum vitae and the occasional antique golf club and fishing rod.

"We sell a lot of old tools," he said of the shop, which has been around for 26 years.

Several blocks north, across the street from the Seattle Aquarium, at 1400 Alaskan Way, is the Seattle Antiques Market. This store fills a 6,000-square foot, 20-foot-ceilinged, waterfront warehouse with nearly anything you could imagine in an antique shop. Need a Victrola? Owner Ken Eubank has eight of them, side by side. How about an old desk? There are roll-top oak desks in a variety of sizes to fit your needs. The stock includes wooden file cabinets, Hoosier kitchen cabinets, armoires, dressers, tables, chairs and more in oak, mahogany, maple and other woods not immediately identifiable.

But there's more than just furniture. How about a set of antique skeleton keys, neon signs, model airplanes, sports memorabilia or soda fountain? Over there is a shelf with dozens of radios from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s.

Street Signs

For something unusual, there's a huge collection of freeway-green Seattle street signs - the real thing.

"They're from the city," Eubank said. "We buy them every week."

Why, pray tell, would someone want one?

"People buy their name or the street they used to live on," Eubank said.

There are also postcards, science-fiction magazines (an entire revolving rack loaded with Analog!), smokers' accessories and cool gizmos. Seattle World's Fair items do well at all the stores.

"Cruise-ship business has a major impact on my business," Eubank said, adding that there will be 211 sailings this year. "[Passengers] come to town a couple of days early or stay a couple of days later. They're in here every day."

There are several places that fit the treasure hunt mould in the Pike Place Market. One of the largest is at 92 Stewart St. It is called Antiques at Pike Place. This is another case-lined maze, sporting nearly 65 vendors. While there is some furniture, this mall also is stocked mostly with smalls, but what smalls!

Good jewelry packs the front of the store, but each vendor seems to have its own specialty. One case-filled with small religious art, crucifixes and rosaries, -is watched by a 14-inch, polychromed bust of Pope Pius XII, complete with glasses. That's not something you see just every day.

Looking for brass or crystal doorknob sets? Tucked in with the medical and scientific instruments is a set of rectal dilators (for curing constipation and nervousness - ouch!). Maybe you favor fancy-handled umbrellas instead?

"We have a lot of local customers and a lot of tourists," Geri Linkins said. "I think I have waited on customers from every continent except Antarctica."

And what sells best?

"That's tough to say, but we do sell a lot of Seattle World's Fair stuff," Linkins said.

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