SHERIDAN — If you think picking a favorite ice cream flavor is hard, try picking a favorite antique item out of an inventory of thousands, each piece unique in its history, value and purpose.
The Sheridan Press asked the owners or managers of four downtown Sheridan antique stores to do just that and got a surprising variety that showcases just how much fun antiquing in Sheridan can be.
If you’re in the market for a harmonium, a leaded glass window that was the only item to survive a devastating 1940s hotel fire or a puzzling looking contraption from the 1800s, you’re in luck.
The fourth item, a life-sized cast iron and papier-mache horse, isn’t really for sale. Someone offered $25,000 for it once and was flatly refused. You’ll have to choose another treasure from the thousands of square feet of space occupied by Best Out West Antiques and Collectibles.
Whether visitor or local, spending a day combing through the treasures to be found in Sheridan’s antique stores is a great way to learn about the area’s history and be entertained.
The Old General Store Antiques
249 N. Main St.
On Sept. 11, 1940, the four-story Northern Hotel in Billings, Montana, owned by prominent businessman P.B. Moss, burned to the ground. All 200 guest rooms and 11 shops and offices inside were destroyed.
One piece of the hotel survived: an exquisite leaded glass window special made for the hotel. That surviving piece of history is now tucked safe and sound in The Old General Store Antiques on Main Street. It is owner Luke Knudson’s current favorite piece, on consignment from the Historic Sheridan Inn.
Knudson is 14 years old, but you wouldn’t know it by walking into his store, an entrepreneurial display of his passion for all things antique. The cozy arrangement of treasures and old-timey music playing in the background makes it feel like stepping into another time.
Knudson has been interested in antiques since he was 7 years old, opened the store a year ago and now works with 45 consigners and four vendors.
Black Bear Antiques
216 N. Main St.
A year ago, Black Bear Antiques owner Jeffrey Rompf Barrington watched a documentary on an unusual instrument called a harmonium, a cross between an accordion and a small table top organ often used in eastern Indian cultures.
A couple weeks ago, Barrington’s co-owner Jim Boll — the hunter-gatherer for the shop — came walking in the door carrying a shiny wooden box with hinges that opened to reveal a small set of piano keys on the front and a set of bellows in the back.
Barrington knew exactly what it was — which is not always the case with antique items — and it quickly became a favorite, especially since the piece from the 1930s was all original and in great condition.
The quality of antique items is one of the main reasons Barrington loves them.
“Something draws us to that,” he said. “Now things don’t hold up. After 10-20 years they aren’t functional, but some of these pieces are over 100 years old.”
123 N. Main St.
It’s small and puzzling, a metal cylinder pocked with marble-sized craters like a golf ball connected to a crank shaft. Does it press food, or play music, or mold marbles?
None of the above although marble maker was the owner’s best guess.
The candy maker from the 1800s is the most asked about item in Sheridan Antiques, owner Tom Stedtnitz said.
Even with a sign on it, people puzzle over it every day. Stedtnitz picked up the contraption at an estate sale in Sheridan and wonders if it made candy that made local kids happy back in the day.
Treasures like the candy maker are why Stedtnitz got into owning an antique store.
“I’ve been a miner most of my life, working in gold mines and coal mines, and this is just another way of hunting for treasure,” he said. “It seems like every weekend is a new adventure of maybe, possibly finding a real treasure item out there in Sheridan County.”
Best Out West Antiques and Collectibles
109 N. Main St.
West Wind has stood proudly in the window of Best Out West Antiques and Collectibles for 10 years, placed there after being brought to Sheridan in a horse trailer just like a real horse.
The life-sized cast iron and papier-mache replica with real horse-hair mane and tail and movable mouth was originally used to display and sell saddles, tack and horse buggies.
“I’ve had an offer of $25,000 for him, but we didn’t take it. He’s not for sale. I just don’t want to sell it,” store manager Angela Mesa said.
Assistant store manager Darla Judes has seen one other prop horse like West Wind — who was named in a community contest — on a trip to San Diego.
That horse was displayed with a newspaper article from 1923 stating it had been in its window for 34 years, making it a relic from the late 1880s.
“He’s our mascot,” Judes said, a beckon to come in and explore a treasure trove of western antiques.