Following the Antique Trail to the Mother Lode Amador County is an antique Mecca with some 40 antique shops tucked into the five-mile radius of Jackson, Sutter Creek and Amador City. Every store has treasure— something rare and wonderful to offer the modern-day Argonaut. By Antoinette May
Maybe you’ll turn up old mining tools—pans, lanterns, ore cars or perhaps Victorian tables, china or glassware. Original Gold Rush finds are rare but do exist. Whatever the era, look for quality and condition. Amador County’s greatest advantage is its diversity. If antique prospectors don’t find their dream commode in one shop, there are plenty more sprinkled down Highway 49.
1 Jackson .A treasure hunt through the Gold Country rightfully begins with the Amador County Museum in Jackson, both an insightful peak into a vanished era and a thoughtful orientation of what to look for on the antique trail. Don’t miss the bordello room—a colorful facet of Jackson history. Bordellos opened in 1850 and flourished freely for more than 100 years. Then in1956, Edmund G. Brown, at that time lieutenant governor, declared war on a thriving industry. Some traditions die hard and it wasn’t until 1968 that the government had its way with spirited Jackson. Today museum visitors can view a madam’s housecoat and well trod red carpet. Other relics include a “fainting couch,” a walking cane that conceals a 32 caliber gun, Victorian memorabilia, Native American artifacts, and a restroom that’s a working exhibit. 225 Church St., Jackson. Hours, 10 to 4 Wednesday through Sunday. Phone: (209) 223- 6386.
2 Antiques Downstairs has it all— signs dating back to the days when Campbell’s Soup was two cents a can, kitschy home furnishings from all eras, garden treasures, vintage clothing. Nine vendors are involved in this collective bringing a marvelous mix to the table—an antique table, of course. Dishes. Dishes. Dishes. Depression glass of many hues. China cups and saucers, plain and fancy. Salt and pepper shakers, weird and wonderful. 3 Main St. Phone (209) 223-2420.
3 Emily, a feline meeter and greeter, is an ongoing attraction at Hein & Company, a venerable two-storey building housing more than 650,000 volumes. One of the largest used books stores in California, Hein & Company also features used DVDs, CDs, and console video games, as well as antiques and an entire 99- Cent discount entertainment store. Wolf Hein even has books dating from the 17th century. Prices range from $1.50 to six figures. Books signings are scheduled frequently: meet the author and buy the book. 204 Main St. Phone: (209)-223-9076.
4 SUTTER CREEK When you think of hot ticket antiques, you could check Sotheby’s in New York or you just might drop by Columbia Lady, a “shop” comparable to a tour of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Visiting Columbia Lady, where items reach into six figures, is like going to a museum where some lucky people actually buy things—like furniture created by John Henry Belter, a premier
cabinetmaker of the mid-19th century rococo revival. Other special attractions are historical flasks, old whiskey bottles that were the original take-out. People leaving a bar bought a bottle for the road. There’s usually something distinctive about them—like George Washington’s face. Old flasks can go as high as $75,000. 61 Main St. Phone: (209) 267-0059.
5 Gardeners, both novice and experienced, will appreciate the wide selection of antiques and plants at the Antique Gardener. Think vintage hoes, shovels and tubs resting beside topiary trees, wreathes, and potted plants. The outdoor gardens are constantly growing and thriving. Many herbs, seeds and potted plants are for sale. Bring your lunch and enjoy a sunny spot. 80 Main St. Phone: (209) 267-5551.
6 O’Neill’s Antiques offers the largest collection of Mother Lode furniture in the country as well as Irish and American pieces. The great old barn- like structure is home to an amazing collection of old desks, tables, chests, bookshelves, chairs and straw rockers. Of special interest are the pie safes—small shelves specially screened to keep out mosquitoes and critters. Lots of treasures here. 84 Main St. Phone: (209) 267-0450.
7 AMADOR CITY The Victorian Closet in tiny Amador City is a Hwy. 49 highlight. Owner Sally Knudson sells Edwardian gowns, flapper dresses, Gay Nineties dusters, Victorian capes—you name it. Everything old is new again. Drew Barrymore and Andy McDowell wore Victorian Closet outfits in the movie, “Bad Girls.” Film fashion designer Joanna Johnston created a gown for Mary Steenburgen to wear in “Back to the Future—II” from old buttons and lace.
Knudson is a dealer with a passion. “I’m always looking for that rare jewel, that wonderful thing that’s out there—the search just makes my life,” she says. “Last year I came home from Europe with two whalebone corsets and antique lace from Brussels. Finding such treasures just made my trip. Of course they sold immediately. That’s the sad part—but the joy is in the finding.” 14176 hwy. 49. Phone: (209) 267-5250.
8 Plump teddy bears, stuffed doggies, fluffy kitties reach out to you from every shelf and corner of Jensen’s Antique Dolls. You can tell they’ve lived well and are ready to love again. Adoptions can be easily arranged. Other treats are antique doll furniture, a winsome collection of china dolls and exquisite assortment of pinafores and baby gowns. Much loved treasures looking for new companions. 14227 Hwy. 49. Phone: (209) 267-5639.
9 Miller’s Antiques is a veritable shrine to the old west. Venerable volumes, literally a page out of yesteryear, are a draw like The Last of the California Rangers and Zane Grey’s classic, The Light of the Western Star. Besides vintage shades and chandeliers, there’s a countless array of kerosene lamps and lanterns that illuminated many a settler’s home. A fun surprise are the old soaps like 20 Mule Team Borax and Dr. Lynas Vegetable. Antique china is another highlight. Besides a complete set of Blue Willow china, there’s an impressive array of antique cups, saucers and serving pieces. 14183 Main St.
10 Back 100 years ago simple trays carried a message, packed a wallop. For a case in point, take the collection of vintage trays at Heather in the Hills. The lady’s face on the Rushstaller’s Brewery tray has a come hither look in her eye. I suspect she was selling more than beer. Her neighbor on the shelf, the Jersey Cream Soda girl, is a shade more demure but still quite a charmer. She holds her own well next to her neighbor on the other side, Marilyn Monroe. Heather in the Hills also has some nostalgic calendars too and a collection of candy store scales and gum machines that would liven any game room. Pig Turd Alley off Hwy. 49 in “downtown” Amador City. Phone: (209) 267-0315.)
Andrae’s, located in the smallest incorporated city in California— Amador City—is a legend in its own time as a bakery, but now has expanded to include designer sandwiches, cheeses and coffees.The bakery itself is teeny- weeny, but there’s a delightful front deck facing out on historic Highway 49. The scenery has a nostalgic sense of the bygone day. Still, the best seating is on the narrow foot bridge at the backdoor of the building. How sweet it is to sit at a small canopied table listening to the sounds of the babbling brook below. Imagine drinking iced latte, nibbling Andrae’s delicious breads and cheeses. If that isn’t enough, consider the fresh cookies and famous Basque cake—a heavy confection studded with walnuts and dusted with powdered sugar. It’s perfect with coffee but then so are Andrae’s fresh made quiches, pizzas and sandwiches. 14141 Highway 49, Amador City. Open Thursday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone: (209) 267- 1352.
Imagine having tea at your auntie’ s. Not your real aunt, of course, but some wonderful, fantasy person who lived at least 100 years ago in England maybe. Think of tiny rose bouquets, exquisitely painted china and lacy tablecloths. That’s Tea Eras in Sutter Creek. Is this all a little too precious for male companions? Not at all! Guys definitely go there. The china may look like fragile museum pieces, but there’s something solid and inviting about the exposed brick walls of the 1890s building. And there’s nothing namby-pamby about the lusty BLTs that come with fresh salads, fruit and plenty of tea bread. 34 Main St., Sutter Creek. Lunch served daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tea served until 5. Phone: (209) 267 -0333)
Café de Coco in Jackson has a dynamic coffee house ambience, the exciting buzz that telegraphs a happening place where issues are debated, deals struck, reputations made or perhaps unmade. It’s a center where locals come expound on books, art, personalities and politics and an authentic south of the border bistro where taco salad are lush and crisp, quesadillas rich and tasty. Enjoy an authentic Gold Rush building: wood floors, weathered brick walls, windows fronting onto colorful Main Street. 140 Main St, Jackson. Phone (209) 223-2626. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday from 10 to 6:30. Closed Mondays.)