In much the same way that the Mississippi has deposited rich silt upon New Orleans, millions of buyers and traders have bequeathed the world's best antiques to this legendary port. From $15 to $500,000, from demitasse spoons to entire castle rooms, anything and everything that can be bought is very likely for sale in the Crescent City.
For 300 years, New Orleans has collected the treasures of French explorers, Spanish pirates, English merchants, river boatsmen, and Southern planters. On a blustery winter weekend, my wife, Amy, and I set out to explore the Big Easy, ambling from the warmth of store to store, to scour the town for its best antiques bargains and to revel in its mysterious collections.
The French Quarter
There are few places on Earth where jazz musicians, strippers, priests, drunk out-of-towners, politicians, drag queens, and antiques dealers could all be neighbors, much less get along. But our first stop, the French Quarter, houses them all. Perhaps because of this city's easy diversity and welcoming nature, the pretension level is very low. Everybody is welcome to come poke around.
Our first stop was the venerable Keil's Antiques (325 Royal). Founded in 1899, the shop itself is a family heirloom. As we arrived, Keil's most tenured employee, Bennie, tottered out to unfold the store's forest green awning and gave us a friendly wave to invite us inside. Bennie has worked here for 78 years and is rumored to eat anyplace in the Quarter for free. Immediately we knew we'd found a store with as much history as the heirlooms it sells.
Stepping through the front door, I was astounded by the rows of chairs, chandeliers, walking sticks, and tables. Looking was as much fun as shopping, but I wondered how these folks made any money. Peter Moss, great-grandson of the store's founder, described his family's philosophy: "This is not a business you get into if you have any business sense. You get into it for art's sake."