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Antique dealer realizes a dream while sharing story of beloved music teacher

A passion for collecting and a chance meeting with an elderly piano teacher helps realize a dream for an Edmonton antique dealer.

You might call it a happy coincidence or good karma, but whatever the case, a couple of lives were touched when Alexander Archbold bought fellow Westmount area resident Bette-Joan Rac's 1964 Cadillac a couple of years ago. Archbold, a passionate collector and owner of the antique/collectibles shop Curiosity Inc. also happens to love classic cars, so he relished the 'barn find' he discovered after seeing Rac's ad to sell the forgotten sky blue sedan DeVille stowed away for decades in her garage.

"I only saw the back of it in the garage and took a leap of faith. I didn't know what shape it'd be in, but I towed it away, got it quickly running again and then came back to chauffeur Madame Rac for one last ride in the Caddy," said Archbold, a self-described explorer and adventurer. 

The story may have ended there, with a kind gesture from Archbold to the acquaintance he'd then see on occasion having a coffee at Westmount Centre, as he waited for his kids taking a piano lesson nearby. Though she didn't reveal her history to Archbold, it turned out that Madame Rac was an award-winning musician, former dancer, fashionista and long-time piano instructor herself, who taught hundreds of students in Edmonton through the decades. See the 2018 story Alberta Prime Times wrote on 'Madame Rac'.

"It's like one of those urban legends, where the little old lady who took the bus was really a millionaire. Who knew I'd be part of a story like that?" said Archbold of the surprising events that unfolded the following year. "In fact, this five foot tall woman of Czech background had been a dancer before an accident changed her life. She had a passion for travel and fashion. It's a life worth remembering."

After Rac passed away in late 2020, Archbold was approached about buying her home (she had no children) and all its contents. Though he didn't get the house, Archbold's 'sight-unseen' offer of $10,000 for the home's contents was taken--another leap of faith for the optimistic 42 year-old. 

"I saw the home's front entry, with a desk and the grand piano, so I hoped I'd at least make my money back," said Archbold, who's no stranger to buying estate sale goods for his shop--which is a treasure trove of collectible toy cars, guitars, jewelry, military memorabilia, retro signs, sports cards, comic books, vinyl records and much more. "But for this, I used the line of credit, and pushed all my chips across the table. It's been the best investment I've ever made, for sure."

The massive house-clearing job for Archbold and his team was made more difficult because Rac had become a hoarder in later life. Every room was packed to the rafters with the materials of a life--vintage clothing, furniture, decor, "the most insane amount of jewelry I've seen in my life," he said, plus even a 100-ounce wrapped bar of silver under a mattress, and the beloved grand piano, which Archbold has plans for.

"We're going to expand the shop to include a cafe in the adjacent lot, and place Madame Rac's piano inside so people can play it when they come in for a coffee," he said. "We didn't know how we were going to pay for the expansion--but now we can. I don't feel deserving of the windfall we found in the house, but it means we get to keep the dream alive--to get the cafe built."

That's the thing about good karma. Archbold is deserving of the lucky find, according to those who've written comments after watching the video series Archbold made documenting the house clearing through to the estate auctions. As an homage to the 'rare flower' who owned the home, Archbold even created a 10-minute tribute video using photos and voice recordings of Rac that he discovered while clearing the home. It's a gesture that has touched many.

"I am so pleased that you and your family have been blessed with this treasure. I can't imagine anyone that deserves it more," said one post on Archbold's YouTube channel. "We're so happy for Alex and his family and are grateful for the respect you've shown for Madame Rac and her legacy," said another.

It's partly the community of some 400,000 followers of his YouTube adventures that Archbold said created such a surge of interest in the three 'musician's estate' auctions. In all, the house contents will have fetched well over $400,000--an amount that Archbold says is mind-boggling, but that isn't surprising to Lucas Provencher, marketing manager for Kastner Auctions in Edmonton.

"More often than not, Alex comes in with a story--the historical context behind an item--and that always helps in auctioning a piece. Alex did remarkably well with this sale because I think his followers wanted to be part of the musician's estate story too" said Provencher. "Alex helped everyone who watches his videos discover Madame Rac. Now we're shipping her pieces all over the world--Norway, Netherlands, Australia, the U.S. It keeps her legacy alive, and transcends any one object."

Archbold said the 'big picture' goal for he, his wife Melissa and three children is to fill the antique shop with the "coolest, most interesting artifacts" he can find. A few months ago, it was a 1943 military service motorcycle; this week, he said he and his son are unpacking authentic Mayan artifacts.

"My whole life, I've worked hard for whatever I've got, and with this adventure, I had the pleasure to be able to memorialize Madame Rac too," Archbold said. "I'm always optimistic about what I'll find next; to fill up my store with amazing things. I think we're well on our way: 2021 should be pretty interesting."

There's one more 'musician's estate' auction on Feb.13. See to watch or take part.

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