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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 took a leap of faith. 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. 

"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, Madame Rac had been a dancer before an accident changed her life. She had a passion for travel and fashion. It was 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 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-- a treasure trove of collectible toy cars, guitars, jewelry, military memorabilia, retro signs, sports cards, comic books, vinyl records and much more. "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 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."

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.

It's partly the community of some 400,000 followers of his YouTube adventures that Archbold said created a surge of interest in the three 'musician's estate' auctions. In all, the house contents will have fetched well over $600,000--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 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. "Now we're shipping her pieces all over the world--Norway, Netherlands, Australia, the U.S. It keeps her legacy alive."

"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.