You just might unearth some old mining tools—pans, lanterns, ore cars—or come upon some Victorian tables, china or glassware. As you spend the day perusing the antiques shops of Amador County, keep in mind that original Gold Rush finds are rare but do exist. Whatever the era of the item in hand, be sure to check for quality and condition. And if you don’t find your dream commode in one shop, rest assured there are plenty more just down historic Highway 49.
Antiques Downstairs in Jackson has it all: signs dating back to the days when Campbell’s Soup was 2 cents a can, kitschy home furnishings from all eras, garden treasures and vintage clothing. Nine vendors are involved in this collective, bringing a marvelous mix to the table—an antique table, of course. You’ll discover dishes galore and Depression glass in many hues, along with cups and saucers, plain and fancy, and salt and pepper shakers, weird and wonderful. 3 Main St.
Say hello to Emily, the resident feline meeter and greeter, as you enter Hein & Company in Jackson, a two-story building housing more than 650,000 volumes, making it one of the largest used bookstores in California. Along with antique books—owner Wolf Hein has some dating from the 17th century—Hein & Company also sells used DVDs, CDs and console video games. Prices range from $1.50 to more than $100,000. 204 N. Main St.
Step into Columbia Lady in Sutter Creek and you’ll feel like you’re on a tour of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Items here can reach into the six figures, and include furniture created by John Henry Belter, a premier cabinetmaker of the mid-19th century rococo-revival era. Take a look at the flasks—old whiskey bottles that were
akin to travel mugs from Starbucks; people leaving a bar would buy a bottle for the road. There’s usually something distinctive about them, such as George Washington’s face. Very old flasks can go for as high as $75,000. 61 Main St.
Gardeners, both novice and experienced, will appreciate the wide selection of antiques and plants at the Antique Gardener in Sutter Creek. Think vintage hoes, shovels and tubs resting beside topiary trees, wreathes and potted plants. The lush outdoor gardens here 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.
For the largest collection of Mother Lode furniture in the country along with Irish and American pieces, pay a visit to Sutter Creek’s O’Neill’s Antiques. The great old barnlike 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 sets of shelves specially screened to keep out bugs and other critters. You’ll find lots of treasures here. 84 Main St.
The Victorian Closet in Amador City is a Highway 49 find. Owner Sally Knudson sells Edwardian gowns, flapper dresses, Gay Nineties dusters, Victorian capes—you name it. (Drew Barrymore and Andie MacDowell wore Victorian Closet outfits in the 1994 movie Bad Girls.) Knudson is a dealer with a passion. “I’m always looking for that rare jewel, that wonderful thing that’s out there,” 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 Highway 49
Plump teddy bears, stuffed doggies and fluffy kitties reach out to you from every shelf and corner of Jensen’s Antique Dolls in Amador City. You can tell they’ve lived well and are ready to love again. Adoptions can be easily arranged. Other treats here include antique doll furniture, a winsome collection of china dolls, and an exquisite assortment of pinafores and baby gowns. 14227 Highway 49
Miller’s Antiques & Collectibles in Amador City is a shrine to the Old West. Venerable volumes, literally a page out of yesteryear, such as The Last of the California Rangers and Zane Grey’s classic, The Light of the Western Stars, are a draw. You’ll find vintage shades and chandeliers plus kerosene lamps and lanterns that illuminated many a settler’s home. Fun surprises include old soaps such as 20 Mule Team Borax and Dr. Lynas Vegetable. And check out the antique dishware: Besides a complete set of Blue Willow china, there’s an impress-ive array of antique cups, saucers and serving pieces. 14183 Highway 49
A century ago, simple trays carried messages that often packed a wallop. Take the collection of vintage trays at Amador City’s Heather in the Hills, for example. The lady’s face on the Rushstaller’s Brewery tray has a come-hither look in her eye, suggesting she’s selling more than beer. Her neighbor on the shelf, the Jersey Cream Soda girl, is a shade more demure but still quite a charmer. Heather in the Hills also sells nostalgic calendars, and a collection of candy store scales and gum machines that would liven up any game room. Pig Turd Alley off Highway 49
3 Lunchtime Favorites
The legendary yet tiny Andrae’s Bakery—located fittingly in the smallest incorporated city in California, Amador City—has expanded its menu beyond bakery items to include sandwiches, cheeses and coffees. Sip an iced coffee on the delightful front deck facing out on historic Highway 49 or nibble a slice of the bakery’s famous Basque cake—a heavy confection studded with walnuts and dusted with powdered sugar—at a canopied table out back by a narrow footbridge as a brook babbles below. 14141 Highway 49
Imagine having tea at your auntie’s. Not your real aunt, but a dainty old fantasy aunt. Her parlor is replete with tiny rose bouquets, and delicately painted china is set atop lacy tablecloths. That’s Tea Eras in Sutter Creek. 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 hearty BLTs served here that come with fresh salads, fruit and plenty of tea bread. 34 Main St.
With its coffeehouse ambiance, Cafe de Coco in Jackson is where locals come to expound on books, art, personalities and politics. Lunch here on south-of-the-border bistro fare—the taco salads are lush and crisp, the quesadillas rich and tasty—inside an authentic Gold Rush-era building, with wood floors, weathered-brick walls and windows fronting colorful Main Street. 140 Main St.