After a walk through Eagle Collectibles gift shop with its vintage cookie jars and teapots, it’s clear there is more to this shop than just a regular antiques store.
First, the store has more than 1,000 vintage cookie jars in genres like art deco, country, 60s and 70s pop art, vintage, cartoon characters and even some in limited edition John Deere farm equipment that line the shelves from floor to ceiling in the showroom.
And that doesn’t include the ones still packed away in boxes in the basement.
“I don’t know of anywhere else you’d go to find a collection like this,” owner Tom Franz said.
Located in the former Millie’s Treasures at 410 Phillips Boulevard, the Sauk City shop may be a knick-knack collector’s dream, but the walls in Eagle Collectibles are dripping with nostalgia.
Franz, 71, has called the Fish Lake area his summer home for more than 30 years and has spent just as long collecting a wide variety of art and gift items.
But a closer look reveals manufacturers that have been around for decades like McCoy, Fenton, Hobnail, Hull and American Bisque.
There are also close to 1,000 ceramic teapots in the same types of art forms.
He said he bought 488 ceramic teapots from one estate sale in Florida where the family said some were 40 or 50 years old.
“These have a history to them,” Franz’s friend and researcher Debbie Minkler said. “These are some really cool teapots. Every one has character.”
Franz claims to have more than 5,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers in just about any form imaginable.
“Some of these salt and pepper shakers go back to the 40s and 50s,” Minkler said. “I’ve done a lot of research on them. They’re unique. There are so many adorable items in here if you just look.”
Among some of the most interesting of them are the circa-1970s milk glass or the even more vintage happy-faced anthropomorphic shakers and egg cups featuring vegetables and animals, some of which can be traced back to the 1940s.
“I hadn’t seen egg cups in years,” Minkler said. “My mom used to always put them by our plates with a hard boiled egg in them.”
But the rare finds don’t stop at the cookie jars and shakers. There are decades-old Barbie and Ken dolls still in the packages, ceramic Elvis Bourbon bottles with unbroken seals, enough vintage Hot Wheels cars to fill the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, some still in the carrier, 45 rpm records, a kid’s record player, cuckoo clocks, Carnival glass pieces, Black Mammy figurines, Ty Beanie Babies still in the package, troll dolls, blown glass, Christmas decorations and stereo equipment.
Franz claims to have the largest troll dolls he’s ever seen. Normally, the dolls are known to be small.
He may even have an eight-track player somewhere in his basement.
Model train fans who also love NASCAR will get a kick out of the Dale Earnhardt train set with flatbeds carrying racecars, including the famous No 3.
Franz single-handedly obtained every item in the shop during the course of about half his life from estate sales between here and Florida, where he bought up whatever appealed to him.
He said he has no formula when shopping for novelty items. He has no background in art or vintage collectibles. He’s barely used the Internet to do any research.
He relies on Minkler, his friend of more than 20 years, to do that for him.
She said she only started doing any research on Franz’s items a few months ago because he got her interested in it.
“I can be on the Internet for hours just reading up on cars, ceramic, pottery, milk glass and clocks,” Minkler said. “I never thought I’d be into something like this.”
Minkler pulled out a big coffee table book about vintage ceramics and started talking about the history of milk glass.
“The milk glass goes back to the 1800s,” Minkler said. “This is Avon, which is a company that made milk glass items dating back to 1950s.”
Franz said trolling estate sales and garage sales through the years turned out to be therapeutic during his recovery from some horrific war wounds while serving in Vietnam.
“I was drafted when I was 25 and spent 12 months and 14 days in Vietnam,” Franz said. “Then I had my orders to go home. They sent me down to fly out, and I was told they made a mistake. The flight didn’t go out until the next day. So they sent me back to the compound and we were hit that night.”
He spent eight months in the Great Lakes Naval Hospital recovering from burns and numerous skin grafts. He also lost an eye in the attack.
“I was lucky to be home,” Franz said. “I just enjoy doing this stuff. Garage and estate sales kept me busy.”
But Franz has an instinct about buying things. He was in the produce and wholesale business in Freeport, Ill. for many years.
“I’ve been buying things almost all my life,” Franz said. “I enjoy buying stuff.”
Eagle Collectibles is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.