One person’s cast-off is another’s treasure

2010-07-26 00:00

ANTIQUE bird cages and intricate, old light fittings hang from the ceiling of Oh Carols garages in Prestbury.

Sunlight filters through the entrance and catches the elaborate mirrors­ which line the corrugated- iron walls.

Walking through the garage is like being transported back in time: clawed-foot furniture, silver hand mirrors and engraved hip flasks are among the treasures that are nestled in the store.

Each piece has been bought by Carol­ Venter, who spends her time collecting­ items of old-world charm from auctions, farms and sales.

The store is a veritable treasure trove of knick-knacks. Glass cabinets display mafia-style cigar cutters and rows of dainty glass bottles. Fine bone china sits beside oriental blue-and- white porcelain all ready to be sold to its next owner at an absolute steal.

Carol and her late husband John opened Oh Carols nine years ago.

“At the time, John was going blind and he was forced to give up his electrical­ business.

“We had a nightclub — Chatterley’s — which kept us busy at night, but we needed something to keep us busy during the day. John loved collecting, and getting a garage to buy and then to sell these things was the perfect option,” she said.

Venter said that John made his first sale at the tender age of 10.

“His first deal was the sale of a bike. He bought it for a sixpence and sold it to his uncle for three shillings,” she laughed.

Walking through Oh Carols feels more like walking through a museum than a thrift store. Each piece comes with history and a story.

“I think that is what makes this place so special. All these items belonged to people who loved them and who have a real past. It’s almost like buying a memory,” said Venter.

Venter fondly remembers a large brass bell which her husband had brought back from the Eastern Cape.

“While on holiday my husband was looking around a scrap yard for odds and ends, like he loved to do.

“The scrap-yard owner told him to go to the local police station to look at a bell which they had confiscated years ago,” Venter said.

The huge bell had apparently been stolen and had landed in the scrap yard. It had been gathering dust at the local police station for years when John convinced the police to sell it to Oh Carols.

Back in Pietermaritzburg, it hung proudly next to other brass bells until it was sold.

According to Venter, some of the bells were bought by churches and now adorn steeples around the city.

A few items remain on sale for months — even years — on end.

“Some stuff, like our yoke for oxen, has been here for years. But that’s okay, they are in good condition and are not rusting or rotting, so they will stay here until someone gives them a home,” she said.

Venter’s years of searching for old gems have yielded some interesting results.

“A piece that really stands out for us is an old four-poster bed. It was enclosed at the top, and the top was full of mirrors.

“It was so funny and people loved to come in and stare at it and have a good giggle,” Venter said.

The mirrored bed was not destined to remain at Oh Carols.

“A man walked in one day and was absolutely taken by it. He said that he wanted it then and there. It turned out that he was from Durban and he took it back to the coast with him,” she added.

Venter has sold furniture to visitors from around the country.

“Sometimes people walk in without intending to buy anything and walk out with a classic piece of furniture. I have had people take items all the way back to the Cape,” she said.

Venter has a particular soft spot for a few items in the store which, she said, she would never part with.

Old iron push carts, a thirties-style electric fan and an elaborate picture frame are among the items which will remain a part of the store.

She admitted to having a weakness for her newest find: a pristine antique wash basin which came straight from an old steam train.

“I don’t know if I am going to be able to let go of this one,” she said smiling.

The store has something for everyone; from big pieces of solid wooden furniture to boxes of ceramic knobs and iron bath claws.

Both the serious antique shopper and trinket junkie are sure to be appeased by the smell of old treated wood and shiny metallic fixtures at Oh Carols.


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