It was the grand piano that convinced Edmonton antique hunter Alex Archbold to take a chance and purchase Bette-Joan Rac’s estate after her death.
The esteemed piano teacher, known as Madame Rac to her students, had used the instrument to give classical music lessons to hundreds of Edmontonians over the course of her life.
Archbold, who owns the shop Curiosity Inc. in the city’s established Westmount neighbourhood, paid $10,000 for the contents of her home last December.
“I thought it was going to be a break-even situation, that maybe with the piano and some of the other things, I might be able to get $10,000 worth of stuff,” Archbold said. “I was shocked and surprised to learn that that was not the case.”
Rac was 76 when she died on Nov. 18, 2020, following a brief illness. She didn’t have children.
Archbold had met the piano teacher a few years prior, when he bought her old blue Cadillac. The two kept in touch.
“She was very colourful, multiple layers of interesting clothing, jewelry, lots of rings and necklaces and a bow in her hair,” Archbold recalled.
“She was just a lovely lady and definitely stood out in the crowd.”
Rac, who loved to travel and shop, had amassed a vast collection of jewelry, designer clothing, art, furniture and antiques.
“I think over the years, her house became more and more full with the things she’d inherited and she had an attachment to. And I think that it kind of became out of control,” Archbold said.
But hidden in the clutter of Rac’s home was more treasure than the antique hunter could have imagined.
“We were emptying out some leaflets in the front room and some little silver bars fell out. They were hidden among the magazines and garbage,” he said.
“This began the process of looking thoroughly through books and shoes and magazines and newspapers, and eventually we amassed this hoard of amazing treasure.”
One of Archbold’s most memorable discoveries was a 100-ounce bar of silver he found hidden underneath a mattress.
“It’s an urban legend kind of story, and I got to be there and got to be part of it. It’s just insane.”
Findings posted on YouTube channel
Archbold shared his finds on his YouTube channel through a series of videos. Followers from around the world have tuned in to the hunt.
Enamoured with Rac’s story, many have bid on her items once they were put up for auction, Archbold said.
“We’ve had people bidding on our auctions from Germany, Australia, Italy — you name the country, and those people are interested in this story and interested in having a piece from this story,” he said.
“It just reminds us of how temporary we are in this world and how important the things that we have around us are.”
The first auction, held online by Edmonton’s Kastner Auctions, consisted of Rac’s high-quality jewelry and resulted in sales of just over $250,000.
Another auction of furniture, household items and art wraps up on Saturday. A third auction, featuring heirlooms and more jewelry, will be held in February.
Rac’s massive wardrobe of designer clothing was sold to local vintage-wear resellers.
Archbold estimates that the total contents of Rac’s home could be worth about $400,000.
He plans on using his unexpected windfall to realize his dream of opening a café beside his shop.
Madame Rac’s grand piano will be featured in the space, available to whoever wants to tickle the ivories, he said.
“Her piano, which we’ve kept back here at the shop, is going to go live in that café, where students of hers or people who are musicians can come and play.”
It’s a way for Archbold to honour the piano teacher who unexpectedly changed his family’s fortune.
“We’re all very grateful to Madame Rac for her legacy being passed on through us and to be able to try and do wonderful things with it.”