Bookstores, fast-food restaurants and even some department stores have children’s play areas.
Well, Ancient Artifacts & Treasures of Winter Park has a kid’s section, too.
Underneath a white folding table by the entrance of the shop sits about 10 plastic dinosaur figurines piled next to a wooden crate on the floor. This is the play place. No frills — just enough to keep the kids occupied while their parents look around.
But look into that wooden crate and you’ll find 14 far-from-fake, 75-million-year-old dinosaur eggs.
Kids can take them home too, that is if their parents are willing to cover the $55,000 price tag. Owner John McIntosh has plenty to go around — The store has 45 individual dino eggs in stock.
While they’re probably the most expensive, the dinosaur eggs are not the oldest keepsakes inside Ancient Artifacts & Treasures.
Eleven years in treasure sales
Nestled unassumingly on Fairbanks Avenue between a pet spa and hair salon, the shop, which recently celebrated it’s 11th year in business, is filled wall-to-wall with exactly what its name suggests: treasures and artifacts from the ancient world.
“There’s a lot to see and there’s a lot of history in the store,” John said. “Sometimes [first-time customers] buy and a lot of times they won’t. They’ll go in the first time, and quite frankly, a lot of times, they’re a little overwhelmed.”
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when surrounded by fossils that date back 550 million years and pre-Colombian statues that date back to 200 B.C., especially when the browser realizes that the pieces are for sale.
John said the record for browsing without buying is set at four hours.
“We had a number of people come in and look around and spend a half hour, or an hour, and they’d walk out and say as they were leaving ‘This is a nice little museum!’, and I’d say ‘Oh no! No! You can buy it!’ … So I started putting price tags on the front of things,” he said with a laugh.
For a person walking in off the street, it’s not hard to imagine mistaking the shop as a museum. Every wall and every shelf is covered with artifacts from the world over.
Joan McIntosh, who runs the shop for her son during the week, said the treasures come from Morocco, Egypt, China, Mexico, just about any and all ancient civilizations you could imagine, as well as a section dedicated to locally found Florida fossils and minerals.
Ultimatum leads to store
Standing behind the glass-box counters, Joan, 78, is likely the youngest fixture in the store. She is also the very reason the shop exists.
“When I retired 12 years ago, I gave John three options,” she said. “I can work at Publix as a bag lady, you can open your store or I die.”
The result of her ultimatum is this store — a combination of a mother and son’s fascination with history and collecting.
“I remember my mother’s father, my grandpa, had collected coins,” John said, “and I think he’s the one who really had me started in it, and my mother kind of pushed it a little more.”
John, a former engineering professor at the University of Central Florida who now works as a technical consultant for engineering firms, grew his hobby from coin and mineral collections at age 7 to a shop filled with artifacts that collectors come from across the country to see.
“I started about 48 years ago collecting coins, collecting fossils and minerals. Then that developed into ancient coins and ancient items,” he said. “I’ve been collecting most of this stuff for most of my life.”
These days, although he’s certified in undersea archeology, he leaves the collecting up to others. Most of the items in the store, he says, he buys from other collectors or dealers.
Everyone can own a piece of history
Despite some of the big-ticket items, such as the $55,000 dinosaur nests, McIntosh says most of the things in his store range from $10-$15.
Remember that folding table that covers the kid’s play area? It is covered in bins of rocks, minerals and coins of all shapes, sizes and origins. Some are “bargain bins” filled with various treasures sold for only $1.
“I usually have all of the birthstones in there, except for April — I haven’t quite been able to find a diamond I can sell for a dollar,” he said.
Ancient Artifacts & Treasures overall, he said, is about bringing the knowledge of history to those who enter. Browsers can travel through time perusing the shelves, getting a history lesson from reading the strategically placed price and information cards.
“What I try to do, is I try to put labels on everything, and when somebody buys something, the label goes with it,” he said. “That way when they get home they still know what it is, they know where it’s from, and they know the history of the item. I try to make it kind of a learning experience also.”
It’s in this way, his mother says, Ancient Artifacts & Treasures offers a greater experience than any exhibit.
“We’re better than a museum,” she said, “Because you can handle the articles, buy them and take them home to enjoy them.”
Ancient Artifacts & Treasures is located at 1999 W. Fairbanks Ave. #B in Winter Park. For more information, call 407-678-9300.
To preview items the shop has in stock, or to buy online,