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Hunting for treasure in Moses Lake

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Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 9:05 am

MOSES LAKE - When one thinks of treasure hunting first thoughts may be of Indiana Jones and exotic steamy jungles with hidden temples, or gold nuggets lurking in deep river pools, or maybe ancient sunken ships sleeping in eternal coffins of lacy seaweed.

No one would drive by a modest doublewide manufactured home plopped down in a park with dozens of similar homes and even consider it being...not really a home, but a veritable museum of treasure.

In Moses Lake, Washington, however, there is such a home and there is such treasure.

Carl Weber, who died in September at age 75, was a passionate collector who, in the 1970s was president of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society and a one-time master at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry. The enormity of his estate is truly astonishing. To help disburse it his family has contracted Red Door in Moses Lake to appraise and sell the majority of it. An estate sale will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Peninsula Estates in Moses Lake. For years Weber collected anything nautical and maritime, old or unusual. He fancied rare books, art, maps, blueprints, contracts, baseball cards, coins, arrowheads, signs, ship models, ships in bottles, old magazines, postcards, vintage military items, old flags, glass negatives, copper-on-wood plates used for printing, scrapbooks, studio photos and snapshots, photo albums, lamps, trench art, lithographs, political buttons, old fishing gear, duck decoys, old labels from cans and whiskey bottles, posters, and so much more.

In his collection are approximately 7,500 books. Some are fiction but many are historical. Some are new but most are very old - dozens ranging from 1830 or earlier. Weber’s interest was vast and eclectic. Among other subjects: Washington history, military, warships, sailboats and sailing, gold prospecting, pirates, Alaska, rivers and waterways, logging, railroads, automobiles, and a slew of books he collected simply because of their strange titles. There are collections of old Navy annuals and high school yearbooks, including some from the 1920s from Seattle High School.

There are piles of old magazines and newspapers and boxes of ephemera, everything from old menus to a list of people who died in the Titanic to a presentation folder of the launching of the Queen Mary and an ashtray from the ship itself.

A huge map cupboard from a ship is so large a shed had to be built around it. In the drawers are hundreds and hundreds of maps, some not-so-old but some dating to the mid 1800s.

Born in 1937 to older parents, Weber lived an idyllic life in Edmonds, Washington, with his over-40 mother and a retired father who served as a playmate to his son. The pair hunted, fished nearly every day and simply enjoyed the small town on Puget Sound that served as a port for ferries and fishing boats, had views of the Olympic Mountains and Cascade Range and offered everything an adventurous young lad could hope for.

“He always said that growing up he was his father’s playmate. He lived a pretty adventurous and fun life as a kid,” said his son, Ed Weber who, with his wife Penny and daughter, Megan, live in Moses Lake.

He was a man who loved being on the water, said Carl’s daughter, Lori Thompson, who also lives in Moses Lake. “I remember we did a lot of week-long vacations on his sailboat. He loved the San Juan Islands,” she said, adding that he owned property there.

According to Ed Weber, his father lived an interesting life. Married three times with five children, he worked for Boeing for a time, served a short tour in the Navy, and drove a beverage truck while attending art school.

“He would draw pictures and bring pop on visits,” Ed remembered. “He was a very social person who drove sports cars and was a man-about-town. He was an artist and collector. He threw big parties and the mayor of Seattle and lawyers would come. People liked my dad. He had a way of sticking his nose and fingers into everything.”

A gifted artist, Carl Weber’s art schooling served him well and he eventually became art director for Foster and Kleiser Co. in Seattle. In his art drawers, which the family will keep, are dozens of presentation boards for huge billboard signs that once graced Seattle‚s main thoroughfares.

When the company wanted him to transfer to California he declined. By that time fancy wood-burning stoves were all the rage and he started American Stove and Fireplace Company, which was very lucrative. When the public yen for stoves and fireplaces smoldered and sputtered out, Weber used the building to embrace his first love...books. American Booksellers was born.

So, how did this avowed ocean-lover who had salt water running through his veins end up in the high desert of Moses Lake?

“He moved here to be near family about four years ago,” said Ed, who said his fathe’s health was failing by then. However, he was still a vital, social, man and made many friends in the community.

Ed Weber calls the Moses Lake collection “the dregs” and said that this represents only about 5 percent of the original collection, much of which was amassed when he moved to Aberdeen. “At one time he had over 75,000 books cached all over Seattle,” said Ed. “He had rental houses all over Seattle and every basement was full of books. There was a time when he was the guy in the country to go to for rare maritime books.”

In the past there was also a vast collection of incunabula, books or pamphlets that were printed prior to the year 1501. There was also a household of priceless furniture that originated in old ships, and one of three sets of logs from Captain James Cook that were printed in the mid-1700s and gifted to the Queen of England.

“It’s hard to believe, when we see what we are dealing with, that this is such a small part of the original collection,” said Lisa Boorman, one of the three owners of Red Door who added that this is a priceless opportunity.

“It is a true honor to be able to do this. We are learning so much about the man Carl Weber was. It sounds strange but we really feel, in handling all of his treasures, that we almost know him.”

Another Red Door owner, Jan Thacker, said the store has a lot of help in handling the vastness of the estate and assessing prices, two people at Sotheby’s in New York, a map/rare book dealer in California, a military expert in Montana, and others.

“Still, the effort is taking an enormous amount of time,” she said. “We research all day between customers at Red Door and at night we head to the house to prepare for the estate sale. We get so weary but then we pick up a book from 1825 or 1826 and, wow!, our hearts soar!”

The estate sale will take place in Peninsula Estates Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 a.m. However, since Red Door has 4,900 square feet of floor space, the majority of the books and many other items will be sold through the store during the next few months.

“This isn’t a one-time estate sale,” said the third Red Door owner, Kyleigh Boorman. “It will take months to wade through it all.” She said that since much of the collection is museum-quality, it is hoped that private collectors will come to Moses Lake.

For more information call Red Door at (509) 350-5525 or visit the business at 116 W. Third Ave., Moses Lake.

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