BELLEAIR BLUFFS — One has to carefully step over and around some of the priceless artifacts in Tom McKaughan's new antique shop. That's part of the charm.
It's a guy place. But it offers rare treasures.
Shoppers will find artifacts displaying the colorful artistry of American Indians, historic weaponry used by soldiers in past wars, and eye-popping chunks of turquoise polished and crafted into modern silver jewelry.
McKaughan, 60, who has master's degrees in history and archeology and is a semiretired U.S. Airways jet pilot, has been collecting all things American Indian for more than 30 years, as well as old guns, rare books, antiques and much more.
His interest in anything American Indian stems from the Sioux and Swedish background on his mother's side. He did some amateur archeological digging as a youth growing up in Sioux Falls, S.D., and worked 2 ½ years on a Cheyenne reservation helping to install pipes and a water tower for a water system.
He settled in Largo more than 20 years ago while flying for Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of U.S. Airways.
More recently, when his collections began to take over their house, he and his wife decided it was time to downsize and sell some of his things.
The shop is the result of that downsizing. "This is something I enjoy," McKaughan said. "I like meeting people and talking to them about what's in here."
His expansive inventory includes old Western saddles, some original art, Kachina dolls, dream catchers, cameras from the 1900s, a large number of antique rifles, Revolutionary War muskets and Indian trade muskets, a handsome manual Olympia typewriter, Colt revolvers, a big train set, a coiled rattlesnake, a Civil War era stomach pump and enema set, and a large framed Indian headdress.
Ed Collum, who has had an antique shop for 25 years just a few steps from McKaughan's business, said he welcomes another antique shop.
"Sure, there's some overlap, but that's great as far as I'm concerned," said Collum, whose specialty is the Civil War. "It's good for business."
Collum said he has visited McKaughan's shop and chatted with him. "He's very knowledgeable in his area," he said.
Al Bardi of Seminole, who collects antique weapons and is a longtime customer at Collum's, says he now has a second place to shop. He said he was surprised to find the high quality artifacts in McKaughan's shop.
"Normally, you have to go to the Southwest to find some antiques like this," he said.
"The shops have stirred an interest among collectors," Bardi added, "because now we have two interesting guys selling things very hard to find, very rare and very unusual."
Another Collum customer, Todd Weimer of Seminole, said he has visited McKaughan's shop and enjoyed the Indian artifacts and Civil War items. He said he has his eye on some Civil War guns in the shop.
"An ancestor was a Confederate in the cavalry, so I'm interested in anything to do with the Civil War, especially cavalry items," Weimer said.
One rifle of historic interest in McKaughan's collection is a model of an Army rifle used by Custer and his 7th Cavalry battalion at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He's in the process of having the Springfield 1873 single-shot rifle forensically tested to determine if it was used in the battle.
"As it stands, the rifle is worth $20,000," McKaughan said. "If proved to be from the battlefield, its value can go as high as $400,000."
Items in the shop range from 25 cents for manufactured arrowheads to $40,000 for a buffalo robe.
The tall, narrow American Indian leather pipe bags decorated with beautiful bead and porcupine quill work, and sometimes horsehair, ribbons and fringe, range from $1,500 to $18,000. A leather belt with 10 large turquoise disks on silver is priced at $3,000. A gold necklace with a gold arrowhead and thunderbird in the center is $250, while a large turquoise pendant is $375.
McKaughan said he is still collecting, buying and going to auctions. "I'm trying to stop myself," he said, "but I can't."