TAMPA — It was around seven years ago when Larry Schiller first saw the collection of maritime items.
Cannons, corals, searchlights, fossils and much more were carefully organized in the backyard of a Hillsborough County home. The chain from an anchor formed a walking path through the items.
Schiller was adding to the collection by bringing to the collector an oversized shackle used to fasten a heavy anchor chain to a ship.
A year ago, the collector’s wife called Schiller, who owns Schiller’s Architectural & Design Salvage, where he collects and refurbishes unique items for home, business and landscaping decor.
She said her husband, whom Schiller will not name, had crossed that line separating a collector from a hoarder. She needed Schiller to buy the piles of stuff that had filled their yard and home.
“It was 30 times as much as when I had seen it last,” said Schiller, a professional salvager of 14 years.
In all, Schiller estimates that he obtained more than 10,000 maritime items.
The collection takes up around half of Schiller’s 14,000-square-foot warehouse at 1002 N. Rome Ave., plus nearly the entire front yard of the business.
Schiller figures that he has more than 1,000 corals and hundreds of sea sponges, both of which range in size from baseballs to beachballs and come from around the world.
“I’ve got over 1,000 feet of anchor rope and over 1,000 feet of anchor chain,” he said. “See those giant clamshells over there? I had seven more before people started buying them.”
Need an anchor? He has 258, in all sizes.
“I had 14 canons, but they’re sold already, but I still have piles of cannon balls,” Schiller said. “I have portholes, bronze bells, floats of all kinds, hatch doors, cabin doors, submarine doors, battleship doors, instruments.”
What about whale teeth? Handfuls, both polished and unpolished.
Megalodon teeth? Of course, boxes, some with scrimshaw, which is the art of carving a picture onto a fossil.
Blue crabs? Yep, dozens, preserved with shellac.
He obtained non-maritime items too, like fossilized dinosaur poop. Wait, what?
“Yes, dinosaur poop,” Schiller said with a laugh.
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Schiller was told the collector couldn’t renew his home insurance policy until the yard was cleared because it was considered a hazard.
With the help of the wife, Schiller convinced the him to part with items in phases. A pile strewn along one side of the house one week. Another section of the yard the next. And then inside the house. It took nearly a year to clear everything.
In all, Schiller estimates that he filled his 14-foot-long enclosed trailer a dozen times, from its floor to 6-foot high ceiling. Heavier items, like anchors, were transported on Schiller’s flatbed truck. “I can’t even count how many trips that made,” he said.
This was the most he ever spent on one purchase, Schiller said, but wouldn’t say exactly how much he spent.
But for Schiller, who has salvaged items from local historic buildings like seats from the Tampa Theatre and doors from The Belleview Inn, this was not his strangest job. That distinction goes to a Pennsylvania funeral parlor from which he obtained caskets and embalming tables.
“Hey,” Schiller said with a smile. “People like weird stuff.”