Old World Trader
Treasures abound at Rolla's most unique store
|The Old World Trader in Rolla is a curious
mix of antiquities, natural history, gifts from other cultures and
Maybe you are in
the market for a nice human skull to go on your mantel. Or perhaps
your taste leans more toward a mounted and framed snake skeleton or
a piece of 4,000-year-old Chinese pottery. What’s a collector
Chances are the local
flea market isn’t going to have what
you need. But a trip to The Old World Trader, Rolla’s most unusual
store, is sure to turn up something interesting (although the skull won’t
Owner Doyle McClellan
probably wishes something similar existed when he caught the collecting
bug years ago. “I started off collecting
rare books and manuscripts basically as soon as I could afford them,” he
before I could afford them I just collected old stuff.”
You could say
Doyle was born to collect old things. His grandfather and his father had
huge collections, composed mostly of southwestern Indian artifacts. “Grandfather
had bins and bins full of artifacts, great big display cases and that sort
of thing,” the Intercounty Electric Co-op member says.
Among the items for sale at The Old World Trader are these reproduction
to turn collecting into a business came after Doyle grew bored with a successful
software company he founded. “It did real well but it was
not something I particularly enjoyed,” he says. “So I sold
that off after about a year and started thinking about what I could do
that would be a bit different.”
His original plan
was to wholesale rare manuscripts and maps to frame shops. With this
in mind he began gathering maps, prints and rare books. Once his collecting
reached critical mass he decided to eliminate the middleman and take
his wares directly to the public.
“If you have a storefront, it
lends credibility,” says Doyle. “When
I opened I forgot the original plan, which was to wholesale. You really
have to go one way or another.”
At first the business was exclusively devoted to rare maps and manuscripts.
To add variety Doyle went for broke and put his personal collection,
including many of the artifacts from the family collection, up for
“I didn’t want to think later if I had gone all out
it would have made it,” Doyle says. “So I’ve had some
really prized pieces that I’ve loved for years that I sold when
For Doyle the pain of parting with something he had lovingly collected
and cared for was tempered by the opportunity to touch pieces of history
he would never have enjoyed without the store. One example is the exquisite
Roman glassware for sale at the store.
|A customer examines Egyptian themed art.
I wanted a piece of Roman glass but I couldn’t justify
buying it for myself. But now at the store I get them and I’ve
had them for awhile. I can really appreciate them for what they
are. When that is gone I realize there is something else I am going
to get that I am going to enjoy even more,” Doyle says.
the store has taken off and done so well is in part due to the
service of Doyle’s father, Vance. While Vance runs the
store day to day, Doyle stays behind the scenes and deals with
the frustration of buying things from people who often don’t
speak English well.
Until the store’s
profits grow, Doyle continues to work in a completely unrelated field
during the day. He teaches computer network administration at the Rolla
Back at the store,
Vance serves as more of a tour guide or docent than salesman, giving
the store’s customers
a running commentary that is part history, geography and sociology
lecture with just a touch of religion thrown in. Sometimes his banter
is qualified with comments like “my son cringes when I say
this, but . . .”
Father and son, Vance, left, and Doyle, right, encourage visitors
to handle the items on display.
Like the young Indiana
Jones and his father, Doyle and Vance spar occasionally.
“Dad has been crucial,” Doyle admits. “He loves to talk. He
jokes around. People love him for who he is — but,
of course, as his kid, I just don’t get it.”
a recent move to new quarters inside a frame shop on
Highway 63, The Old World Trader is home to a wide variety of antiquities
and gifts from other cultures. Among the many items for
sale are dozens of chess sets.
Just inside the doorway
is a shelf that holds what appear to be three actual human skulls.
Instead, they are models cast from the real things. Stacked around
the skulls are fossils ranging from hand-sized trilobites to much-larger
fossilized sea creatures that came from the Atlas Mountains
Hanging from the
wall, a pair of magnificent mounted butterflies rest in a wooden frame.
Vance points to the butterflies and asks what the wing tips resemble.
After a closer look it becomes apparent that nature designed them to
look like the heads of spitting cobras.
|This tiny oil lamp is
one of several for sale in the store. It’s
similar to the lamps mentioned in a Bible story about handmaidens
who were urged to be on watch lest their lamps run out.
Inside a glass case
where Vance holds court are the delicate Roman glass bottles, rows
of coins and brass rings from the Middle East. He shows customers exquisite
boxes from Russia that an artist inlaid with designs made from pieces
Impossible to miss
are the shelves holding Chinese pottery. One of the more unusual pieces,
Vance is quick to point out, is a Chinese pot that looks just like
the vegetable steamers we use today.
Other pieces of pottery,
he says, are much newer — only about 700 to 800
On another wall are rows of books on historical
subjects ranging from Diderot’s “Encyclopédie” to
tomes on the Vietnam War. Richly detailed Greek
painted icons and Egyptian art printed on papyrus appeal to art lovers.Vance
can’t resist hauling out a tiny object made from clay and handing
it to anyone who walks past. The object is
an oil lamp, of the same type the Apostle Matthew referred to in the Bible story
of the handmaidens who were urged to be on watch, lest their lanterns burn out.
Vance McClellan shows Russian babushka dolls to Christy Starr of
St. Louis. Vance offers a running commentary on items for sale at
The Old World Trader that adds meaning to a visit.
story never meant much to me until I saw how small these are,” Vance
says. “They probably only hold 2 or
3 tablespoons of oil.”
out that the store has no signs that say “You
break it, you buy it.” In fact, customers
are encouraged to hold 4,000-year-old Chinese
pots or to touch the fingerprint an artist
left in another ancient vessel.
like holding something that’s been
held by people long, long before,” Doyle
says. “You can go to a museum and
look at a piece but often there are things
you never really understand until you
pick it up and really examine it. That’s
what I really want to do with these things — let
people appreciate them.”
loaned artifacts to teachers and ministers
and, in one case, to a student who
needed props for a history presentation. So
far, few objects have been broken,
and Vance admits he’s more likely to damage the pieces than the
|Vance unloads a box that was shipped from the Middle East. The
two say every day is like Christmas when shipments from foreign lands
arrive. Even with detailed descriptions and e-mailed photos, some
of the items must be seen to be appreciated.
Doyle says his favorite
piece changes from day to day, but currently it is a small Byzantine
cross that once hung around an early Christian’s neck.
What makes it special is the extreme
wear on the hanger, which indicates to Doyle that it was highly prized
by its owner.
These are the kinds
of things Doyle likes to bring to the store. His wares
tend to be common items from everyday
life, whether it’s an ancient pot or a
modern piece of African art carved
from ebony. Everything he sells comes with a certificate of authenticity.
And they are all legally acquired.
From time to time
a customer will question whether items for sale at
the store should be in a museum instead
of for sale. Doyle tells them:
“I think you have to strike a
balance,” he says. “There has
to be museums with collections
where very important pieces are amassed and where lots of people
can appreciate them. At the same time, we have to remember that the
same thing that allows them to make them visible to the masses also
takes them away. In a museum, it’s three feet behind the glass
and all you can do is look at them.”
You can find The Old World Trader at 410 South Bishop Ave. (Highway
63) in Rolla inside the Frame Shop Gallery. For information call (573)