Jason Koenig winced at people using taxidermy as decor until he did so himself. Now the St. Paul, Minn., real-estate agent has a 4-foot barracuda mounted above his stone fireplace, along with life-size teal-and-yellow bulldog statues flanking the staircase.
"I never thought I'd own a fish mount," Koenig said. "But it's so cool. I had to have it."
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Koenig's living-room conversation pieces were purchased at the Bearded Mermaid Bazaar in St. Paul. The hodgepodge vintage-style shop belongs to an emerging segment of the antiquing market that's tailoring its inventory to men. This movement of guys who sift through trash to find their treasure even has its own name -- "mantiquing."
Thanks to the popularity of TV shows like "American Pickers" and "Storage Wars," antiquing and junking among men is surging. As the American home grows in size, family members have spaces of their own, and collectibles that were once relegated to the garage or wood shop are finding space on walls and bookshelves in the basement bar or in the proverbial man cave.
For some mantiquers, the more offbeat the better. The Bearded Mermaid's collection of oddities has included a stuffed raccoon with its paw on a Schmidt beer can (it now resides in a local barbershop).
"This isn't your typical grandma's antique store," said Bearded Mermaid owner Nick Soderstrom. "I have what guys are looking for -- good American-made stuff."
Among the "stuff" in question: An 8-foot-tall taxidermy giraffe -- which may or may not be American-made.
That's not to say women don't appreciate such eclectic decor, said Jim Bailey, a longtime antiques dealer and artist. Generally speaking, however, women are after fine pottery, porcelain and glass, while men are drawn to tools, hunting and fishing gear and sports memorabilia.
"There's not too many guys dealing in dishes," said Bailey. "But I don't know a guy who wouldn't want a moose head on his wall."
Sue Whitney, editor and founder of Junk Market Style magazine, admits she searches specifically for those collectibles that appeal to the masculine sex and makes sure they're visible from the window of her shop, Get Fresh Vintage in Lanesboro, Minn.
"Junk," as Whitney proudly puts it, is becoming more acceptable in general. That's why more antique stores are morphing into vintage shops.
"I'm very attracted to things that would be in a mantique section of a store," she said. "Mantiques can help take the lacy edge off a feminine look."
Male shoppers outnumbered women this one recent afternoon at Hunt and Gather, a mantiquing mecca in Minneapolis.
Inside, a silver serving plate held turtle shells for $16 apiece. Baby alligator heads -- teeth intact -- were displayed neatly across from a basket of old baseball mitts. Wooden water skis hung in the window and a collection of teacups sat atop an old medical stretcher. Turns out some mantiquers have a particular interest in quack medical equipment, such as doctor's kits and anesthesia devices.
Lee Fisher, 31, of Minneapolis, was looking for a unique wedding gift; Tamer Schiller, 17, of Minneapolis, hunted down items to display in his college dorm room; and Cory Meyer, 45, of Minneapolis, was prowling for unusual pieces to spruce up his wholesale furniture-showroom displays.
"This is the antiquing for the new generation," Meyer said.
Veteran mantiquers advise spending with discretion. Too much mantiquing could earn you a night or two of sleeping on the couch.
"Much to my wife's chagrin, I'm usually looking for old, heavy things," said Jim Kitchen, 45, of Woodbury, Minn., who bought four lathes in one month. "I also have a fairly good-sized G.I. Joe collection."
Here's another tip. When scouring for junk with your friends, be prepared for some tough bartering -- both for your rare finds and with the partner in your life.
"You have to use judicious foresight in regards to marital bliss," said Kitchen. "Set limits, because ideally you want to stay married."
Kitchen has since gotten rid of three of the lathes. But he's holding on to the G.I. Joe collection.