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David and Julie Bethman

Julie and David Bethman hold a couple of the items, including a rare fire grenade, that will be auctioned off as part of the Ravalli County Museum's first Antiques and Collectibles Auction on Saturday, April 20, starting at noon. The antiques and collectibles that will be offered in the auction can be viewed Friday, April 19 form 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, April 20 from 10 to noon.

History will be on the auction block Saturday at the Ravalli County Museum.

The money raised from the first-ever Antiques and Collectibles Auction will help keep history alive at the county’s largest museum by keeping the lights lit, the doors open and the educational programs open to the public.

The first thing people need to know is that none of the historical pieces that will go up for bid are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Each of the thousands of antiques to be offered for sale Saturday were either donated by the auction’s creators, David and Julie Bethman, or from local residents interested in preserving history in the Bitterroot Valley.

The Bethmans have built businesses around antiques and collectibles.

When they moved to Hamilton four years ago from Bellingham, Washington, their love of everything historic brought them through the doors of the county museum in Hamilton. David now serves as a museum board vice president.

Funding has always been a challenge for the museum.

After becoming familiar with the inner workings of the county museum, Bethman stepped forward with a plan that called for putting the couple’s expertise in the antique field to use in creating a unique event that would offer people a chance to purchase their own piece of history.

On Tuesday, the Bethmans were busy making the final preparations on the 272 different lots that will be on the auction block Saturday in the museum’s courtroom gallery.

The items will open for public viewing on Friday, April 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and again on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The auction begins at noon.

RLP auctioneer Rick Peverley will be keeping track of the paddles while David Bethman will share stories about the different items being sold.

The Bethmans have spent a lot of time this past year travelling the state’s backroads in search of unique antiques that will help kick off what they want to see become a major event in fundraising for the museum.

There were memorable encounters along the way that helped fill an entire storage shed with antiques, with an overflow in an airplane hangar and the museum’s main gallery.

One chance encounter occurred in Roy, Montana, when the couple stopped for ice cream at a convenience store. That led to their usual inquiry about the potential of any antiques being for sale nearby. The answer led them to a man living three blocks away who was in the midst of auctioning off items from a farm and Victorian-era home. That same man just happened to own the local mercantile.

He had lots of interesting items to sell.

On Tuesday, David Bethman offered a quick tour of the thousands of items separated out along the perimeter of the old courtroom.

It was like taking a walk through a whole separate museum.

There was the long blue bottle once owned by the long-gone Chicago North Western Railroad filled with unknown liquid. The fire grenade was designed to be thrown into the flames in hopes that they’d be doused.

“That’s a pretty rare piece,” Bethman said.

From there, it was onto collections of old coins, movie posters, a large green insulator called a Munci that likely once topped a pole in Butte or Helena. There was a whole collection of old tokens handed out in Montana’s historic bars that probably once were good for a drink on the house and an old drug store label dispenser the couple discovered in Plains.

And that doesn't even touch the surface of what's going to be sold.

Bethman said there’s room for a hundred or so bidders in the courtroom. He hopes that when it comes time for the auction to occur that only those interested in taking something home will settle into a chair.

“This is our first annual,” he said. “It’s something that we want to see continue into the future.”

Ravalli County Museum’s Sarah Monson is expecting the auction to be a pretty big affair.

“We are expecting a large crowd,” Monson said. “We will have three payment stations to accommodate everyone so there won’t be a long wait between the end of the auction and guests taking items home.”

None of it would have been possible without the Bethmans, she said.

“David and Julie have been absolutely incredible,” Monson said. “They have been working so hard. We’re all really touched to have them on board.”

For those who get hungry putting their paddle up in the air, Monson said Pikeman Barbecue will be set up outside the museum.

“People can come in and preview all the items and then go back out and enjoy a pulled pork sandwich,” she said. “It should be a lot of fun.”

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.