THORNDIKE, Maine — Ever wanted to own your own nickelodeon, an old-fashioned coin-operated jukebox?
Or have you wanted to play a hurdy-gurdy, spin a tune on a vintage player piano or take a ride in a 1915 convertible automobile manufactured in Waterville?
Or perhaps you’ve wanted to bask in the heat thrown by a fancy antique stove?
Now is your chance, thanks to an upcoming auction of the contents of the Bryant Stove and Music Museum in Thorndike, considered to be one of the most eclectic museums in Maine.
The museum was a labor of love for Joe and Bea Bryant, high school sweethearts who started it in the 1990s in a Quonset hut connected to their Bryant Stove Works business.
But Joe Bryant, 87, died in 2018, and Bea, 89, followed him a year later. After their deaths, the family had to close both the stove business and the museum. Now, they are liquidating what is left.
“It was their lifelong collection of everything,” Clayton Bryant of Thorndike, one of the couple’s sons, said this week. “I just hope things will go to good homes, that’s all.”
Both the stove shop and the museum came about because of Joe and Bea Bryant’s particular strengths and interests. Joe Bryant was a lifelong tinkerer and inventor, and kept local farmers’ machinery in good working order. He loved antique stoves, toys and breathing new life into old things. When Bea Bryant began noticing in the 1960s that out-of-state companies were coming up to Maine and hauling old stoves, pianos and other antiques out by the truckload, that didn’t sit well with the couple.
Instead, they began purchasing and restoring old cast-iron cookstoves and other items that modernizing Mainers didn’t want anymore. The couple sold their goods to customers that included the Walt Disney Company, which purchased stoves for their theme parks, and the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurant chain, which for a time placed a stove from Bryant’s in each new restaurant that was built.
But the Bryants couldn’t bring themselves to sell the oldest, most ornate and interesting stoves they came across, and set those items aside in the museum. For years, the gregarious couple gave tours of the museum to those who happened to wander in, earning them a place in the hearts of visitors and on lists of unusual things to do in Maine.
“Don’t miss this incredible experience,” one tourist from Montana wrote on Trip Advisor in 2017.
Another visitor said in 2018 that the visit was worth the drive.
“Many of the mechanical toys, calliopes, player pianos, band boxes, etc., are in working order and utterly delightful, and you can play them yourself,” he wrote.
Museum visitors are likely to recall the doll circus, a memorable — and sometimes creepy — room full of dolls and toys that Joe Bryant automated to jolt into action at the flip of a switch. But that has already been sold. Clayton Bryant said that after his father’s death, his mother found an Amish buyer from out of state.
“I thought we were going to have to find a dumpster for all of that,” Clayton Bryant said. “But it all went down to Pennsylvania.”
Roy Bryant of Unity, another of Joe and Bea Bryant’s sons, said that according to a trust set up by his parents, the property had to be sold in order to divide the estate among the heirs. It will be sad to see the museum and stove shop’s contents go, he said.
“It feels like another death in the family,” he said. “It’s a big piece of my life. But we’ll get through it. Like any change in life, you have to just move on through it. It’s brought back a lot of good memories, too.”
Rusty Farrin, the owner of Farrin’s Country Auctions of Randolph, said this week that in 40-plus years of auctioneering, he’s never had a collection quite like that of the Bryants’ come up on the block. Among the items for sale are more than 200 wood stoves, four antique autos and Bea Bryant’s huge collection of buttons, which was her passion, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of calls and interest,” Farrin said. “I have visited the museum many times over the years and sold Bea and Joe stuff … I feel very privileged to be asked to do the sale for them.”
The auction will take place at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23 at Bryant’s Stove and Music Museum at 27 Stovepipe Alley in Thorndike. Previews will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21 and Friday, Oct. 22, and lots of photos are available on farrinsauctions.com.