A peek inside wonderland: M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans

In the market for an armoire once owned by Tsar Nicholas II for use in his winter palace? How about a 12×6 snooker table with the history of Australia carved in high relief around the base once used in Buckingham Palace? An original van Gogh drawing? A copy of the Zapruder Film?

If so, then you’re in luck. You can purchase all of these items – and hundreds of thousands more – inside the M.S. Rau Antiques wonderland in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Tsar Nicholas II armoire at M.S. Rau Antiques
Tsar Nicholas II armoire at M.S. Rau Antiques.

How to describe the indescribable?

If the royal families of Europe from the 18th through 20th centuries held a community yard sale, it would look like the inside of M.S. Rau Antiques.

Diamond rings, necklaces and bracelets with stones the size of marbles. An original Claude Monet oil on canvas seascape. A silver plate presented to Joe Dimaggio by the Yankees on his 70th birthday. A rhinoceros carved out of quartz (pictured above) based on an etching from Albrecht Durer. A working Enigma machine. A guillotine.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check and check.

Opened for business over 100 years ago, M.S. Rau’s storefront doesn’t stand out from the numerous other antique stores along Royal Street. Looks can be deceiving. Twenty-five thousand square feet of retail space – with more on the way following a soon-to-come expansion – await visitors behind the security guard who greets you at the front door.

A Chippendale table. No, not a Chippendale-style table, a table from the hand of Thomas Chippendale, namesake of the furniture movement. “The Payment of the Tithe” by Pieter Bruegel the Younger from the 1600s, signed. Pope Paul VI’s Papal Cross featuring over 60 carats of diamonds and Columbian Emeralds? A program from the “Rumble in the Jungle?”

You got it.

You might expect the staff at M.S. Rau to treat looky-loos snobbily. Kristi and I were obviously tourists looking to look, not looking to buy, and asking upon entry to see a recent store acquisition: Childe Hassam’s impressionist masterpiece “Ten Pound Island.”

The History of Australia Billiard Table at M.S. Rau Antiques
The History of Australia Billiard Table at M.S. Rau Antiques.

Our experience (and another we observed – more on that later), couldn’t have been more different.

Susan Lapene stepped away from her jewelry counters and happily lead us on an hour-plus, behind-the-scenes tour of the store – what an inadequate word to describe this place. She focused on the collection of paintings, as we asked, patiently sharing information she had on each piece, helping us to appreciate better what we were seeing.

She never tried to “sell” us or make us feel inadequate that we obviously couldn’t buy anything we were looking at. She didn’t patronize us and seemed genuinely excited to show us around. As she did when we returned the next day to visit M.S. Rau’s latest exhibit – yes, it curates and hosts exhibits, just like a museum – “Vice and Virtue,” an exhibition of sex, saints and sin in celebration of New Orleans’ tricentennial.

The exhibit is odd, beautiful and naughty, just like the city it honors.

You want prices, don’t you? You can find them on their website along with detailed descriptions and pictures of everything described here by using their wonderful search feature.

The Monet and Bruegel paintings I mentioned both push $5 million. The Chippendale table, a nose under $300,000. They’re probably not firm on those prices, so I wouldn’t be afraid to dicker.

As for the most expensive item in the store? That would be a $10 million diamond ring. You’ll have to go see that for yourself – as a mom and her daughter who were visiting the store while Kristi and I were there did. Susan let the teenager try it on and mom take a photo.

Another lifetime memory made at M.S. Rau Antiques.

You can follow M.S. Rau Antiques on Facebook and join its e-mail list here to stay up to date with events and acquisitions.

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