The Last Unicorn in Pittsboro, NC is Now Open

The Last Unicorn has quietly re-opened in Pittsboro, NC, just down the road from the original location in Chapel Hill.

This new Last Unicorn is downsized and re-focused; it is much, much smaller in scale than the original. The goal here is to present a very select inventory of the items that made the original Last Unicorn famous: wrought iron gates, the occasional piece or two of wrought iron fence, and stained glass windows.

Gaines closed the doors on the Chapel Hill location in Aug. 2015, which included the sale of the house and property. Then he and the Unicorn took some time off. They traveled a bit…visiting friends and relatives, all the while pondering their next move. When the dust settled, they decided Pittsboro was the ideal place to re-create themselves.

Visits are by appointment only; there are no regular “showroom” hours. Call Gaines at 919-302-7235, or email him here to discuss your needs and arrange a visit.

Gaines & the Unicorn at a local event.

Photo courtesy of


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The Last Unicorn in Chapel Hill is Now Closed.

Following a successful auction in late August, 2015, the Last Unicorn in Chapel Hill has officially closed its doors. (Make that “closed its gates”.) The house and property have been sold, and I have moved.

*Update June 2016: We have re-opened in Pittsboro, NC! By appointment only. Just Call me or email.

I am still available to consult on exterior decorating projects. Just call me at the number on the website homepage, or send an email through the website.

Thank you for your business, your friendship, and your trust through the years. It’s been much more than wonderful!

~ til then, Gaines Steer


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Estate Auction Sale – August, 2015

The Last Unicorn Antique Auction & Estate Auction Sale, Chapel Hill, NC

The Last Unicorn Estate Sale & Auction

Antiques, Wrought Iron & More…Final Sale

Consider this your personal invitation to The Last Unicorn’s latest (and last!) grande finale’. I’m closing the doors, selling practically everything here, and moving. 

FYI: I have put my house and property on the real estate market via Louise Barnum of Weaver Street Realty.

We are hosting a huge antique estate auction (on premises) … on Saturday, August 29 {note details below}.  I am selling 51 lots of my private furniture and collections, in addition to  over 400 antiques collected over a 40 year period. I am selling everything but the kitchen sink…..!

For this auspicious occasion, I have contracted extraordinary auctioneer, Cindy Smith (NCAL #7208) of Mercer-Smith Auction & Appraisal, Hillsborough. 

Naturally, this enormous auction is titled: The Supreme, Ultimate Auction.

Details: Auction hours: 10-3pm  Last Saturday in August (29th)

Auction preview: Friday, August 28 (all day and 2 hours before Sat auction) 

  * Find Auction Catalogue online =   

919 302-7235 {TLU}      ’til then, Gaines Steer

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May Sale 2015

Gaines Steer - The Last Unicorn     


It's Here!

The 28th Annual 

May Sale

 "Show and Tell"

Friday, May 15 thru Sunday, May 31

10-6 Daily

28% Discount in Effect!


* Fences * Gates * Stained Glass *

* Wrought Iron * Stoneware *


Also Introducing

The New 


Unicorn Forest


Come & Get It 
while the gettin' is good!

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Mark Twain Show & Sale

I didn't retire, and I'm not dead yet! So many people seem to think it's one or the other that I decided to have a little sale just to make sure everybody knows that I'm still here! We've downsized a lot, and made everything easier to access. Oh…and I'm not working as many hours.

So come out to see the new Last Unicorn, which I'm calling "Unicorn Forest". I hope you like it as much as I do.

Till then…



"The reports of my death

have been greatly exxagerated".

I shall offer as evidence the  

"Mark Twain Showtime & Sale"

Saturday, Sept. 27 | 10am to 6pm

Sunday, Sept. 28 | 2pm to 6pm


"I'm semi-retired,

not expired".



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The Truly Amazing Lore of the Unicorn

Chapter One

While my personal association with the famed unicorn began in the year 1974,  I can now  piece together dozens of “unicorn accounts” beginning before the advent of the printing press.

By virtue of  the sheer volume of  these stories, myths, sightings, books, and artistic renderings, it is an established fact that the unicorn doth exist.  (I own the singular distinction of having been business partner with the “last of the species” for well over 30 years.)

As good a writer and trustory teller as I am, I cannot synthesize the massive volumes of unicorn accounts preserved in words, pictures, and poems in a typical format suitable for a blog. However, I shall do my best!  You, the reader, are about to be amazed and mesmerized. I guarantee it!

Let’s begin this well documented account with you.  Close your eyes and search your childhood memory:  See if you can locate the memory of the nursery rhyme: the Lion and the Unicorn.  Goes like this:

“The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.”

Remember?  Well perhaps…..  At any rate here is the origin of that rhyme.  The lyrics date from 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England unifying the Scottish and English kingdoms. The union of the two countries required a new coat of arms combining the two English lions and the Scottish unicorn .  This compromise is memorialized in the once familiar nursery rhyme….

How familiar are you with the King James Version of the Bible? (No, this is not a litmus test for the right wing of the Republican Party!).  It is a fact that our subject, the ubiquitous unicorn, appears nine (9) times in the Old Testament.  For example, in Job (the oldest book in the Bible) 39:9,10:

“Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide in thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? Or will he harrow the valley after thee?”

As a special favor to you, reader, I will not subject you to the archaeological debate  that this unicorn in the Bible has promulgated.  In order to join that nefarious  debate you’d need to master Greek, Hebrew, Assyrian and be some kinda nutcase to boot (in my opinion).  However, in FBI lingo let’s label this Biblical incursion “an item of interest.”

Chapter Two

In scholarly pursuit of the legion of legendary unicorn accounts, we should note that the “lore of the unicorn” will, of necessity, take us to Syria, China, India, ancient Greece, and medieval Europe.  Just pretend that your visa has run out  and we will not dwell on every single reference to our mystical subject.  After all, this is not a PhD dissertation.  Thank goodness!

For the skeptics among us, this scholarly survey must provide credence to the most  pervasive of the scientific explanations for the prevalence of the unicorn mythology, given the absence of empirical evidence and stuff like that.  This is it:  The male narwhale, a deep sea Arctic whale possessed of a long, spiraled tusk, is projected to have been washed ashore and its twisted tusk to have been fabricated by pre-scientific folk into an imagined animal, namely our unicorn subject.  It is known that sailors-of-old (forefathers of all antiques dealers) collected and sold these tusks to an audience of rich people who desired an antidote to poison as well as a remedy for impotence (no comment!). Queen Elizabeth I is reported to have paid 100,000 pounds for such a unicorn horn.

Chapter Three

Now, I ask you a simple question. How can it be that a mythical beast could have such influence over Western culture? More than most  “real” animals….  I invite you to read on (join in), as this account attempts to respond to that thoughtful query.

The unicorn has been  described as living in India, central Asia, and Tibet, as well as Ethiopia- in the Mountains of the Moon.  Marco Polo, we learn,  joined the search for the truth of the unicorn.  Unicorns were even reported in America in 1673: “….On the Canadian border there are sometimes seen animals resembling horses, but with cloven hoofs, rough manes, a long straight horn upon the forehead…..”  The only consistent fact regarding physical appearance of the Unicorn, is a single horn in the midst of the forehead.  Most depictions are white in color with a flowing mane and sensuous eyes.

The essential story line of the unicorn that has filled the pages of much literature and fueled the imaginations of mystics, story tellers and screen writers is that the unicorn lays its head in the lap of a virgin damsel dispensing certain gifts, often including the antidote to poison.  Sexual innuendos are obvious, even in the most prudent of times and cultures. (Is it possible, you conjecture, that this fact alone may contribute to the omnipresence of this creature we study?)  Most accounts reveal that the unicorn can only be witnessed by those of exceptional virtue and honesty.  Consequently, there is but a single account of an antiques dealer ever having seen one.  It appears that Gaines Steer is alone in this company; he is partner to one!

Chapter Four

Not to be overlooked in this amazing expose’ of the unicorn, is this little known jewel: By the end of the sixteenth century apothecaries (precursor to drug stores) would prescribe powdered unicorn horn as a remedy for whatever ailed you (snake bites to pleurisy). Thus the unicorn became the customary symbol advertising the drug store in the 17 Century.  In this manner, our unicorn became not only allegory, but the ally of science (as it was).  Amazing, isn’t it!

Returning to more familiar ground, the unicorn makes an appearance in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.  The Unicorn and Alice exchange one-liners. They both thought the other was a monster. “Well now we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “If you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”

Thus the Unicorn, master of allegory, subject of legend, religious icon, bearer of medicine and repository for imagination  (including architectural antiques) has had more influence over Western culture than any other single animal. Only a mythical event? Hardly!  A symbol so strong that its meaning can change vividly, yet the embolic significance remains. Therefore, it is indeed a fact that the unicorn exists. Agreed?

Chapter Five

Perhaps the most enduring feature of the medieval unicorn was its reputation as a healer. Based upon Greek sources the unicorn was credited with the magic skill to make poison benign.  A very real danger, you may recall….  (Wonder if I can package and sell that notion…)

In medieval times, facts were less important than allegory. Even nature was only important as a source of educational and supportive metaphor. Little wonder that Alexander the Great claimed to have ridden a unicorn into battle and the infamous Roman Emperor Julius Caesar reported citing a unicorn in Germany.

Personally, I witnessed most of my Unicorn’s before I quit drinking in 1989.  Since then I have focused on becoming a collector of Unicorn lore and I have indeed witnessed more miracles than mirages. I mean that!

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Antique Dealing

Since I have been an antique dealer longer than any other “job in my Korea”, I might comment on the nuances of this profession.  It combines history, nostalgia, sales savvy, marketing magic, and just a touch of  hyperbole. Personally, I don’t pay much attention to antique dealers until they have at least 12 years experience.

This is not a vocation for the faint of debt and wary of work.  The learning curve is steep and fraught with going-out-of-business sales. None-the-less, antiquedom is among the few remaining bastions of free enterprise that survives the vicissitudes of buy-and-sale after Ebay.  And the jury is still out, I should add.

Me? I’m betting that folks will continue to enjoy poking around on my 5 acre iron farm and trading quips with me until I get claimed at the final archive auction. Wanta bet?

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Stained Glass and Wrought Iron Gates Increase Resale Value and Beauty of Home

In a stroke of pure genius (Gaines is not the modest type), I decided to create a business plan based upon two antique items-of-interest: the wrought iron gate and the stained glass window. Why? Because I had learned (i.e., witnessed) that these two items are the two most influential antiques with respect to increasing both the perceived and the real value of a home.

Why these two antiques? {pls quote me!} “Out of all architectural antiques and/or elements, the stained glass window has the highest “exponent value” when it comes to enhancing the enjoyment and beauty in a home’s décor, and increasing its resale value!

It is an established fact (in the antique retail field and real estate world) that a single stained glass, appropriated in a dwelling, will increase the value (via pre and post appraisal) disproportionate to the cost of the glass.”

In short the home will appraise for substantially more if you place a better-than-average (your taste) stained glass in the foyer, bedroom, living room, alcove, etc. Instantly the house becomes a unique home.

The stained glass becomes the focal point in the domain. The stained glass will “out shine” hardwood floors, teak paneling, grande pianos, and grandpa’s clock. Specifically, a three hundred dollar ($300) piece of stained glass (*) will increase the market value by $3,000. That’s right!

The implication of this astounding claim is astonishing! Enormous! Thus, if the average spec-house builder (Democrat, Republican, or Independent) would add a single stained glass window to a $350,000 home, the real estate agent could relax and afford a ticket to the Bahamas. (That is as near a fact as I care to go!)

(*) FYI: most stained glass in our inventory appraises for $100 per square foot.

If a new house owner / builder/ designer / investor / architect / under-writer / interior-designer / mortgage broker / artist / music-teacher / mama and papa would perform this same act-of genius (yup: put in one (1) stained glass panel), then we (you and me) could revolutionize home construction, home décor, remodeling, and home finance…..

I {Gaines Steer} stake my reputation on this!!! (In all my years of antique-dealing I have never told a (cyberspace) lie.)



R. Gaines Steer is an antiques dealer in Chapel Hill, NC, specializing in wrought iron and stained glass. His five-acre outdoor showroom, aka “The Last Unicorn”, requires a map.

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Most Frequently Asked Questions About The Last Unicorn

Among the nice things about visiting a real antique shoppe {like ours} is that you can converse with a real, live person and not a computer screen or a surrogate telephone voice from overseas. Right here, right now.

Visitors to the Unicorn’s lair (not liar!) invariably ask the same three questions: “Gaines, where do you get all of this {great} stuff?” Gaines: “I honestly don’t exactly know. I began collecting over 30 years ago and it just got away from me…. I have “antique pickers” in five states who bring me special items and I reinvest every time I make a sale. I have more inventory now ‘than the law allows….’”

“How in the world did you get all of this iron into the woods….?” “Everybody asks me that. One sign says: ‘Magnetic North points here!’ Sometimes we use a railroad jack, or a two-ton com-a-long, or we grease a skid and tie a chain around a tree and pull the heavier items off of the truck or trailer. We also use muscle as a last resort…..

“How long have you been collecting?” “There is a great trustory in the Acres of Ideas about finding the first Unicorn iron gate in Delaware in 1973. I still have that gate in the display. Along with 35 standing (i.e., hung) gates on the five acre outdoor showroom property. These gates are basically demonstrations. Collecting is an emotion; selling is an art; marketing is a challenge.” Having fun in the process is not an option!

Speaking of questions, there are also three most frequently made customer comments. Wanta hear ‘em? Well, 93.4% (documented) of my customers utter this during their first hour-long visit: “I get ideas here…!” That is exactly where we got the famous motto: we sell ideas!

The second most frequently voiced opinion is: “I really didn’t expect The Last Unicorn to be this *&@#* (choice of expletive): outrageous, magnificent, whimsical, magical….

And finally: “I know this is a dumb question, but____________________? Believe me, in 30 years time the Unicorn Proprietor has been asked some bizarre questions: “Is Gaines the real last unicorn?” “Is it OK if I pay with cash?” “Is this stuff old?” “Does the price include restoration and installation?”

Somewhere on this blog, we listed some of our famous signs: I created several more to both encourage and discourage certain questions: Check these out: Dumb Questions Permitted! ; Our Prices Are Relatively Inexpensive Unless You Have Poor Taste! ; The Last Unicorn is a Frame-of-mind, a Mystique. The Heart and Soul are Engaged Here. Ideas Emerge as if by Magic. Agreed!


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I DO Know Stained Glass & How to Make It Work for You

There are people that know more about stained glass than I do. I am not a museum curator, rather an Antiques Dealer. What I do know a lot about is the art-and-science of helping homeowners locate and incorporate stained glass in their homes. Actually, I have helped customers install stained glass in renovated barns, old doors, metal gates, cute outhouses, and even tree houses in addition to the traditional and customary placements.

So I am an “experienced expert” in creative utilization of this artistic medium. I will share some of what I know without being pretentious or faking credentials.

And perhaps just as important is the fact that you can trust me! I’ve helped homeowners, and sellers, from right here in Chapel Hill, Pittsboro, Raleigh, and Durham, to Asheville, Wilmington, Fayetteville…pretty much everywhere in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

To begin with, I do not create nor restore stained glass. I refer customers to skilled folks who can. I collect stained glass and sell it to discriminating customers. I am not a particularly “high-end” stained glass dealer. Neither my taste nor my returning customers’ pocket books warrant trading in the upper echelons of this branch of antiqueland.

(Believe it or not, the best place to find high quality, expensive glass is via the world wide web buying sites…).

When folks arrive at The Last Unicorn’s five-acre “iron farm” and inquire about stained glass, I point them in the right direction (The Stained Glass Barn) and leave them alone for awhile. Veteran antique dealers know that the most important aspect of this entrepreneurial business is to trust the customer’s taste. It is not the role of the host (dealer) to determine taste. That is the job of the patron!

Nor is it the proper role of the antiques dealer to over-educate the customer. A major portion of the antique dealer’s role is to skillfully listen to the customer and lightly interview them regarding their plan or purpose for the stained glass acquisition.

If the stained glass is to be placed in an outside window, then the customer (or their builder or carpenter) need to know how to create a vapor barrier to provide protection and insulation rating. For example, if a plate of plexiglass is to be applied to the exterior frame (as installed in almost all churches with stained glass windows), the screws need to be one size smaller than the drilled hole to allow for expansion.

Also, someone needs to know that a single drill hole (1/16in) needs to be placed in the plexiglass (at an angle) to allow moisture to escape. Obviously this information is superfluous if the glass is to be placed in an inside wall or room divider…..

Again, information is not helpful if it is not applicable to the circumstances as presented by the customer. Showing off with too much information is for amateurs, politicians, and grandparents. Just remember…stained glass is a blast! (And I can help you with the details.)

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