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'Treasure Trader': The Late Billy Jamieson's Partner Talks Mummies, Shrunken Heads And Peg Legs

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TREASURE TRADER
Jessica Phillips and Billy Jamieson of 'Treasure Trader.' | History

Ever wanted to buy an Egyptian mummy? How about an authentic shrunken head? For decades, Billy Jamieson was the go-to guy for collectors looking to bulk up their cabinets of curiosity. He travelled the world hunting for remarkable tribal art for clients that ranged from museums to rock stars like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler.

Viewers can get a rare glimpse into Jamieson's fascinating world in the new History Television show "Treasure Trader," which followed Jamieson and his fiancée Jessica Phillips on their treasure hunting adventures for over two years. Tragically, Jamieson died suddenly and unexpected last summer.

We caught up with Phillips to find out what it's like living with mummies, which collectables get her the most excited and how she reacted to the idea of the show airing after Jamieson's death.

I understand that this show has been a long time in the making. When did you first start shooting it?
Oh, wow. I guess it would have been 2009. To be honest, it was quite a long time and I would say it was almost our whole relationship! [Laughs] We did a lot in those years. We accomplished a lot of things that a lot of people don't accomplish in 20 years.

I understand there was a lot of uncertainty about whether to go ahead with the show after Billy passed away. What was that decision-making process like for you?
It honestly wasn't even a thought for me to not go on. I knew Billy for 10 years, and of course we were very close and intimate for four, and this was his passion and one of his greatest accomplishments. It would have hurt me more not to be able to do it. Making sure that something your soulmate made comes to life is of the greatest importance.

In the first episode we see you guys go to Paris. Where else can we expect to see you go throughout the season?
We're all over. We usually have a regular tour that we do in the tribal art world which consists of New York, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Brussels and Paris. You can add in Switzerland and Miami as well. Taking it a bit further, we go into Germany, and don't forget Canada -- we go all over Canada as well.

What types of pieces can we expect to see you guys tracking down throughout the season?
In our world, we deal with everything. People are in store for everything you would possibly see in a museum or a cabinet of curiosities. That can go from mummies and shrunken heads to torture devices and everything in between, along with pop art.

In the first episode we see you buying a mummy in Paris. I'm curious -- how do you go about transporting a mummy, and where do you store it until you sell it?
Well, transportation is taken very seriously. From Paris we use a company called Art Transit that's skilled at packing different parts as well as storing it. They take the utmost care in making sure they make it over the sea to their next home. It is a delicate process. A lot of paperwork! But there's no point in purchasing a mummy if you don't take the care to transport them well! As for their home, well, they live with me. They're my roommates. I care deeply for all of these pieces. To have them sitting in a storage locker seems so wrong to me. I love each piece and have the utmost respect for the history behind it.

In the first episode, we see that one of Billy's passions is shrunken heads. What about you -- what do you get excited about?
I'm an eclectic collector as well. I collect everything from vintage hats to weapons. I have a good sword collection, I used to fence. I collect peg legs. They're not that easy to come across! I got one for Christmas the year before last. It's quite exciting getting a peg leg under the Christmas tree.

What do you think viewers might be surprised to learn about the world of collecting when they watch the show?
That it keeps history alive. That's one of the most important parts of our industry. It's not just a piece of wood or just a sculpture or just a painting. It speaks volumes of history.

What's next for you?
I'm working on many things! I'm still active in our industry. As Billy and I have always said, we deal to collect. I'm in charge of the Niagara Falls Museum collection as well as our home collection. That's always growing. There's no time to sit on your hands in this industry, nor would I want to. I've got a lot of energy and passion.

Who do you think the show will appeal to?
I think the show's appeal is limitless, really. When the [home] museum was open, we had everyone from Grade 5 students to students from the University of Toronto forensics unit coming through, along with Montessori schools and the Young Patron's Association for the Royal Ontario Museum. There's something for everyone. It's pop culture, it's history, it's ethnography, it's anthropology, it's adventure. When you explain pieces, that fear of the unknown disappears. That's the beauty of this show. At first, if there is something that someone's not sure of like a mummy or a shrunken head, they get to understand a little more about it. It's about educating.

Treasure Trader premieres on History Television on Thursday, June 28 at 10 p.m. ET/ PT.

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