01/26/2013 02:55 EST | Updated 03/28/2013 05:12 EDT

RCMP tap into antiques crowd to trace stolen artifacts

RCMP officials are seeking advice from Nova Scotia's tight-knit community of antique collectors and dealers to help identify a trove of rare books, antiques, documents, paintings and other items seized from a suburban home outside Halifax earlier this week.

Police said they believe the 1,300 goods were stolen from several universities, museums and private collections.

John Mark Tillman, who signs his name Tillmann, is the owner of the Fall River house at the centre of the police investigation and has been charged with four counts of possession of stolen property. Police believe Tillman amassed the collection over two decades.

On Saturday a police investigator will spread the word at a popular auction in Halifax.

Jack Craft, owner of Finer Things Antiques and Curios, said he's paying rapt attention to the saga of John Mark Tillman.

"It's certainly the biggest story we've heard around here in a long time related to this business. He's never sold us anything, but we have seen him in the shop, so it's something we certainly intend to follow."

Craft said RCMP investigators have already been in touch.

"They're obviously trying to find out how he acquired some of these artifacts, and what he may have been trying to do with them."

The news of the one-of-a-kind hoard is expected to be the main gossip at the Crowther-Brayley auction in Dartmouth on Saturday.

Nova Scotia antique professionals and enthusiasts gather about a half-dozen times a year at the Dartmouth Sportsplex. This time an officer will also be there, looking for expert assistance on identifying what's what.

Auctioneer Bill Brayley says people are eager to help.

"Anything we can do or the general public can do to help identify and repatriate these items would be tremendous," he said.

The RCMP has set up a website with a few pictures of Tillman's antiques hoard.

The public can get in touch if they see something that might belong in a different home.