Created in 1996 by WGBH, Antiques Roadshow is based on the British series of the same name. With its cult following – where many of the show’s appraisers have reached celebrity status – Antiques Roadshow combines entertainment, and education. (I must admit I got just a bit excited when I saw Leslie Keno standing just feet from where I was, outside the exhibition area, talking with his wife and children.)
Watching Antiques Roadshow is often akin to watching someone win the lottery. Everyone loves a happy ending – the oil painting that turned out to be painted by none other than John Singer Sargent, a rare baseball card collection that saw a value of a million dollars… A first edition book signed by the author, a unique and rare piece of jewelry, china or silver. If you’ve never watched Antiques Roadshow I strongly urge you to do so. There’s always a feel good story and perhaps you’ll discover that you have something in your own possession that is potentially worth a lot.
The show was recently in New York City’s Jacob Javits Center and I had the privilege of not only attending the event, but getting a glimpse of the inner-workings with a behind the scenes tour.
Each stop on the tour sees between 70-80 volunteer appraisers and about 5-6,000 ticket holders who are invited by the show to bring two items each (10-12,000 items will be appraised over the course of the production day.) In order for an event like this to take place it must be well organized and well run – and that it absolutely is. Despite the lines (lines and lines and lines of lines!) and despite all in attendance, I was amazed at how remarkably calm it was inside. In fact it was so quiet I am quite certain I could have heard a pin drop. I was surprised by the sheer size of the event and the number of people involved – both attendees and volunteers. Television just doesn’t capture the scope of it all.
The process begins with your ticket. When you receive your ticket, you are given a time slot in which to appear and are urged to come no earlier than a half hour before your scheduled time. This helps to ensure that not everyone shows up at the same time, and helps to keep a steady and even flow of attendees. You will be directed to the aisle marked with your time slot. From there you will trade your entrance ticket for one or two tickets (based on what you’ve brought with you for appraisal). These tickets will direct you to where you will go next. There are – over 20 specialty categories from folk art to collectibles to furniture – from which to choose, and off to another line you will go! Here you will get the opportunity to meet with an appraiser.
One cannot help but notice the noticed the incredible amount of volunteers at the venue. In addition to each appraiser, the local public television station supplies over 100 volunteers to help with the overall coordination and efficiency. Standing by each appraiser is a volunteer. If an appraiser thinks you have something of interest or a compelling story he or she will notify one of the series producers. If a producer thinks you’ve got something worthy for television you will be escorted over to the Green Room where you will have some make up put on, sign a release and await your turn to have your appraisal on camera! After your camera session (or after you’ve had your appraisal) you can wander over to the “Feedback Booth” for a chance to share your experience for possible inclusion in a future episode. [/onehalflast]
I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience this all first hand, though, as a member of the press I admit to having been able to cheat the system a bit, if you will, by by-passing all the lines.
My wonderful volunteer escorted me to antiquarian book expert Ken Sanders who has been in the industry since the 1970s and involved with Antiques Roadshow since 2007. He is as lively and colorful in person as is on TV. I brought him 2 things. The first was a letter from Albert Einstein to my great grandmother in 1940 asking for her contribution to Israel’s philharmonic orchestra. The letter was said to be worth between $1,000 and $1,500. Had it been more “relative” it could have fetched a lot more. (Pardon my pun!)
I also had some personal letters that the great American playwright Thornton Wilder had written to my grandmother. The two became fast friends while sitting at a café one day in the South of France where my grandmother was in the midst of building a home. There are 17 letters in total in which he writes about writing and traveling and some of his books – He wrote of The Eighth Day (he and my grandmother went into lengthy conversation over the title) and The Bridge of San Luis Rey (my grandmother adored!) and Hello Dolly. Hello Dolly was being produced on Broadway at the time and was based on his play, a farce, called The Matchmaker. Thornton was elated this was happening and was as giddy as a school child and this was all so very apparent in his writing. There were personal anecdotes and my favorite piece of correspondence was the one in which he acknowledged my birth – a postcard that simply said “Congratulations! La Jolie Grandmère!”
Sanders listened to what I had to share and wished he could have had the time to pour over each and every letter. Based on what he saw and what I shared with him, he gave the letters a value of between $10,000 and $15,000. I was quite surprised as I had been told that they really didn’t have much monetary value at all.
If you find that Antiques Roadshow is going to be in your neck of the woods, and you have something you’d like to have appraised, I highly suggest going. It’s truly an amazing experience.
For more information on Antiques Roadshow including tour stops and television schedule, please visit their website.