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The Antiques Roadshow

     What’s not on air on ‘GBH are the lines without end of TV-hopeful losers: people toting in paper bags, sometimes wheeling on handcarts, unmistakeable trash. You’re allowed two items to strike it rich with a miracle appearance on the Chubb’s Antique Roadshow, and these are the instant rejects. I’m talking a recent dime store-bought plastic toy in one hand and a dusty kitsch print in the other, or a five-foot wicker monstrosity hauled in on rollers. The hardest task of being appraisers for the PBS series must be remaining polite through the long day off-camera of evaluating and low-ball pricing the most dubious of non-collectibles.

     At the August 21 stop at Providence’s Rhode Island Convention Center of the Roadshow’s eight-city summer tour, I actually saw a man stroll in with Picasso’s Don Quixote, that ubiquitous print on every freshman’s dorm wall. Presumably, an antique appraiser clued in the man that what he owned was, alas, a Pablo copy. I was there when Noel Barrett, the ponytailed toy expert from Carversville, Pa., (he’s often on the televised show), examined a metal black Mammy and also a Jonah and the Whale and informed the poor soul who brought them, "These are fakes, made in Taiwan in the last few years. Sorry!"

     And sorry too for those with items a step up, such as the woman who had been hoarding this spiffy boxed Barbie Doll and Susie Goose furniture since 196l. "I think they’re worth maybe $3,000," she told me, just before being given a price of $200 each. Ditto the nice couple holding a lovely Victorian print in a stylish oak frame."$60," they were told. If anything, the off-camera appraisers for the Antiques Roadshow lean, I think, toward underestimates.

     I hope. Or else my choices of what to have evaluated were just as pie-in-the-sky as anybody’s. A Swiss gold watch which my grandfather had transported from Eastern Europe in 1950, and which my mother believes worth many thousands of dollars, was called only "several notches over middle-of-the-road" and priced at $600-$700 by watch expert Kevin Zavian. A Lincoln-Andrew Johnson 1864 campaign song book was dismissed by an expert on political memorabilia as "not a lot of value...mass-produced...maybe worth $15 to $20." Most dismaying, an appraiser knowledgeable about popular culture practically yawned holding up my nine shiny James Dean fan magazines from 1956. "These might be worth two to four dollars each, " she said.

     Two to four dollars?????

     So who actually gets on the TV show? Perhaps one person in five hundred comes to the Antiques Roadshow with something deemed genuinely valuable. The appraiser via walky-talky calls over the program’s executive producer for a look. If the producer approves, the person with the precious object is invited to adjourn to the green room for makeup and a powdering. Soon after, the cameras roll!

     At the Convention Center, someone arrived with slave tags dug out of a yard in South Carolina. The worth: $15,000. A woman unveiled a jade and ivory and gold box. Estimated price tag: $125,000! Of 6,500 people with items in Providence, about fifty were videotaped, and about thirty will make the cut when this episode airs in Spring 2,000, during Chubb’s Antiques Roadshow fourth PBS season.

(Boston Phoenix, August, 1999)


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