Attending the Antiques Roadshow.
In summer 2004 my wife and I won the web-based lottery for tickets
to participate in the Antiques Roadshow when it passed through our
city. I was surprised in some ways by what I found, and since I had always wondered
what it was like to be on the show, perhaps some E2 readers will, too. I own
nothing of any value, so I cannot speak to the experience of being singled out
for one of those little appraisal interviews which form the meat of the episodes.
One arrives an hour early in the vast civic center. The space is cool and the
murmur of voices forms a soft, omnipresent background. Those with firearms (genuine antiques only) are pulled aside and the weapons are
inspected and rendered safe. There is then about an hour's wait in
a very long Disneyland-style switchbacked line with all of the people who
will be entering during your hour (maybe 500 or 1000). This is of course the
moment when everyone shows off their treasures to their neighbors, and
the feeling of expectation is palpable. It is perhaps a mark of where
I live (the midwest) that Civil War memorabilia and farm/rustic furniture were very common
(though easily carried ceramics were also a favorite).
But there are oddities. One fellow had a large cart upon which were some belle époque bronzes of wreathed goddesses and chandeliers. Another
man was loaded down with Nazi memorabilia and took visible pleasure when asked
about the military police gorget he was wearing. The large furniture pieces
were not with the people in line; they are brought in a back entrance and put
aside until the people arrive at the appraisal area.
Two items per person is the limit. My ticket was repeatedly examined. "No
Hummel figurines." "No coins
or stamps." After about an hour, when the official entry time was approaching,
the line was allowed to snake forward towards the appraisal area.
The appraisal area is bipartite, roughly a bisected circle cordoned off by
the tall, dark drapes you see behind the appraisers on TV. In one half are all
of the technical appurtinences connected with taping, lighting, and whatever
other things have to be done on the spot in a show like this. In the other half
is the appraisal area proper.
At the head of the line, one is reminded once again that two items are the
limit per person, and directed to a triage table where three besieged preliminary
appraisers sit. These sift out the chaff--Hummels,
coins, anything the Roadshow does not bother appraising--and on the basis of
a preliminary inspection give out two tickets per person which will take the
participant-hopeful to the proper appraising table.
The appraising area is much smaller than it looks on TV. Its inner edges are
lined with a ring of banquet tables at which the hard-working professional appraisers
sit at well-defined stations. Furniture awaiting the arrival of its owner and
appraiser sits in a "corner." The center of the space is an octopus
(or spider) of cranes, supports, and dolleys which serve to illuminate and film
three stations about equally spaced from one another in the ring between the
appraisers' tables and the octopus. These stations are where the personal interviews
Those to be interviewed are taken to a "green room" for makeup.
I was told that no information about the object is given to them before they
are interviewed before
the camera. The stations are much closer to the lines of participant
hopefuls waiting to get to the appraisers' tables than it looks on TV--the
space is deceptively small.
You might expect the pottery line to be the longest,
since pots are so easy to carry. And you might expect the tools appraiser to
be the least visited. I stood for 20 minutes in the ceramics line and had the
opportunity to see the omnipresent Keno brothers and a variety of appraisers
I recognized from TV. I did not get to see the face of anyone whose hope for fame
and wealth was dashed by a bad appraisal, alas.
The participant-hopefuls wash in waves of about 20 upon
the appraisal area, mixing with those still waiting in line. Most of the appraisers
are pretty clearly junior people attached to auction houses and
galleries, sent into the battle lines to get that mass experience with objects
which will train their eye. A few senior people are mixed in to give judgments
in ambiguous cases. The chief affect of nearly all of the appraisers I saw was
a weary jadedness borne of engaging with hundreds and hundreds of people. They
mean well, clearly, but if you go to the Roadshow expecting to be praised for
your great-grandmother's astonishing taste in costume jewelry, you'll be disappointed.
The average transaction time of an appraisal was well under a minute, especially
at the hard-pressed jewelry and ceramics tables.
Except when appraising those happy few items valuable
and rare enough to be slated for on-camera interviews (2 to 3 full days of these
appraisals boil down into about 2 episodes), the appraisers are largely uninterested
in the story behind an object (and manifestly don't want to hear it), and take
it at face value. My wife brought an old diamond ring she inherited, and the
appraiser simply counted the diamonds, estimated their size, and gave a dollar
value obviously calculated at $100 per carat times number of gems. Period. This
is OK, because he was overworked; and he still managed to be friendly.
Once your items have been appraised, you are whisked out past tables laden
with appraisers' business cards and no few advertisements. I was made to sign
up for a home loan (I don't own a house) in order to get a Roadshow t-shirt.
All in all, it was interesting to see how the Roadshow imposes order on the
throngs of participant-hopefuls. It was a little disappointing to see that the
mechanical aspect of churning people through affected the demeanor of the appraisers,
but this is to be expected. It was fun to see the appraisers I recognized, though
I was sorry not to have seen the ornery old guy in the wheelchair (Wendell Garrett) who appraises furniture
and is one of the great masters of his profession. The hosts were
nowhere to be seen.