It is Monday night and the “Antiques Road Show” is on TV. It is not live—this one took place a couple of years ago in a big city near you. But we often watch it instead of the evening news or the NFL Monday night football game which, come to think of it, we can’t get anyway.
We are not on cable—we don’t “believe” in it—so our viewing is limited to the standard big three (or is it four with Fox?) networks, Jimmy Swaggert, four Spanish channels and, sometimes, Public Broadcasting Station. Oh, I forgot, we can get the local weather channel and a cooking show. It doesn’t really matter, and we have learned that certain channels can suddenly disappear for days or weeks.
That is because we have a digital antenna up in the attic and unless I get it pointed in just the right direction we won’t get PBS. Even when we have it in sight, if an airplane gets in the track between here and Belton (to the south), where the station operates from, it disappears. PBS must know that we look at their contributions because they frequently ask us for a contribution as well. We are hard-hearted and do not respond favorabley to the letters of solicitation, especially when the monitor pixilates and PBS has a fit and goes in and out and up and down like a mindless college football fan—although all in beautiful and conflicting colors.
Tonight the Roadshow has a display of the spinning wheel that belonged to Mahatma Gandhi, which appraiser James Supp says is worth between $50,000 and $70,000 at auction. Good work Gandhi! We are also promised a field work trip to see the art work from Japanese Americans indentured at Camps during WWII. In addition, tere is a 20th century Chinese lingzhi on a stand, in case you know that it is and have a place in your den to put it—after you purchase it for between $800 and $1,200 at auction.
There are, of course, a lot of old paintings, old pictures, old toys, old dolls, old clothes, old vases, old furniture, old jewelry and old people showing their wares. The people who bring their old stuff are usually surprised that it is worth the thousands of dollars that it would bring “at auction” and are sure that their children or spouses will take better care of it in the future. Often the person is so surprised that they exclaim “Oh my God” but it is clear that they are not praising Him. More often they just say “wow, I never dreamed it was worth anything,” and the appraiser gets a kind and silly look on his (or her) face and counters with “it could even be with more with a bit of restoration.” And then the people are told to hurry home and insure the piece at an inflated value “just in case” the price goes up next year.
There are long lines of people with all kinds of paraphernalia that has been in the attic or storage for years. Now, however, with the Roadshow in their vicinity, they think about that old painting that grandmother had hanging in the hallway or the old doll that uncle Edgar purchased in Japan and that aunt Martha made clothes for, “it must be worth something, just look at it.”
The appraisers represent well-known companies and have expertise coming out of their ears. They have been in the business for years and trying to get them to over- or under-estimate an object is like claiming that your new Cadillac won’t start. Nobody will believe you because Cadillacs always start and appraisers are always right.
Not everyone wins. At the end of the show people will show an old coffee mug that had Babe Ruth’s picture on it and tell their brief story that it was only worth five dollars, but “we had a lot of fun.”
Now that’s good, because Americans like to have, indeed must have, fun. The commercials on TV show us the fun they are having, usually young people with a glass of beer in one hand and chips in the other bantering and making silly remarks.
Some of the younger ones even show up at the Roadshow, perhaps with an old military uniform from grandpa or a necklace from grandma. They are hoping for a haul and have researched the worth of the item but, unfortunately, they can’t recognize fakes or frauds. They go home disappointed and their booty is placed again in the attic, a trash bag, or given to the Salvation Army.
In fact, I have come to the conclusion that the Salvation Army and the Thrift Shops have an on-going arrangement with the Roadshow. Perhaps it can be stated something like this: “Give us your tired, your broken, your needy, and we will pay you 10% of whatever we can get for this piece.” I could be wrong, but what are those disappointed visitors supposed to do with all their odds and ends?
Halfway through the show there is a break in the appraisals and we are taken to some collector’s house, barn, or museum, where we may see old cars, guns, paintings, pottery, or post cards. The value of each item is astounding and everything is carefully guarded.
You begin to wonder: “Why didn’t I keep that old stack of magazines? Why did I give that chair to my cousin? Perhaps I should take another look in the attic or cellar.”
And those thoughts are good ones for the Roadshow. So have a look—the definition of “antique” includes not only what is old, very old, or very aged, but also what is old-fashion, or even ancient. Surely, in that pile somewhere, is something for the Roadshow. Better have another look.