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Antiques

I arrived about an hour and a half early for the taping of the New York episode of The Antiques Roadshow. The tickets included the warning not to arrive more than 30 minutes before the entrance time, which in my case was 10 AM.

Despite there being no signs that I could see, I knew I found the right entrance at the Javits Center. At the curb, a woman was waiting while sitting in a 19th century wing chair that was in dire need of reupholstery.

Here in the United States, The Antiques Roadshow is about to start its nineteenth season. Its British sire has been running for at least 35 years. Approximately 18,000 people applied for 3,000 pairs of free tickets. The Roadshow expected up to 6,000 people, each bringing no more than two items to be evaluated by some 70 appraisers in 22 categories. That averages more than an item a minute per appraiser.

I enjoy watching the program when I can, but I’m not a die-hard fan. I don’t plan my Monday evenings around catching each new episode or rerun; subscribe to the newsletter or email updates; or follow it on social media. A friend won a pair of tickets, but couldn’t make it due to personal reasons. She passed them on to me the Thursday before the Saturday taping.
From her point of view I was the ideal candidate since I collect “odd old stuff”. That stuff includes museum-quality items as well as items that have been borrowed by museums for exhibitions. I know the value of those: not as much as one would think. I’ve sold things at auction at a profit, if that matters, and we’ll ignore the items I sold at a loss. I have no talent for making money. But still, going to The Roadshow would be an adventure.

I decided to take my entire collection of 90 brooches to be appraised as well as to post and tweet the experience on Twitter and Facebook. Which was more or less my first post and tweet.

I wear a brooch on my lapel instead of a buttonhole (flower), an affectation that began in the heyday of the protest button. My protest button read “La guerre n’est pas bon pour les enfants et les autre choses vivantes”, rather than the more easily understood, “War is not healthy for children and other living things”.

Apparently pretentious little snots were quite a niche market back then. If I remember correctly, the pins were offered in some 20 different languages. Had I kept my Francophone version, I could sell it on eBay for $30 to $40 US, a few thousand fold its original cost. Proving again I have no talent for making money.

After that pin met an unkind fate in the inside of a garbage bin, I wore a brooch on my lapel for some years casually, if and when I felt like it, and later, consistently, making it something of a “signature accessory”. Most are vintage pieces and flea market finds, but some are more valuable, crafts pieces and, dare I say, antiques. None have expensive gemstones and most are grey metals, if not silver. I dislike gemstones – real or costume – so very few have stones, let alone are “jewel encrusted”. The brooches tend to be larger and sculptural as befits (or so I believe) my six foot frame.

Having decided upon the brooches, I immediately had second thoughts. Do 90 brooches constitute one collection? Time to check the web site. The answer seemed to be yes: a collection is one item if the collection is made up of closely related items. Since all the items are brooches, there should have been no problem.

Now all I had to do was to pack them up. I divided the collection into ten uneven categories – e.g., vintage, craft pieces, lizards (about a dozen). Each category was labeled; put into its own bag; and all ten bags put into a shoulder bag.

Time for the next round of doubts and second thoughts. Perhaps taking a theatre sketch by Cecil Beaton and an occasional drawing by Gruau would be a better idea? I might even find out for what occasion Gruau created it.

While I was ruminating over that, I bought a power pack for my mobile phone. There are few things more annoying than running out of power in the middle of posting and tweeting. The “port-a-charge” would triple the time power would last. Of course, once I returned home, I tweeted, “New power pack charging so won't run out of juice to post and tweet tomorrow at the Roadshow”. Within an hour, The Roadshow favorited the tweet, which gave me the same warm and fuzzy feeling one gets whenever one feels Big Brother is watching.

In the end I took the brooches. Portability won out. After killing some time with coffee and a couple more posts and tweets, I returned to the Javits Center, still too early, but close enough to see if I would be let in.

A volunteer checked my ticket and let me in, directing me to a line forming inside. The volunteer was the first of more than half a dozen I would deal with, all of whom were nice and professional. According to the press material there were some 120 volunteers there to keep things moving, and kept moving things were.

The line inside moved quickly enough. Another volunteer checked the tickets and directed people to a number of forming lines in areas marked 10 AM, 11 AM, and so on. While we were waiting to be directed to the relevant line, a third volunteer handed out copies of issues of The Antiques Roadshow Insider and a pamphlet that was “the official guide to the event”, if the cover copy was to be believed.

There was a refugee/immigrant quality not only to the holding areas, but also how the objects to be appraised were packed. Newspapers, old blankets, or bubble wrap were tied or taped around this item or that. Larger pieces came tied to dollies – small tables and cabinets, as well as an upgrade in seating: a Chinese yoke-back scholar’s chair. A banjo case was tucked in the chains and brackets of an iron chandelier. A child’s bentwood rocker was being transported on a grandparent’s metal walker. Some people chatted with others; some read the 16-page official guide. I tried to avoid being run over by a motorized wheelchair whose occupant was experimenting with her mobility.

The official guide turns out to be quite the professional propaganda piece. It starts off innocently enough with a suggestion that people play “The Photo Scavenger Hunt”: selfies with the objects to be appraised as well as odd or interesting things others brought – folk art, a red wagon, and an odd contraption are among the more obvious suggestions.

That casual, friendly approach is continued on the first page. The table of contents is called “What’s Inside”. The sell starts in earnest with the introduction on page 2, which is credited to Marsha Bemko, The Roadshow’s Executive Producer. Included in the usual blather, Bemko remembers to thank the program’s sponsors, Subaru and Liberty Mutual Insurance, as well as “viewers like you”. The PBS stations that carry The Roadshow here are supported by viewer donations as well as corporate sponsorships.

Fair enough. The sponsors should be thanked. The program is not cheap to produce and has a lot of hidden costs. But then on page 5 – Frequently Asked Questions – the last question asks, “Who makes ANTIQUES ROADSHOW possible?”, which is not something normal people ask, let alone frequently. Nevertheless, Subaru, Liberty Mutual, and the viewers are duly thanked a second time.

But wait: there’s more. On page 7, in a section explaining “How the Event Works”, readers are directed to visit the sponsors as they leave the set. The sponsors are not only mentioned by name, but also have sweepstakes. Subaru was offering a Dale Tiffany lamp while Liberty Mutual was offering an iPad, which, coincidentally of course, would be able to run the Antiques Roadshow app, available only on Apple products.

Getting better mileage than a Subaru, the thank-yous continue on page 12, which gives both sponsors the equivalent of a half-page space ad along with the incidental information of how long each has been a sponsor of The Roadshow: Subaru, for seven years; Liberty Mutual, for nine.

And since odd numbers always work better than even numbers, Subaru and Liberty Mutual are thanked for the fifth (and last) time on the outside back cover. That’s a product placement more or less every three pages.

To be fair, The Roadshow does remember to plug itself. Page 7, for example, not only mentions the program, but also the web site, the Facebook page, and the Twitter feed. Nothing antique there. A quick glance at the list of appraisers include many the show has made stars: Lark Mason, Nicholas Dawes, and the Keno twins, among many others.

A tea wagon rolled by just as the line began to move. Show time. Signage recommended unpacking “your treasures” for the generalists to determine which category of specialist would appraise the objects in question. Another sign requested that mobile phones be turned off and kept off while on the set. The explanation – such as it was – was that the mobile devices would “create interference” with audio recording systems. Right.

ANTIQUESSIDESHOW 2newThe generalist I met with explained that 90 brooches were not a collection because I had created the collection. To be one item the collection had to be created as a collection. I was told to pick two to be appraised and was given two tickets, one for each brooch. The tickets were later checked to get me on the right line, and checked again before I was sent to the appraising table. The tickets were finally collected at the table.

The volunteer who took me to the line for jewelry appraisals mentioned that it was neither the longest nor the shortest line. I asked what were the longest and shortest. The longest, she said, was for paintings; the shortest was either textiles or firearms. Good thing I didn’t bring the Gruau and the Beaton, but I actually collect textiles…. Oh, well, too late at that point.
Two men ahead of me in line talked loudly about Sylvester Stallone movies, lest anyone think that men at an antiques shows weren’t, you know, real men. A woman cradled her six-month-old baby in her arms. Someone asked, “Did you have her appraised?”

“Yes,” she said, “I did. She’s not as old as I thought.”

An older man, bored, took a vintage ukulele out of a well-worn case and started to play. Everyone else in line decided to help him busk, insisted the case had to be open and in front of him, tossing some starter quarters into the case. In turned out, he played with a ukulele band, but was unaware of the New York Ukulele Festival, usually held in early spring.

The wait wasn’t that long – at least by New York standards – and I was taken into the appraisal set proper. Tables circled a central area with cameras, a rug, and signs requesting the people not step on the rug. No problem. My brooches – even all 90 of them – aren’t sexy or expensive enough for the show.

Behind each table were one to four appraisers, all looking bored, harried, and impatient. My appraiser – who shall remain sexless and nameless – could barely conceal contempt for anything that didn’t include something usually measured in carets. The appraiser all but sneered at the maker’s mark of one brooch as minor (not that minor; but the company was based in Los Angeles). The appraiser was too eager to find the piece that could be presented on camera to give me even the equivalent of a 30-second sound bite. The appraiser may never have got the chance. The big ticket item that day turned out to be a collection of baseball cards valued at one million dollars.

Dismissed if not dissed by the appraiser, I skipped the Feedback Booth (my least favorite element of the show when I watch), but stopped to collect some information about appraisers I might want to contact later, privately. Overall I was impressed. The Roadshow had me in and out in under two hours, included a 45 minute wait before I was admitted to the set.

Note to the mercenary: the good news was the bad news. Extrapolating from the appraisals I did receive to the whole collection as well as adjusting for inflation, the brooches have held their value. In other words, overall I didn’t overpay nor did I lose any money on them. The bad news of course is that they didn’t increase in value, proving once more I have no talent for making money.

Jonathan Boorstein

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