Enjoying the fun and wonder behind Antiques Roadshow

With the 22nd season airing now, Antiques Roadshow shows no signs of slowing. It’s the highest rated program on public television. Appraisers line up to participate (and those who do stay on for many years). And the enthusiastic people bringing items for appraisal add up to many times more than a one-day event could ever handle.

Taking In Roadshow In Person

Art line at Antiques Roadshow

The line of people waiting to have items of art appraised is one of the longest of all categories at the Green Bay stop. It is a similar scene at other Roadshow stops. When it comes to paintings, “you can’t easily do an internet search and find out what it is, or if it is authentic,” says Antiques Roadshow executive producer Marsha Bemko. “No matter how much research you do, you really need an expert.”

On June 7, 2017 Antiques Roadshow visited Green Bay, Wisconsin for the first time. The tour stop presented Antique Trader a rare chance for an up-close, behind-the-scenes look. A look not only at the organization and execution of the show, but the vast number of items that we don’t get to see on screen. Plus, it provides a chance to  meet and talk with the appraisers themselves.

Fans from Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and beyond all took advantage of the rare opportunity. More than 16,000 people submitted applications to receive one of the 3,000 pairs of tickets available for the Wisconsin event. According to media guide Michael Harryman, 150 appraisals would be recorded to create three, one-hour broadcasts of the Green Bay tour stop. It will air in 2018.

While many Antiques Roadshow fans will recognize a handful of appraisers, there are many others who are hard at work who don’t see much screen time. During each event, there are 70 appraisers performing evaluations in 24 different categories. During the two hours we were allotted, we were able to speak with several appraisers to get their perspective of the Roadshow experience and, in some cases, discuss trends in the antiques and collectibles trade.

Appraisers Weigh In

For example, when queried on the downturn in the doll market over the past several years, Julie Scott, who has been appraising for Antiques Roadshow for eight years, says, “I don’t think it’s just the doll market. We see it all across the board. I think it has a lot to do with the age of collectors, and with how people see things these days.

“Some people would just as soon go to Pottery Barn and have the scene of a room setting displayed, rather than select items individually to decorate a room,” she says.

Scott, owner of The Plumed Horse, explained how she turns to some of the dolls she owns to teach her grandchildren how to enjoy and appreciate older items.

“I never put the dolls away. I let them play with some of the antique China dolls. They learn to respect the dolls and how to play with them. They learn that these were things children used to play with years ago.”

This sense of seeing the value of older items is also in the forefront of her daughter’s mind as well, albeit in a slightly different way. Scott says her daughter “was brought up going to estate sales with us, so she understands.

New View of Antiques

She can’t afford to necessarily be a collector, but when she needs a table or something for her place,

Barrett doll and toy appraisers at Antiques Roadshow

Left to right: Appraisers Noel Barrett of Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions Ltd., Julie Scott and Marshall Martin evaluate toys and dolls in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

she’ll go get an old table that’s put together well, with solid construction and lasts. My daughter gets it.

“She buys antiques and she lives with and appreciates them every day,” Scott adds.

Sitting alongside Julie Scott is Marshall Martin, a doll expert and owner of Marshall Martin Antique Dolls and 12-year appraiser with Roadshow. Martin explains the experience of appraising items through Roadshow as a slightly unpredictable and fascinating journey: “It’s like fishing … You never know what will come along,” he says.

That excitement is something that all the Antiques Roadshow appraisers seem to share.
“I always see something I’ve never seen, and I always learn something I didn’t know,” said Noel Barrett, principle of Noel Barrett Antiques & Auctions, Ltd. and veteran Roadshow appraiser.

Keep ‘Em Coming Back

David Rago, principle of Rago Arts & Auction Center who has been an appraiser with Antiques Roadshow since its inception, echoed those sentiments.

“The main thing for me is I learn a lot,” he said. “I’m always humbled and encouraged. Humbled in that I have the opportunity to do this and work with these people, to travel this country with my friends, meet new people, and see some great antiques.”

Wes Cowan, principle of Cowan Auctions and a long-time member of the Roadshow appraisal team, was one expert handling folk art items. One of the intriguing items to cross the Folk Art table during the first few hours of the tour stop was a quilt top. It illustrated America being “a true melting pot of cultures,” Cowan said.

“A woman brought in a quilt top she bought for $2 in 2008, which was made by Hmong refugees from Laos, who had immigrated to the U.S.,” he said, referring to the immigration of more than 300,000 Hmong peoples between the mid-1970s and the late 20th century. [As of the 2010 U.S. Census records, more than 100,000 Hmong people were residing in Wisconsin and Minnesota combined.] “The quilt top featured six panels with scenes of traditional Hmong culture, hand stitched with techniques learned here,” Cowan explained.

Eye on Historic Textiles

Antoinette speaking with Antiques Roadshow appraisers

Antique Trader Content Manager Antoinette Rahn speaks with Katy Kane of Katy Kane Vintage & Couture, Inc and Steven Porterfield of The Cat’s Meow regarding the increased number of vintage and antique textiles appearing at Antiques Roadshow stops.

After appraising the item for about $2,000, Cowan said he suggested to the owner if she was looking to do something beyond keeping the unique quilt top featuring a fusion of cultures, to consider putting it in a museum.

Katy Kane of Katy Kane Vintage & Couture, Inc., saw many early coverlets and machine-made quilts during the first part of the day. One quilt in particular stood out. It is a Hawaiian quilt that was given as a gift to the grandmother of the person attending Roadshow, Kane explained.

“It was simply beautiful, and in good to excellent condition,” Kane added. The quilt was made by a group of women living on a Hawaiian island.It is a goodbye gift for the owner’s grandmother, who was ending her time on the island upon completing service as a missionary, stated Kane, repeating the story shared by the Roadshow attendee.

Asian Arts Appeal

Lark Mason Jr. of Lark Mason Associates, one of three appraisers handling Asian Arts is enthusiastic about what shows up during the appraisal events. The Roadshow veteran of all 22 seasons says, “This year is starting great. Today I’ve seen a lot of ethnographic material from tribal areas of Asia — something a bit unexpected in this area of the country.”

However, he adds, the presence of the items speaks to the possibility of missionaries and people who traveled for business passing items down to family members.

Brian Witherell, when asked about his most exciting Roadshow discovery, shared a story going back to Antiques Roadshow’s second season, when Brian’s father, Brad, appraised a presentation cane dating to 1855.

The cane came with remarkable documentation and a legacy linked to the California Gold Rush and Colonial America. The then-owner of the cane received it from her elderly neighbors, who took wonderful care of it, Brian explained. On the flute of the cane was an inscription stating that the shaft of the cane was made from an original plank of timber from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and the top of the cane was made from a portion of the Liberty Bell and featured a facsimile of the bell. The appraisal Brad gave was between $20,000 and $30,000.

More To the Story

As if the story wasn’t fascinating enough, “it keeps getting better,” Brian added with a chuckle.

George Nakashima bench at Antiques Roadshow

This George Nakashima bench was a pleasant surprise at the June 17, 2017 Green Bay taping of Antiques Roadshow.

About six months after his father conducted the Antiques Roadshow appraisal of the cane, the man who (along with his wife) owned the 1855 presentation cane called to say he was interested in selling it, and he wanted $100,000. The same cane that was appraised for about $25,000 six months prior, Brian said. The Witherell’s team marketed the cane, but was unable to attract someone who would pay the $100,000 the consignor wanted. Another six months passed, and Brian received a phone call from a man wondering if the cane he saw Brad appraise on Antiques Roadshow was available for sale. Brian told the caller the price the consignor wanted, and the prospective buyer made a counteroffer of $90,000.

“I was so excited to pick up the phone to call the consignors with this offer,” Brian said. “When I told him about the interested party’s offer of $90,000, the consignor said ‘Brian, I told you I want $100,000.’”

What?! That was Brian’s initial response in his own mind, but he took the message back to the man interested in purchasing it, explaining the response from the consignor. Ultimately, the buyer said, “Do it.”

“It was the first deal I did for $100,000 — unforgettable,” Brian said, with a wide smile.

Enjoy the premiere preview of Antique Roadshow’s 22nd Season….

Making Memories

While all attendees take away new knowledge of their items, many also make memories to last a lifetime and riveting stories to tell friends and family. Deb, from Wisconsin, brought a large hand-painted sign that her grandfather commissioned from a local painter in the 1930s. Depicting “Guernsey Cattle” and “Chester White Swine,” the sign was made specifically for Muscoda Farm in Alma Center. Exhibiting a unique regional flair, the sign, valued by Wes Cowan at $2,000-$4,000, would have been a good candidate to make it on-air. However, Deb co-owns the piece with her siblings, so it was ineligible to be filmed.

Kathleen, a long time fan of Roadshow and first time attendee, was also pleased with the appraisal of a gold brooch she brought. It was a true unexpected find: While renovating a room in a house, she said she was helping clear sections of a wall when she saw a bit of brown paper peeking out.

“I thought it was old wallpaper or newspaper or something, but it was a brown paper bag.” Inside the bag were the gold brooch and a strand of pearls. “Not something you’d expect to find in the wall of a house,” she added. It’s a mystery how they got there, whose they might be, and why they were in the wall, but with an appraisal of $400,

Kathleen is good with letting the mystery remain.

Celebrating the Story

Kathleen and her brooch

Kathleen, a long-time Antiques Roadshow fan, was pleasantly surprised to find out the pin she discovered in a wall while renovating is a 14-karat gold brooch worth about $400.

It’s stories like Kathleen’s that capture the imaginations and attention of Antiques Roadshow viewers. With a large pool of talented and knowledgeable appraisers, and a seemingly endless supply of stories to be told, executive producer Marsha Bemko and her dedicated team create platinum-quality educational television for PBS. While high-dollar appraisals grab headlines, Bemko says, “Story is king” when it comes to an item making it on air. “It’s always the story that sticks out.”

She gives an example with one of her favorite stories: “Last season in Orlando there was a woman who brought in a label from a peach can and on the back there was a letter written by a World War I soldier from the front. In the letter he says the peaches are ‘worth fighting for.’ I love that story. It gave me goose bumps.”

The label without the letter would be valued at about $10, but with the letter from the soldier written on the back of the label and addressed to the company that made the peaches, the item was appraised at $550 to $600, Bemko recalls.

Teamwork is Key

Bemko, who has been with Antiques Roadshow for 18 seasons, says, “This is a terrific, long-time team,” speaking of the Roadshow group as a whole. After every tour stop, she says the group gathers to discuss what went on, what went well, what could be and needs to be done better at the next show. At the end of the season a similar, yet more intensive review of the season is conducted, with plans for the next season taking shape at the close of the previous season. Bemko says, “We’re always pushing one another to make it better.”

If what we witnessed at the Green Bay stop is any indication, Antiques Roadshow’s 22nd season, which will air in 2018, should be full of wonderful surprises.

Antoinette Rahn, Tyler Jenson, and Karen Knapstein contributed to this article.

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