Thousands swarm to Grand Rapids for Antiques Roadshow television taping event

More than 27,000 requests were made to attend the anticipated big television event of the year in Grand Rapids, Mich., but when the dust settled only 3,400 pairs of tickets were granted, all by random drawing.

The event? The Aug. 9 taping of the nationally known Antiques Roadshow with now-famous appraisers rubbing elbows with folks from all over the Midwest “hoping they might have a treasure worth lots of bucks.”

Lines of people snaked around the outside and inside the mammoth DeVos Place in the Furniture City – and in many cases, prizes could have been awarded for ingenuity in transporting objects to the show with contraptions like boards with roller skates, air-filled wheeled platforms and, in several cases, wheelchairs.

And not all of the items of value were of the 100-year-old variety.

Cal Rotman and wife Bobbi were perched on both sides of a wheel chair that bulged with a vintage Herman Miller chair they brought to the show from their home near Holland, Mich. Rotman said the chair was “a 1967 prototype, one of only four made, called a baseball chair, because of its design.” The plastic and vinyl chair fetched a Roadshow appraisal of “between $6,000 to $8,000.”

But, where did the wheelchair come from? Rotman said he “borrowed it for the day from my nephew.”

Randall “Randy” Yeske drove to Grand Rapids from Benton Harbor, Mich., with her sister showing off an unusual family heirloom that once belonged to her grandfather, a professional tailor in the early 1900s. The item was an oak three-drawer cabinet with advertising for the “Best Machine Needles from Excelsior Supply Co., Chicago.” The front of the cabinet, which would face customers, featured a partial relief tin bust of both presidents Lincoln and Washington along with the sewing needle advertising. Roadshow appraisers gave it a value of “about $500.”

She added that she and her sister got in line “just before 9 a.m. with four items and finished just after 3 p.m.” Was it worth it? “Oh yes,” she gushed. “We were in four different lines, with four items but we had a ball.”

Two other sisters from Marquette and a friend from Manistique teamed up to drive more than 8 hours from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to showing off family heirlooms. Jayme Bell said she was thrilled to find a 5-foot by 10-foot cloth, 1864 era, Lincoln, Johnson, Colfax presidential campaign flag appraised at $10,000-$15,000. The historic piece was said to have been stored in old house in Indiana for years before being transported to Michigan in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, sisters Jane Phillips and Linda Mason discovered early 1900s souvenir spoons collected by their grandfather were worth $50-$70 each.

The trio said the “fun Roadshow visit” was only part of the trip and on the way back they planned to stop and pick blueberries before heading home.

Not everyone traveled long distances.  Dan and Melinda Timmer of Grand Rapids caused many people to gawk and point as they wheeled in a five foot “studio Steiff” stuffed reindeer that once was on display at the old closed local exclusive Steketees Department store. The prize animal was purchased at an estate sale a few months earlier by the couple and was given a value of $3,000-$4,500 by Roadshow experts.

“I named him Elmer,” chuckled Dan Timmer who added he was unsure if he would keep the vintage item.

It was a family affair for Jay and Tori Berg, also from Grand Rapids. The couple’s three small children, Willow, Amelia and Mahala, wheeled a wagon filled with kids, collectable posters and “Hippety Hops” toys that the children wanted appraised.

Glen and Ann Tyson of Belding, Mich., said their tickets were won by their daughter and given to them as a gift for their 26th wedding anniversary. The couple showed off a 1964 Gibson custom four-string guitar, crafted for his father, who eventually sold it to him years ago “for $150 on the family plan.” Roadshow appraised value was said to be $1,200-$1,500. Tyson said the guitar was “not going anywhere” and added, “I enjoy picking at it a little.”

“My dad found it abandoned on an old dirt road in the 1930s,” said Eric Zelmer of Buchanan Mich., who along with wife Kristine wheeled a massive 3-foot by 5-foot wood framed 1880s Michigan map onto the floor. The couple were just getting into line on Saturday morning and Eric added he was curious about value, but was not looking to sell.

training rifle with bayonetTom Witte of Mattawan, Mich. [shown at left], said his son was a military collector and asked for the value of a wood 1903 Springfield training rifle, complete with bayonet. Value was given of $150 for the rifle and another $150 for the bayonet.

Television interviews were conducted throughout the day for those lucky enough to be selected – and possibly among the few that are featured on the final version of the televised shows.

One young lady selected for taping was stunned when she was told her 1910 era Simon Halbig 27-inch-tall doll, given to her by her grandma, was worth $4,000-$5,000. As she walked off the set, someone asked if she was nervous on camera. She breathlessly said, “My hands were shaking.”

In all, 24 different categories were listed for appraisals covering everything from arms and militaria to tribal arts, with longest lines seen at paintings and jewelry.

The Grand Rapids stop was one of six cities on the Antiques Roadshow television summer tour. Interviews and taping done at the furniture city will be broadcast in three different shows sometime after January of next year.

Part of the reason the Grand Rapids site was selected, is the city offered needed facilities: The Devos Place, with lots of room for the event.

Judy Mathews, senior account executive for the show, said a minimum 100,000-square-foot convention center is needed and “if it’s smaller than that, we can’t film the show there.”

She added she was pleased with the facilities in Grand Rapids and the cooperation with local PBS television station WGVU which helped with hundreds of employees and volunteers.

Note: Many thanks to WGVU Grand Rapids Fundraising Coordinator, Jim Rademaker, who was more than helpful in researching facts and photos for this story.