BILOXI, Miss. — As tropical depression Bonnie lurked offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, “Antiques Roadshow” pulled into Biloxi July 24 for the fourth of six stops on its 2010 tour.
Thankfully, Bonnie turned out to be a fickle dame and wasn’t a factor. But the July heat in Biloxi is worth mentioning. I think they must store it up all year and then unleash it on unsuspecting tourists. It’s a constant, engulfing presence. Traveling between the arctic chill of our lodgings and the arid cool of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center, the heat hugs you to its bosom like a sweaty maiden aunt and never lets go.
In my ‘Antiques Roadshow’ report from Billings, Mont., (July 21 issue) I wrote of my first experience “pitching” appraisals to the producers that I felt were worthy of going on camera. In Biloxi, I learned how tricky a process this can be. There are a host of factors to consider that determine whether an appraiser gets the nod and a trip to the green room, or a “Better luck next time.”
It goes like this: A “Roadshow” “guest” approaches the table and sets their treasure in front of the appraiser. Now, if it’s something valuable or unusual or quirky or otherwise compelling in the appraiser’s eyes, the first instinct is to start detailing for the guest all the elements that make it so. On “Roadshow,” a different approach is taken.
The key is to maintain the mystery of value or rarity, not blurt it out all at once. The appraiser offers a few preliminary questions or comments and then asks the guest if they have time for further consideration of the object. If the answer is yes, the guest is invited to a seating area behind the fabric backdrops that ring the appraisal area. Once the guest is sequestered, the appraiser puts out a call for a producer (the “picker”). After the appraiser gives the picker a brief overview of the object (out of the guest’s earshot), the real probing begins.
The producer’s job is to dig for the facts behind the guest’s treasure: Where did they get it? How much do they know about it? Do they have a sense of its value? The answers to these questions help determine whether the guest gets to go on camera.
If a guest knows too much about the item (even more than the appraiser), it becomes “show and tell.” Though a viewer might be enlightened, the goal is also to have the guest come away with new information and new appreciation for the object.
And sometimes, a producer’s sixth sense tells him a guest isn’t being completely truthful about the object. The ideal guest is curious, honest and just a little bit clueless. Those who don’t make the cut are thanked for their patience, and the appraiser gives them his or her take on the object. Case closed.
But for those who do have a treasure that’s camera-worthy, the green room awaits. (By the way, the time between the moment an appraiser first sees a great object and when the on-camera appraisal occurs can be one to two hours or more, depending on the time of day.)
Back to Biloxi: This time out, the collectibles table was fully staffed by Phil Weiss of Philip Weiss Auctions, Oceanside, N.Y.; Kathleen Guzman of Heritage Auction Galleries; Rudy Franchi, Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas; and yours truly. Things were a bit slow at times, and Dan Farrell, a “Roadshow” consulting producer, asked if I could help out on the pottery table, which was swamped.
This meant I got to work with more “Antiques Roadshow” stars: David Rago and his wife, Suzanne Perrault, of Rago Arts & Auction Center, Lambertville, N.J.; Nick Dawes, consignment director for Heritage Auction Galleries in New York; David Lackey, owner of David Lackey Antiques & Art in Houston; and Stuart Whitehurst, a vice president with Skinner Inc., Boston.
When I got to the pottery table, they were down two appraisers — one was on camera and a second was waiting on deck. The line of guests snaked away into the shadows. Perrault, Lackey and I hustled up and down the table like fry cooks trying to keep up with orders. Sometimes we’d swap items (“I’ll trade you these Quimper plates for that blue and white compote”), depending on our expertise. And we’d consult when we were in doubt (What do you think, $500 plus?).
I knew if I had a question about Rookwood or Weller, Perrault and Rago had the answer. English ceramics? Dawes and Lackey. For typical continental wares, dinner settings and miscellaneous vases, we took turns and had things pretty well covered.
Then came the lady with the cookie jars.
Unlike some other tables, the pottery crew doesn’t have laptops set up for when they need to track down a mark or maker. They do things the old-fashioned way: They use books.
As the guest with the cookie jars pulled them out of a bag, Rago reached back behind the table and picked up … MY BOOK! “Warman’s Cookie Jars Identification and Price Guide,” published back in 2004.
I couldn’t resist. I leaned over and said, “Hey David, who wrote that thing?”
He looked at the front cover and laughed. Turning to the lady, he said, “I’ll let him handle this. He wrote the book!”
FYI: Page 42, American Bisque Jack-in-the-Box, 1950s, 11 3/4 inches tall, $80 without gold trim, $110 with gold trim … Just sayin’. ?
Mark F. Moran is senior editor for Krause Publications antiques & collectibles books division. He has been a contributing editor for Antique Trader magazine, editor of Antiques Review East, producer of the Atlantique City antique show, and editorial director of F+W Media’s Antiques Group. He has also authored more than 25 books on antiques and collectibles. He joined “Antiques Roadshow” for the 2011-12 season.
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