AT Inbox: ‘Antiques Roadshow’ stop not worth the gas

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Kudos on the “new” Antique Trader. I’ve withheld judgment until now. I give you an “A.” Your staff and you have been consistent in taking the magazine from a good read to a great read. You just reprinted, with editing, a 1975 article on John Rogers. It was as fresh as it was 35 years ago.

Your articles from a dealer’s point of view at “Antiques Roadshow” (AR) were enlightening as well. (See appraiser Mark Moran’s guest columns in the July 21 (My excellent ‘Roadshow’ adventure) and Aug. 25 (Antiques Roadshow makes Biloxi stop) editions. -Editor) I want to add some points about AR from a 2009 participant’s point of view. I fear for AR as its format is getting stale and boring, in my opinion.

I said in disbelief, “Oh my God!” when I saw a child on with Leigh Keno last season. The kid recited her lines perfectly with Leigh fawning all over her. Give me a break. Excuse me while I finish being sick.

I attended the Madison, Wis., Antiques Roadshow on July 11, 2009, and pretty much agreed with all the nuances brought forth in your articles by the dealer. But this was a new low as I thought that Keno had more class than going on with a phony kid. Keno’s credibility will never recover with me. Maybe that’s why he went into the auctioneering business.

The observations that I can add about the Antiques Roadshow from a participant’s point of view are:

1. By the time we entered the Dane County Arena at 1 p.m. we were told that all 80 slots for filming had been filled. What a disappointment to know that we had NO chance of being on the show.

2. While waiting in line, every attendee we talked with knew the approximate value of their items. The lone exception was, from as far as we could tell, two University of Wisconsin art majors who smelled of pot smoke trying to get an elaborate 72-inch by 48-inch fake oil with an exquisite frame past the experts. Because the slots were filled, we’ll never know what the experts said to them. We really got a kick out of them, as we would learn that the expertise that you see on the show doesn’t necessarily translate to such on the actual floor.

3. The stars, Mark Wahlberg and the Keno Bros., were long gone by 1 p.m. when we got there.

4. We ended up with a snotty book expert from a famous firm we won’t identify but it has a flowery name. After checking his laptop, he gave us an appraisal of $1,000. When we challenged this appraisal and told him that his company had an auction estimate for our book of $4,000 to $6,000 in 2006 and we wanted to know why it had decreased so much, he became defensive. He then used the pronoun “they” for his firm. He told us that he was only a “consultant” for the company. I suspect that this man was very angry that he hadn’t been chosen for taping and was taking it out on us participants as he had obviously wasted his time and money being there.

As explained in your articles, there are all kinds of things and lines going on behind the drapery set, including tables with the experts’ business cards on them; his [card] did have the flowery firm’s logo on it, but his title wasn’t consultant.

5. While in one of the lines, the couple behind us were retired farmers from Pecatonia, Ill. They had a Revolutionary War musket. The couple in front of them in line quizzed the gun owner in depth (hardware made in London, barrel indicated that it had been shot at most 100 times, stock was in the right wood, etc.). We were really impressed. The ultimate question was how much did they appraise it for? Answer: $1,000. Since I read AT cover to cover, I know enough from the Rock Island Auction Co. ads and follow ups to know that a grand was ridiculously low.

6. In that same line, we got to the illustrations and prints table. We were excited that we got the president of a company with a face very familiar with us from TV. But he didn’t know the American artist whose engravings we had brought to be appraised. We acquired these in New Orleans following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In 2005 there were only two listings on Google for this deceased artist. A month before Madison, I had Googled his name and found that there were now 12 pages of listings for him! Wow! I thought we really had something special (and still feel that way) since in those 12 pages not one of our prints showed up. [The expert] asked what we had paid for them ($150 each) and he said, “That’s a fair price.”

Having figured out on the floor earlier with the “book expert” that these experts weren’t so expert, we pressed him as to whether he subscribed to “AskArt” knowing that, of course, he did. He didn’t even have his own laptop at his table and had to go to another table to borrow a colleague’s. He came back and said there had been 24 sales in the past 2.5 years ranging from $600 to $1,000 each. We looked at him speechless. He finally broke the silence by saying, “I still think that you paid the going market price,” and “Thank you, seeing these for the first time has just made my afternoon.”

Duh, we paid $150 and the lowest sale on AskArt was $600? What’s wrong with this picture?

7. The apparent stock answer for not hurting anyone’s feelings or not admitting that you have no clue to the value of something at the AR is “$1,000” or “I think you paid a fair price (or in our case ‘market price’) for this item.”

We did come across two exceptions. There was a lady who is a board member of a Wisconsin museum (I looked her up later to confirm this) who told us that her Michigan folk art was worth $1,000 (her valuation before seeing an expert). Later in the parking lot, she was furious as the expert gave her a $100 appraisal.

Next was a lady who is a shows-only antiques dealer. She told us that she couldn’t even get a ballpark number out of her appraiser on her English porcelain miniatures. He told her that she’d have to “fly in an expert from New York City to appraise her collection.”

8. Note that we also met two great appraisers (as I cannot tell your expert-author is) at the Asian and Wood Carvings (cannot remember the correct category) tables that made up for these inadequacies. But a 50 percent rating is not good enough.

9. The local PBS volunteers were all fabulous except those that you see guarding sacred ground on the AR set from people encroachment (they’re the ones in the background with the same colored knit golf shirts on).

10. Upon seeing the “cradle kid,” I TiVoed all the old and current ARs that I could. With the sound off, I concluded from body language, facial expressions and mannerisms that 90 percent of the participants knew the value of their antiques before they were told the value. I felt that your author was honest in trying to vet people.

When I saw the owner of the $1 million Chinese jades during the Raleigh show, absolutely no emotion (her pupils didn’t even enlarge) I knew that my supposition is/was correct. Are you going to tell me that if you won a million-dollar lotto you wouldn’t do anything emotional but just sit there stoically? Come on.

Now, after seeing Keno with “cradle kid,” my new favorite shows are “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers.” No one hides their good old American greed on those shows. I love that!

Ed Rogan,
Jacksonville, Fla.


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