I recently had the chance to guest appraise at several local “Antiques Roadshow” type events. For anyone not familiar with it, “Antiques Roadshow” is a program on PBS where experts provide appraisals on items brought to them by people who live in or near the host city. People often wait in line for hours, hoping to gain a better understanding of their items and to find out if it has any value.
My limited firsthand experience revealed that most of the items brought to these type of events have little more than sentimental value in most instances. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen the market for Grandma’s china or depression glass to have rebounded yet, so I have to find a polite way to say that most of these types of items are not worth much. (The one exception I had encountered last year was a hand-painted Limoges plate that had originally been designed for the Rutherford Hayes White House. It later sold to a collector for over $3100!)
Another common misconception out there is that if something is old, it must be worth something. Alas, this is also incorrect in many instances. Age often lends rarity and/or provenance (ownership history) to an item, as fewer and fewer of the same items tend to survive with time. Yet, if the item is no longer collected widely (i.e. stamps) or doesn’t have historically significant provenance (i.e. old photos of unknown relatives), then the market for those items can be very poor.
So, what makes an item “Antiques Roadshow” worthy?
1. It has an interesting provenance. Anyone who collects anything almost always has at least 1-2 favorite pieces with a good story behind it – typically about how it was acquired or who had owned it previously. If you don’t have strict proof of provenance (i.e. photos of the item with the previous owner or purchase receipts showing custody), the next best thing is a signed affidavit from the current owner, attesting to the history of the item.
2. There is current demand for the item(s). Chinese antiquities are hot right now. (Most) books are not. Collecting trends come and go with time, so what may have been popular when the items were originally collected may have already peaked in value / interest. You can get a sense of what’s in demand by talking to local dealers, auctioneers, or simply typing in what you wish to research on eBay and click on the “Show Only Sold Listings” button on the left side of the browser window.
3. It hasn’t shown-up on tv before. You can actually browse an archive of items shown on any previous “Antiques Roadshow” by visiting http://www.pbs.org/ wgbh/roadshow/archive/index.html . You can search by keyword or even by price. Assuming that longtime viewers like a bit of variety, the producers of the show probably search for things that complement other items that have been filmed in the past.
The original article can be found in the May 2014 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: www.southernneighbor.com.