Antiques and Classic Films

By Ray McAllister | July 23rd, 2014

Editor Ray McAllister shares his observations

Part of human nature, no doubt, is the desire for wealth. Some are more obsessed than others, working long hours to earn it, or coming up with elaborate plans to steal it, or playing myriad lotteries and slot machines to win it.

And then there are the rest of us: We’re not obsessing, but, you know, we’ll take a windfall.

Thus perhaps it’s not surprising that a curious TV show like Antiques Roadshow has become so popular, drawing everyone from the greedy to the simply curious. The Public Broadcasting System show, in its 18th season in the U.S., is dubbed part adventure, part history lesson and part treasure hunt. It is PBS’ highest-rated ongoing prime-time series, with some 10 million viewers. Antiques Roadshow is also the grandfather of all those what’s-it-worth shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers and anything with “Auction” in its title.

So you know the formula works. The formula is to come to a city, set up shop in a large convention center and invite the public to bring in old stuff that probably isn’t worth anything – but may, just may, possibly be worth a fortune. But probably not.You may recall that Antiques Roadshow came to Richmond back in July – and the edited results will air in three weekly episodes in May. Our writer Audrey T. Hingley takes you behind the scenes.

I was there, too, that day. Vicki and I rolled a table into the Greater Richmond Convention Center. It is a heavy black, ornately carved German table that has been in our family for a century and, I trust, will always remain so. It had once been part of a furniture pairing; I can distinctly remember sitting in the large hard straight-backed chair as a child.

So we wheeled that baby in and weresent first to a furniture expert. He wouldknow that this “coffee table” had once beena library table, of course. I explained, some-what defensively, that my parents cut it down so it would be more useable. No matter. That had reduced the value, the expert said, but not by very much. He gave us his assessment, then for elaboration, sent us on to an Asian expert.

That’s right, Asian. Turns out this German table was actually Japanese, carved with strikingly ornate gargoyles and painted black because – are you ready? – it was designed for Americans. Americans expected Japanese furniture to look like this, though homegrown Japanese furniture was actually much more ordinary. The two men’s assessment of value differed a little, but not much. This table was worth only a couple hundred dollars, they said, no more than $500.

Still, the day was an adventure, and I’m sure the shows will be, too. You’ll see many of the people who had more valuable items.

By the way, did you catch “the stuff that dreams are made of” reference in the headline? Bogart says it, tellingly, of the antique black bird that has been chased around the world by treasure hunters in The Maltese Falcon. It’s the closing line of the film.


THANKS, TCM: It’s great to have something special done on your birthday and Turner Classic Movies has agreed to do so on mine, showing a day full of the greatest American movies ever made (including two with Bogart!). The three films at the top of most lists – Citizen Kane, Casablanca and Gone With the Wind – will air April 14. So will as many other classics as can be squeezed into that day and the next day’s pre-dawn hours, including, naturally, The Maltese Falcon, along with Mildred Pierce, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain and It Happened One Night.

I should note, for fullest disclosure, the day is also TCM’s birthday, which probably has more to do with the celebration. Twenty years ago, Ted Turner threw the switch in New York for the new station, firing up his favorite movie: GWTW. Over the years, Turner started a number of instrumental cable channels, including WTBS, the first “superstation,” and CNN, which ushered in an ocean of all-news cable channels. But none has ever drawn the dedicated following of TCM and its host, Robert Osborne. TCM is the stuff that dreamsare made of – and occasionally, birthday celebrations, too.

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