Antiques Roadshow: From Collecting Dust to Collecting Cash

By Bonnie Atwood | April 6th, 2014

Attic prospectors make it to the convention center and, if they're lucky, onto Antiques Roadshow


It’s a boomer’s paradise. 

Where else can you find signed Rolling Stones posters, toys from the forties and authenticated signatures of baseball greats?

Where else but Antiques Roadshow?

They came carrying a parade of treasures on wagons, luggage carts and dollies – in milk crates, giant totes and baby strollers. The Greater Richmond Convention Center closed the show’s eight- city summer tour on a Saturday in mid-August.

You’ll see the highlights on three consecutive Mondays: May 12, 19 and 26. The Roadshow is PBS’ highest-rated ongoing prime-time series, attracting about 10 million viewers, – and attracts visitors like pilgrims to the Promised Land. WCVE Community Idea Stations, the event partner in Richmond, supplied some 120 volunteers.

The show proves people’s attics are packed with stuff. The owners are eager to participate in the “show and tell.” The less sentimental Americans are, by nature, prospectors. They are prospectors who hope to strike it rich with … what is that thing? … that they bought at the flea market.

‘WE BREAK HEARTS ALL THE TIME’

Ann, Helen and Myra, from Newport News, brought jewelry. They drove here just for fun, but they were hardly the ones to travel the farthest. They didn’t hit the jackpot – no appraisers told them they had a surprise fortune – but they were elated by the experience and said, “We’ll come back!”

They were some of the 6,000 appraisal seekers who came to the convention center. The appraisers are walking encyclopedias on their categories, from musical instruments to folk art, paintings, furniture, silver, toys and more. The happy ticketholders sometimes stand in line for three hours before it’s their turn to face an appraiser at a table with a powerful desk lamp, a hefty paper catalog and an iPad.

This is the moment. The appraiser inspects the item, its labels, defects and signatures. Then there is that “wait for it …” when the appraiser gives an estimate of the value.

“We break hearts all the time,” said pottery appraiser Suzanne Perrault. She may think so, but broken hearts were certainly not in evidence on this day. The appraisers listen to tender family stories, admire each piece and point out the unique beauty. People walk away with looks of pride.

The atmosphere was merry in Richmond, the keepsakes were interesting (if not exquisite), and the stories of acquisition were riveting. Liz and Brian of Fairfax showed their 1964 Rolling Stones poster, appraised as worth $600 to $800. Brian had climbed up an 8-foot stage to get it signed by four out of the five lads.

Most of the items are worth less than $500. A few are judged to be worth big bucks. They are selected to be shown in the center of the room and taped. That’s the part you’ll see on TV this May.

A 3,000-PERCENT RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Amie, 19, from Danville, was giddy when it was her turn to show the book for which she had paid just $2.

“I found it in the basement of a house, after the estate sale was over,” she said. The book was so worn, it could have been mistaken for a dirty brick.

But when the appraiser told her this copy of Laws and Resolutions of Women’s Rights was printed in 1632, and the first one in English, he also told her it was valued at $6,000 to $8,000. That would represent a 3,000 to 4,000 times what she paid for it.

“Wow!” gasped Amie. “I never realized it would come to this level.”

When taping was over, she asked the appraiser to autograph a T-shirt. Her parents looked remarkably calm as she talked about going to law school.

Hers was not the only big find, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch survey afterward. Others included an Alice Ravenel Huger Smith watercolor with a retail value of $85,000; a 1937 Tiffany & Co. brooch with a retail value of $65,000; a Philadelphia Revolutionary period high chest with a value at auction of $40,000 to $60,000; and a basketball signed by many members of the University of North Carolina’s 1982 NCAA championship team, with an insurance value of $10,000.

More than a million appraisals have been conducted since the show started in 1996 (it first aired the following year, nearly two decades after the British version on which it’s based). Of those, only some 4,400 have made it to the center spotlight appraisal that you see on television. The highest appraisal value ever recorded on the show was an item worth $1.5 million.

This is one place where it is possible for the hoarder to have the last laugh.

‘A CHANCE TO MEET CLOSE FRIENDS I’VE YET TO MEET’

Maybe the show’s strongest element is Mark L. Walberg, the host since 2005. Impeccably dressed and irrepressibly gregarious, Walberg (not to be confused with actor Mark Wahlberg) is the quintessential “people person.” He loves his audiences as much as they love him. During breaks he shakes hands and signs autographs.

“Today was like every day,” Walberg said. “It was a chance to meet the close friends I’ve yet to meet.” He was referring to the thousands of television fans who watch the show and think of him as an approachable star.

Walberg’s résumé begins with his work on Dick Clark Productions. “I got my start as a ‘warm-up’ guy,” he said, “I like to share energy with the devoted fans. We, all of us on the show, owe it to the audience to meet them. That gives the show its authenticity.”

Bonnie Atwood is a Richmond-based freelancer who writes frequently for BOOMER.

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