Totally off topic for wine, but I had to write this post! The Antiques Roadshow came to DC to tape shows last Saturday, and Cy and I got to go. One of my high school classmates, Peter Shemonsky, is an appraiser on the program, and he got us guest passes to come in.
According to the brochure they gave us when we entered the Convention Center, about 5,000 tickets were given out for the day-long event. We were lucky enough to bypass the long line for “triage,” (thank you, Peter!) where they give you a card for each item you bring – the card has the name of the appraisal category (painting, jewelry, sculpture, etc.), and that directs you to the proper entrance to the appraisal area. The line waiting for triage was at least an hour long, probably a lot more, so we saved a lot of time.
Each person is allowed two items, which means there are more than 10,000 appraisals done for each show. The vast majority are off-camera. If an appraiser finds an interesting item with a good story behind it, he or she calls the show producer, and the producer decides if the appraisal will be taped or not. Still, they tape enough appraisals to fill three on-air shows at each location.
Cy and I didn’t get a taped appraisal, so you won’t get to see all those fabulous facial expressions we practiced ahead of time, from excitement to disappointment. Not that we didn’t try to think of something that might get us on TV, as you’ll see below. But we had fun anyway. And learned a lot about our items. We each took a family “heirloom” and another object. Here are the results, in ascending order of value:
Family Heirloom #1
This is an advertising pocket calendar from 1930, one that my grandparents gave out to promote their wool shop businesses in Vienna. “If you’re satisfied, please recommend me to your acquaintances,” is the tag line on the last page. The book is cloth-bound and is actually a listing of saints’ days – which strikes me as funny because my grandparents were Jewish. I guess they knew their customers, though. A lesson in retailing from the past!
Kathleen Guzman from Heritage Auction Galleries looked at the booklet. She told me it was amazing that anything like this survived the war, especially in this good condition. But she reminded me that it was worth more to me than anyone else, and would fetch maybe $60-$80 from a collector.
Family Heirloom #2
Believe it or not, Cy actually carried a 5’ x 7’ rug on the Metro! His parents lived in Iran before emigrating to the U.S. in the 1950s. Cy’s mom bought this rug at a bazaar in Iran. She said that a shaft of light came down and hit the rug, making it glow, and she loved the colors. It wasn’t new when she bought it, but she didn’t know anything else about it. We have it in our bedroom, and everyone who sees it loves it (as did the people we stood in line with at the Roadshow).
James Ffrench of Beauvais Carpets took a look at the rug for us. He said that it was made during World War II. Although Iran wasn’t directly involved in the war, the war certainly touched the country, whether because of geography or ties to other nations. The commercial rug industry basically came to a halt during the war, and people were relocated within the country. And because they didn’t have their commercial patterns (or cartoons) with them, they wove rugs from memory.
He told us that the rug was woven in northwestern Iran, but that the people who made it were probably from the south. He said there was some Bakthiari design, as well as designs from other tribes of Iran. But because they were going from memory and not a set pattern, there are lots of little anomalies in it, which make it interesting to collectors. Still, it’s not a good time for rug sales, so it would bring $600 to $800 at auction.
As you know, since we’ve bored you to tears with it each year, Cy and I spend at least a week in Provincetown each summer. The town has been home to a lot of artists over the years, and we made our first joint art purchase there (after we got over the sticker shock). The light is particularly good for painting, and there is a group of “Old Provincetown” artists whose paintings detail life and scenery on the Cape.
We bought this painting at an antiques/junk shop in Provincetown. It’s by Bonnie Whittingham, one of those Old Provincetown artists. She spent her summers there after World War II and then eventually moved to the town, where she lived for many years. Her paintings can sometimes be impressionistic, although the scenes of boats are usually less so, and she often made the frames for her paintings as well. She moved to California before she died in 1997.
We didn’t know any of this when we bought the painting for about $100. We knew that we liked the boats and it was the right size for our house. But after a little research we thought it would certainly be worth at least what we paid, so we decided to take it along to the Roadshow.
Robin Starr of Skinner, Inc. appraised the painting for us. And we were lucky to get her, too, since she’s from Boston, knows the Cape artists well, and has seen/appraised/sold several of Bonnie Whittingham’s paintings. It’s funny, you don’t see the appraisers’ laptop computers out on TV, but of course they use them to look up auction prices, particularly for paintings. Robin didn’t need to do that for us. She told us that this painting had everything you’d expect from a Whittingham. The post-Cubist boats, the seagulls, the streaks of blue for the reflections on the water. And it was also the typical kind of frame Whittingham made. So all told, it would fetch several times what we paid for it.
Not bad, huh? And the news was even nicer, since the line for painting appraisals was an hour and a half long! We met a lot of nice people in line, though. And we unrolled our rug and sat on it to eat lunch in the middle of the convention hall floor, which got us a lot of laughs.
The Pièce de Résistance
If you know Cy, you know he loves maps! He got a map of the early DC Metro system from a library where he used to work. His boss was going to throw it away. Cy tells that he saved it from crumpling and going in the trash, and has kept it ever since. We thought that if any of our items would be TV-worthy, this would be the one — there are always local-interest items shown on the program. Plus we really had no idea what it might be worth, which is a plus (there’s nothing the Roadshow likes more than a good story and a surprised reaction from the owners…) And although this is an “everyday” item, you don’t see them in private hands often, which is another thing they love to show.
Particularly since this one actually hung in a subway car, as you can see from the grommet holes. And it is one of the first system maps Metro made: when the system first opened, only five stations on the red line were open, from Farragut North to Union Station. The Dupont Circle stop opened six months later, and then six months after that the blue line from the Armory to National Airport opened as well. So this map can be clearly dated to a six-month period in 1977 between Dupont and the blue line.
Nicholas Lowry of Swann Auction Galleries took a look at the map and loved it. LOVED it. He told us he really likes transportation system maps and graphic arts, and that this one has everything that it should. And, believe it or not, it could fetch more than the rug, too. Of course, it would have to be a DC auction, and the stars would have to align, but he also said that if the map were designed by a well-known graphic artist, it could bring even more. Who’d a thunk?
So we made out well, all in all, and had an excellent time doing it. We saw Peter for a few minutes (the poor man didn’t get out of there until 8:30 that night), which was great too. Before we left, we got filmed in the Feedback Booth, which was a hoot – you have to give your first names and say where you’re from , and then we had two minutes to say anything we wanted. So I got to introduce Cy as my husband for a potentially national audience, and we told our tales of good fortune. Even the cameraman was impressed! We won’t know until May, probably at the earliest, if we’ll make it on any of the DC episodes. The new season won’t air until January. But keep an eye out for us!
A few other random observations:
- The crew and volunteers do a great job making order from chaos, keeping all those people in lines, keeping them out of the sightlines of the cameras during appraisal tapings, helping people go to the right places, etc. They’re friendly, courteous, and efficient.
- It really was fun seeing the appraisers we’ve seen on TV. Not quite the thrill of seeing, say, Natalie Dessay (for me, anyway), but fun nonetheless. Many of the recognizable folks were there. Only one of the Kenos was there on Saturday, the program says it was Leslie. (But really, who can tell, since they’re identical twins?) We didn’t see him jumping up and down with delight as he (or was it Leigh?) has sometimes done, which I must admit was a disappointment.
- Those appraisers work hard. I’m sure that the visibility from the show helps their businesses, but wow, that is tough work!
- Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that while there may be specific sub-areas of expertise, a lot of these appraisers are generalists. As I mentioned, we got just the right appraiser for our painting. But I didn’t really expect that the Roadshow would have an expert in European advertising giveaways from between the wars for my grandparents’ calendar. One person ahead of us in the painting line was really disappointed by another appraisal she got, she felt the person doing the evaulation dismissed the owner’s firsthand knowledge of the piece itself. So it may not always work out the way you hoped it would.
- Still, if you get a chance to go, do it — it’s definitely a good time. And who knows what you might learn (or earn)?