Last weekend I was in Atlantic City for the first stop for the 14th season of Antiques Roadshow. Each summer the crew and appraisers for Antiques Roadshow visit a number of cities around the United States to tape material for the coming season of programs. This summer Roadshow is visiting six cities and from each stop three programs will be produced, to begin airing in January next year. My partner, Don Cresswell, and I have been working as appraisers at the Prints & Posters table for Roadshow ever since the second season (back in 1997) and this summer we will each work as an appraiser at three different cities. Atlantic City was my first; in two weeks I will head down to Raleigh; and in August I’ll fly out to San Jose for the final city of the 2009 tour (the episodes taped this year will broadcast in 2010).
Antiques Roadshow remains one of the most popular shows on PBS and generates a lot of interest and questions whenever we meet any of its many viewers. I will post a blog after each city, explaining a bit about the process and discussing my experience at each stop. In this blog I’ll give an overview of how the process works at each city.
During the early years of the show, it was first come, first served for those who wanted to bring items in for an “appraisal.” With the incredible popularity of the show, however, it became clear that this wouldn’t work, as people ended up waiting many, many hours and there was no way we could see all the items people brought in for us to look at. Thus the show began to issue timed tickets, a system that works quite well now. Most tickets are distributed by the producing station, WGBH, and also some tickets are available as gifts for donations made to the the local PBS station in the city.
Each ticket-holder can bring in two items to be appraised. You arrive with your items at the ticketed time and when you get to the front of the line you go through Triage. Nothing is rejected at Triage—within the rules of the show, anything you want to have appraised will be appraised, except for stamps, coins, vehicles, ammunition, explosives—-but it is there you will assigned to a particular table. You might be sent to the table for Tribal Art, Toys, Collectibles, Furniture or (of course) Prints & Posters. At each table will be appraisers who are specialists in that subject who will then look at your item. When your turn comes, you show the items to the appraiser, who will then tell you what he or she can about it and give you an estimated value.
The producers of Roadshow work hard to have the best possible appraisers in as wide a range of subjects as possible. Of course it is impossible to have a specialist in every field of antiques, so it does happen that sometimes someone will bring in an item for which there is no specialist, but in those cases, appraisers will collaborate and use their general experience to give as much information as possible. For most items, however, one of the appraisers at the show will know about the item brought in and the owner will get a free appraisal from one of the country’s top experts. Not a bad deal!
As a point of interest, the sixty plus appraisers for each city are not paid anything for working on the show; not a salary nor expenses (we do, however, get a free lunch…). Obviously, our “pay” is when we appear on one of the episodes for the show, as this is terrific publicity, which we certainly couldn’t afford if we had to pay for the air time! However, I think most experts, and certainly my partner and I, continue to appraise for the show because it is actually a lot of fun, it gives us a great opportunity to spend time with our colleagues in other areas of the antique world, and because we all care about sharing our knowledge with as many people as possible.
After the next stop (Raleigh later this month), I’ll write about how some of the items get selected for filming, but today I’ll just make a few comments on my experience in Atlantic City…
It should not be surprising that the majority of items we see at the Prints & Posters table do not have a lot of value. As I discussed in an earlier blog, the vast majority of prints were made not as “fine art” or “collectible,” but rather as inexpensive, decorative items. This is exactly what we see mostly during a day’s filming for Antiques Roadshow. Most people who come in suspect that their print or map is not valuable, though they have a hope it might be, so most are not upset when we confirm that their item doesn’t have a lot of market value. However, we do try to give them as much information as we can about their prints and to put them into context so they can appreciate their print for what it is. As I said in the earlier blog, most prints have only “decorative” value, but there is nothing wrong with that!
I did see good items in Atlantic City, some of which might appear in the produced episodes when they appear next year (we never know what will actually appear on the show until they run), but typically most of what I saw were inexpensive, decorative prints. I am not sure how many items I appraised, but I would think somewhere around 200-250! We see our first item around 8:00 am and the last person came to our table at about 7:15 pm. There are usually three people at the Prints & Posters table and we pretty much work non-stop except for a 15-20 minute lunch break. An exhausting day! We have a good time, however, by trying to make it a fun experience for the people bringing items in.
One of things I have noticed over the last 12 years is that at each city there seems to be a particular type of print that we see a lot of, which we might see very few of at other cities. I suspect this might be in part because there was a gallery which sold that type of print in the past, but for this or some other reason, almost every stop has its signature type of print. In Atlantic City it was the early twentieth century, hand-colored aquatints based on classic paintings. These are “original” prints, in the sense the plates are made by hand, but they are “reproductive” prints in the sense that they are copied from paintings. There were a lot of these made between about 1905 and 1930 and they are quite lovely images. However, because they are reproductive and because this sort of print is not currently that popular, they have only “moderate” value (most in the range of $150-$350). Over the years we usually see about one or two of these at each city, but in Atlantic City I saw at least a dozen.
I’m off to Raleigh in a couple weeks and will make another post about the process and my experiences then. In the meantime, you can see many of the appraisals I have made in previous years on the Antiques Roadshow video archive.