When Antiques Roadshow started, recalled auctioneer Kathleen Guzman during a lecture at Heritage Auctions last night, there might have been 500 people for a show taping. It wasn’t until the taping for the first show of the second season, this time in Pittsburgh when things started to catch on. When they opened the door, they stared down a line of some 10,000 people waiting for appraisals.
In Atlanta taping for the second show of the second season some 20,000 showed. Starting appraisals at 6 a.m. Guzman said there were still 5,000 people in line at 8:30 at night. This year the show will mark its 20th Anniversary.
Though I have enjoyed Antiques Roadshow, I don’t watch television much and didn’t know Guzman from her appearances there. I became familiar with her at a charity auction for Housing Works in New York City. That was so entertaining I didn’t miss the chance for her Stories of an Appraiser talk at Heritage in Dallas. I expected her to have some of the best.
She didn’t disappoint.
Guzman explains that by the third season the appraisals on Antiques Roadshow were becoming stars. Women would hand the Keno brothers hotel room keys and ask them to sign their butts. Guzman herself received a marriage proposal from a man holding a yellow rose in Salt Lake City.
Using stills from show episodes, she described how one man who brought in a blanket he kept on the back of his living room chair was told he possessed a very rare Navajo item worth between $350,000 and $500,000. There was the emotional reaction of course, but also the back story. According to Guzman, the gentleman lived in a modest home and on learning of his possession bought a rifle. Unable to find a bank security box big enough, he contacted appraiser Donald Ellis about selling it. Ellis took it to the Winter Antiques Show where on the last day he received an offer of $500,000, which he refused. In the end, it was the Cleveland Museum of Art who raised $800,000 to purchase the blanket for its permanent collection.
Then there were the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. Guzman has sold them three times, making her part of the Oz story. In 1981, they brought $12,500. In 1986, $125,000 followed by $660,000 in 1990. More recently they sold for $1.1 million. As she noted, there are at least seven pairs, however, making the prices even more remarkable.
Then there are the people you have to disappoint. These included a woman who thought a figurine of Cinderella she unearthed was from prehistoric times. And another who gave a taxidermy bird in poor condition special prominence because it had supposedly been killed on the Cross-Bronx Expressway.
Mike Morris of Cincinnati brought to the Antiques Roadshow a white suit once worn by Colonel Sanders. While the story of how he came to own the suit was amusing (you can watch the episode online), it was the photo of the eventual purchaser, the head of KFC in Japan, wearing the suit that took the cake.
Guzman says few people who bring things to the Antiques Roadshow end up on television. They tape an average of eighty things for every 15,000 that come in. And even a high evaluation won’t be a guarantee of airtime. Some things are just boring.
The things that end up at auction are also rare. Guzman says that most people decide to keep what’s been appraised. Having the thing can be worth more than the money.
Heritage is holding its Fine and Decorative Art Estate Auction February 21-23. Antiques Roadshow is filming its 20th season and will make stops in Chicago, Austin and elsewhere.