Monday, August 24, 2009

Antiques Roadshow (August 2005)

Four years ago, Karen and I were lucky enough to get tickets to Antiques Roadshow, the wildly popular appraisal show on PBS. "Our" episode is being re-broadcast tonight on KCET, so I thought I'd post the pre-blog story I wrote about our experience. If you watch the show tonight, be sure to pay particular attention to the woman with the small, dark sculpture (about 40 minutes into the program). Karen and I are lurking in the background.

The Antiques Roadshow came to Los Angeles this past weekend. Tickets, which were free, were available only through a lottery, so Karen, her mom, Tim, and I all applied through the Internet. Only Karen and I were lucky enough to get a pair of tickets each: hers were for 8AM and mine for 2PM. Tim had a remote broadcast in Colorado and Karen had a bar mitzvah to attend in the morning, so she gave away her 8AM tickets and decided to join me in the afternoon.

To get into the show, everyone has to bring at least one and—according to the tickets—not more than two items to be appraised by the now famous Roadshow antiques dealers. Karen decided rather quickly what to take. I, on the other hand, own nothing that could be remotely considered an antique—in fact, the only things of value that Tim and I collect are sports and pop culture memorabilia. So two hours before the show, I decided to take items that Tim had had autographed by rock and TV stars visiting the radio station. Now I’ve been watching the show long enough to know that people rarely bring just one or two items to be appraised—rather, they bring “suites” of items loosely joined by a theme: a suite of art deco jewelry, for instance, or an entire set of dishes. So I decided to bring two sets of autographs: album covers signed by Ringo Starr and two of the Monkees (the “rock suite”) and items signed by Star Trek actors Scott Bakula and Leonard Nimoy. Karen brought her great-great-uncle’s silver writing set (circa 1880) and a Chinese vase she had won at an antiques club auction. She also brought a small Asian vial as part of her “Chinese suite.”

We arrived at the LA convention center a little before 2PM. Despite warnings on the ticket that no one would be allowed to line-up until half-hour before the allotted time, several hundred people were already there; so we joined the end of an incredibly long queue and started looking to see what everyone else had brought. Most of the treasures were hidden away in rolling suitcases or towels, but occasionally something would pop out and we would secretly render our amateur appraisals. Among the most stunning items were a six-foot-tall spinning wheel, which a woman delicately carried, and an enormous painting of Vikings landing in North America. The painting was so huge that the owner had to lean it on a far wall while his partner stood on line.

The line quietly snaked back and forth through the convention hall and eventually onto the Roadshow set. We could see the blue-clothed back of the set and stage lights poking above, but saw nothing beyond. Everything was surprisingly subdued, perhaps because of the enormous size of the room. After we’d been there for an hour-and-a-half, the 3:30 ticketholders joined the line and we suddenly seemed a whole lot closer to our destination. At 4PM, an elderly gentleman, who apparently also had a 2PM ticket, came up to us and asked which tickets we had. “2PM,” we answered. “But I’m a half-mile behind you!” he sighed and slowly walked back to his spot.

After three hours of waiting, things started moving very quickly. Suddenly we were split into two lines as volunteers checked our tickets. We were directed to a table where we were quickly quizzed about our belongings and then handed tickets that indicated which appraisal booths to visit. Karen was to go to the “silver” and “Asian arts” tables; my autographs and I were directed to “collectibles.” A volunteer accompanied us onto the set, which was a bevy of activity—very crowded and, of course, a lot smaller than expected. People looked dazed and confused as they tried to find the appropriate appraiser tables. (Thank goodness for our wonderful guide!) Some tables, like “Asian arts,” had short lines. Others, like paintings and collectibles (of course!), had long, long lines. We were shepherded around the perimeter of the set so we wouldn’t accidentally step in front of a camera. The actual filming took place in the middle of the “room” on three separate tables: a small table for jewelry and other more intimate items, and two larger tables. Furniture had its own space toward the back of the set. Karen said that she didn’t want to be filmed, but there was no avoiding it as our guide led us to the next line. “You’re on camera!” I whispered to Karen, as we walked behind an appraiser at one of the larger tables.

As soon as I situated myself on the collectibles line, Karen scurried off to visit the silver appraiser nearby. I took a breath and started looking around. A lamp was being filmed at one of the larger tables. Two strange urn-looking things were being set-up across the way. And an impeccably dressed woman was seated at the small table. Cameras and microphones were centrally located.

My eye then wandered over to the furniture area and...there they were: Leigh and Leslie Keno, the Roadshow’s twin superstars who had become antiques appraisers in their teens. People on the show always talk about how gorgeous they are in person and they are! Karen was still meeting with the silver appraiser, so I turned to the woman behind me and said, “Oh my god! Look, it’s the Keno brothers!” She quickly turned her head and practically yelled, “Oh my god! There they are!”

Finally, after about a half-hour, I got to the head of the collectibles line and was called over by Gary Sohmers, one of our favorite Roadshow appraisers (white hair always worn in a ponytail). His eye was immediately drawn to the Ringo Starr autograph and asked how I got it. “My husband works at a radio station and met Ringo when he came in a few years ago,” I said. “Well, the signature is worth $200-300, but only if your husband writes you a letter detailing how and when he met Ringo.” Sohmers then went on to appraise the rest of my booty: $100 for the Monkees signatures; $25-30 for Scott Bakula; and $75 for Leonard Nimoy. Not a heckuva lot of money, but I was thrilled nonetheless; plus I got to talk to Gary Sohmers!

The rest is, quite frankly, a blur! Karen got her Chinese items appraised ($50 each) and then we reluctantly started to leave. At the exit was a small “feedback” booth where people could tell a camera about their Antiques Roadshow experience. We each signed a release form and then waited on yet another line to get in front of the camera. The woman behind us was carrying a gun that looked like it was last fired during the Revolutionary War. When Karen asked about it, the woman said she had found it hanging in her garage, obviously left behind by a previous owner. The appraiser was impressed by its pristine condition and said it was worth $4000—the most expensive thing we saw all day! Inside the feedback booth, we were both asked to stand on a box and talk into the camera. Karen told about her small Chinese vial, while I stood next to her clutching my Goodnight Vienna album. “I brought Ringo,” I grinned. “He’s worth $300, but only if my husband writes me a letter telling where he met him!”

With that, we picked up our favorite appraisers’ business cards and headed home. The Los Angeles Antiques Roadshow episodes will air some time after January 2006. You can bet we’ll be watching for ourselves standing behind more fortunate collectors who actually got to have their treasures appraised on camera!

August 16, 2005

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