'Antiques Roadshow' summons tribe of thrilled collectors in Boise

Saturday's taping will turn into three one-hour shows airing on PBS in 2014

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comJune 30, 2013 


    "Antiques Roadshow" is taping its 18th season this summer, with stops in Boise, Detroit, Jacksonville, Fla., Anaheim, Calif., Knoxville, Tenn., Baton Rouge, La., Kansas City, Mo., and Richmond, Va.

    Originated by the BBC in the United Kingdom, the show is licensed in the U.S. to WGBH in Boston and airs Mondays on PBS. With 10 million viewers, it is the top-rated ongoing primetime PBS show and has garnered 10 Emmy Award nominations in the reality category. Sponsors are Liberty Mutual Insurance and Subaru, which had a 1968 Subaru 360 on hand at Idaho Expo, the first model it exported to the United States.

    Host Mark Walberg said high value in some items is flashy, but that the tales of their acquisition are just as important.

    "The entree to watching our show may be waiting to see that little 'brrrring' across the screen to see if the person is rich, and, therefore, I could be rich from finding something in my garage," Walberg said. "But the reason people stay with the show is still story. We tie objects and people's lives and families to moments in history."

    More than 1 million appraisals have been conducted at Roadshow events since 1996, and more than 4,400 have aired. About 550,000 people have attended. The show's highest appraisal ever: $1.5 million.


    Among the items at Roadshow's Idaho taping were four brought by politicians. Sen. Jim Risch brought a pocket watch carried by his grandfather, William August Risch, a Milwaukee police officer. Gold plated, it was one of millions manufactured in Elgin, Ill. Risch said the appraisal didn't matter, but learning that the timepiece was from the 1880s did. "It was $150 or $250, I don't really remember. It's absolutely priceless to me."

    Risch's other item: A cut-glass bowl that his Irish grandmother always kept full of hard candy. "I remember that from when I was about 3 years old. These are things from way back in my life."

    Lt. Gov. Brad Little brought a loving cup won by Payette fruit growers at a National Irrigation Congress. Owned by the state Historical Society, the object was appraised at about $100,000.

    Little also brought a ceramic sheep from the family's ranch office in Emmett. The appraiser settled a dispute with Little's wife, Teresa, who'd been told the item was used to strike matches and light cigars or pipes. "They said it was a flower vase, so now the story's going to change," Little said.

    The vase appraised at $75.

    Laura, of Boise, brought silver items from her husband's side of the family, which left Britain for Australia in the 1820s.

    A dessert serving set made by Queen Victoria's silvermaker was appraised at $1,600 retail. Laura learned what the oversized, gold-plated spoons were for: dipping berries.

    She also had an 11-piece tea set made in India, appraised at $5,000 retail, and learned the use of some pieces, including the waste bin for tea and holders for jam, mustard and pepper. "It was fun to learn who made it, what the function was and that it's worth so much. Of course, we'll never sell it; we have four kids to pass these on."

    Other highlights:

    - An Edward Hopper etching, insurance value: $250,000.

    - A letter from Thomas Jefferson, appraised at $35,000 - $50,000 at auction.

    - A first-edition Book of Mormon, appraised at $75,000 retail.

    - Sanford Robinson Gifford painting, appraised at $300,000 insurance value. It is a scene of Italy; if it was of America, it could command up to $750,000.


    "Antiques Roadshow" lets reporters bring two items and I seized the chance.

    My political buttons won't make my kids rich, but appraiser Gary Piattoni of San Francisco said, "It's a nice group, typical of what I might expect from somebody who had fun putting it together. It's got a great gamut; keep going."

    The best of the lot are a large, full-color William Howard Taft button and a McKinley-Roosevelt button with both men pictured, both worth about $50. My 1912 Theodore Roosevelt Bull Moose pin is worth $30 or $40; Woodrow Wilson, about $25; and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, about $20.

    My collection of losers - Alf Landen, Tom Dewey, Adlai Stevenson and George McGovern - isn't worth nearly as much. "All those guys are interesting, but they're not the ones that drive collectors. Nobody cares as much about the folks who lost. They're cool and historic, but not that exciting."

    Laura Woolley of Los Angeles appraised my 1950s Hopalong Cassidy thermos at $30 - $50. It might have been higher, but the piece was well-used and rusted. The cork also broke in half, dropping the value from a pristine version that might have brought $100.

    "But it makes you happy, does it not?" asked Woolley.

    Indeed, it does.

    DAN POPKEY loves antique shops, thrift stores and garage sales. His most significant collection is of old pitchers.

John Nye had excellent news for an Idaho couple about a Chippendale chest that's been in the family since the 18th century.

The appraiser said their piece would bring up to $20,000 at auction and sell for two or three times that at retail.

"Maybe my hearing aid isn't working," said the owner, Nancy of Whitebird, with a laugh. "I didn't quite get that."

Nancy and her husband, Bruce, scored twice at Saturday's taping of "Antiques Roadshow," the PBS series that draws 10 million viewers a week and made its first-ever Idaho stop. The chest of drawers and two domed wood boxes and their contents were among about 90 items picked for on-camera appraisal.

Nancy presented the tiger maple chest, which she uses to store heirlooms including papers and photos. Bruce presented the boxes, which date from 1822, with his future daughter-in-law, Starr from Boise. Inside was a 200-year-old needlework sampler, stitched by a relative, Mary Churchill, and found in a New Hampshire attic.

"We have nearly a museum in our home," said Nancy, illustrating why Roadshow producers ask that guests be identified only by first name and town. "We're a family of hoarders ... well, treasure keepers."

Nancy was thrilled their stuff was singled out, but watched an ancient bubble burst: A family legend about a relative, Edward Holyoke, who was president of Harvard University from 1737 to 1769, appears to be wrong.

The story goes that Holyoke either owned or crafted the chest. Alas, the style of the piece puts it 30 years after Holyoke's death. "The timelines don't jive," said Nye, of Bloomfield, N.J.

At the show's core are the narratives behind the objects, but Roadshow's appraisers don't hold back from debunking them, said supervising producer Sam Farrell. "Family stories are often colorful and interesting, but they're frequently not accurate," she said.


An estimated 5,000-6,000 people patiently waited Saturday, typically for 90 minutes or so. A lottery entered by 15,000 people distributed 3,000 pairs of free tickets. About 500 people made a contribution of $200 or more to Idaho Public TV for tickets, and a few others went to VIPs, including Sen. Jim Risch and Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

The event was held at Expo Idaho on the Western Idaho Fairgrounds, an unusually small venue for the program, now taping its 18th season. Tents were added and a second building used. "The people at Expo Idaho have risen to the challenge," said associate producer Jill Giles.

The things people carried were schlepped in on a dizzying array of conveyances: wheeled luggage, baby strollers, 150-quart Igloo coolers, oxygen carts and wagons. One handmade dolly looked like the Joad family truck in "Grapes of Wrath," with a huge bench topped with two chairs and a painting strapped to the side.

Jon, a school custodian from Garden City, carried an oak Mission-style rocker on his head. Made around 1910, it belonged to his grandfather and was appraised at about $300. The ticket to the show was a birthday present from Jon's mom, who contributed $200. "She called Public TV and got the last ticket," he said.

At the heart of the show's geometry are 24 specialty tables staffed by 70 volunteer appraisers - all from out of state - who pay their expenses in exchange for invaluable exposure. Everyone gets an oral appraisal, but tongues stop when a special piece emerges, drawing producers who cull items for airing. Those guests are then herded to a green room and isolated from crew and appraisers so their on-camera reactions will be spontaneous.

A Boise potter named Rick brought a pair of 17th century Chinese porcelain jars that were estimated to bring $12,000 to $18,000 at auction. "I had no idea," he said.

Appraiser Lark Mason asked Rick, recently retired from Boise Parks and Rec, to talk about how the jars were made, including the cobalt glaze. "He didn't disagree with me," said a gratified Rick. "I've been watching the show for years. It was a big long shot to make it, when you figure there's 5,000 people and everybody brings two pieces."

Appraisals are filmed at four locations in a circle inside the specialty tables, with blue carpets outlining off-limit zones.

Though crowds meander in eyeshot of cameras, guests displayed a reverence for the program that would make any photo-bomber a heretic of the worst order.


Donna, a retired ballroom dance studio operator from Boise, was glowing after her encounter with one of the show's best-known appraisers, Leslie Keno, a furniture expert.

Keno appraised an 1835 child's rocking chair at $500 to $800. "Leslie said he loved the patina," Donna beamed. "All the kids in our family have used it."

Keno's twin brother, Leigh, specializes in folk art. Both wore European cut blue suits, Leslie with a blue tie, Leigh with red.

"I got to meet the Kenos!" said Dea, of Enumclaw, Wash., whose 19th-century drop-leaf side table was purchased in Connecticut expressly with the plan of attending the Roadshow. Twice, Dea failed to win tickets in the lottery for Seattle tapings; she got lucky in Boise.

Leslie Keno said it was too bad the table was missing its original brass casters, but having paid $1,000, Dea was pleased with the $2,000-$3,000 appraisal.

Traveling with her mother, Dixie, both said the trip was well worth the time and expense. "We felt like Thelma and Louise coming across the mountains," said Dixie.

The crew from the show's producer, WGBH in Boston, numbers 45, supplemented by 15 local technicians.

"But we couldn't do it without the volunteers," said Ron Milton, the stage manager who warmed up the 120 local volunteers at 7:30 a.m. with a football-like pregame scrum, shouting "Roadshow!"

Among the volunteers was Boise architect Jeff Shneider, who got to wear a headset as Quad 4 Leader. "It's like I get to hear secrets," joked Shneider. "It's been a kick in the pants."

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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