The Waterford Antiques Roadshow – You never know what will come through the door

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part of the current pottery exhibit. Photo by Jamie McDougall

For the past two years our local Waterford museum has been lucky to have an ambitious, enthusiastic young curator named James Christison.  James has done a great job.  Currently there is an impressive show of the Pottery of Norfolk and Brant County well worth seeing.   Last year he had the idea to have an “Antiques Roadshow” type fundraiser for the museum, gathering up 12 local “experts” to appraise any item you have been wondering about, coming from the basement or your grannies attic, for a reasonable sum of $5 each.  When asked, I was happy to donate my time to look over the furniture and art.  It helps the museum and you never know what will come through the door.  The event has gone well both years, with about 200 people in attendance each time.  And of course some people bring in 5 or 6 items so it adds up.  It’s a great deal for those who participate, and is also a great way to increase interest in antiques in general.

Naturally, like on the TV show the main pitch is about money.  Everybody is hoping to find out that item that they paid nothing for is now worth (ta da) $40,000.  Take it away Don Pardo.  But of course the reality is a lot of items are simply ordinary,  and have little or no monetary value. This can be disappointing of course but still, with inquisitive people it can happen that as they learn more about an object they develop an interest, and it becomes less about the money, and more about the value of the item in aesthetic and historic terms.  That’s the fun part, really.  Helping people connect and gain enthusiasm for something.  Be it, pottery, Indian artifacts, furniture, or whatever.  Still, the potential for “making big bucks” is the pitch which gets them in there, and that’s fine too.  Witness the head-line of the (front page mind you) article from the local paper.  In bold type “Cashing in on collectibles”.  Smaller type “There could be big value in yard sale finds”.  And the well written article is pretty much about that.  Which I suppose is to be expected these days when in general so much emphasis is placed on commercial value.  But wouldn’t it be great if there was some mention of the joy many people experience knowing more about their item in spite of recognizing that it had no real monetary value.  I’m a dreamer.

paperI was busy right from the get go until about 2:30 when I told the last man in line that yes, I could go out to the parking lot to look at a chess table he had brought in, but right after that I had to go and eat a sandwich, as I was starting to fade.  A lot of what I saw was fairly common turn of the century prints in late Victorian frames which is one of those “let them down easy” moments.  Some ask, “Are you sure it’s not a painting.  I was always told it was a painting”, and so you point out the company name and date written in tiny print right down along the bottom, and that usually convinces them.  You also look at a lot of chairs, I suppose because everybody’s got some kicking around and they are easy to bring in.  Lots of looking at large furniture on cell-phones.  Some of it amazing stuff, but if they are looking to unload it, it’s hard to think of who you might suggest is dealing in massive, walnut Jacques and Hayes sideboards.  Still, you give them what’s called the fair market value, that being the highest value that would be paid between a knowledgeable buyer and seller in a fair and uncontrolled market.  This is the figure you use for insurance purposes.  You then explain that this figure is often higher than you could hope to receive selling it to a dealer.  Dealers needing to make money, and eat, etc.  It’s amazing how many people do not “get” this concept until it’s introduced to them.

But as pleasant it is to pass a day looking at random stuff, it is the occasional exceptional piece that you hope for.  And this year I was not disappointed.  The first thing that quickened my breath was an absolutely mint large 5 point oil lamp candelabra complete with springs to supply adjustable height. It was all there and with an excellent, untouched original gilded finish.  Probably about 1860.  As it happens curator James came along just after I had given it an estimated value of $1,000 and suggested he had recently considered but did not have the budget to purchases a similar but much larger example with 8 points, valued by the seller at $2,500.   The people had recently bought an old house and the lamp was original to the dining room, but they were looking to change the feel of the room so wanted to sell.  I am hopeful that something might get worked out there.   Serendipity is fun.

paperjeremy.jpgShortly after an interesting well-dressed woman showed me a few items on her phone.  When she hit the shot of the early 19th century folk painted door from Nova Scotia I just about wet myself.  Holy Mackerel, talk about hitting all the buttons.  This thing has it all.  Every one of the four panels, front and back is decorated with scenes of ships at sea, forests, and other maritime features, with every molding decorated with geometrics in lovely colours, etc.  You could see the surface was untouched and magnificent.  A stellar piece of museum quality.    I was able to recreate one of those classic “roadshow” moments.  “Well, a normal door of this period would be worth a few hundred dollars, but I would place a fair market value of $15,000 on this door.  Gasps and giggles all around.  She was of course delighted.  I asked her what she paid for it and she told me she paid a lot for it 35 years ago.  The $750 she forked out just about blew her marriage but she felt she had to have it.  She said the husband is long gone.  I told her she was better off with the door.  We laughed and had a good time for a couple of minutes and then it was time to move on.  Her parting comment was that she had not yet found a place for it in her new home but that she was going home to do so, and fetch it out of the basement.

Then a bit later after seeing a lot more nice, but ordinary things a gentleman took out two rather large (16’x24”ish) pastel portraits of two plains Indians.  I called over Jamie McDougall, he Indian artifacts expert, and he too was knocked out by them.  They are signed by the artist A.E. Robillard, and dated 1909.  They are in beautiful, seemingly original dark oak frames. The men are dressed in “white man” cloths but you can see from the fineness of the lines and strong expressions that they were captured beautifully from life.  The elderly gentleman was excited to find out that they were of value and was interested to know more.  He was not on the internet so Jamie got his phone number and offered to get in touch with the OxBow Museum in Saskatchewan for him.  It felt good to know that these amazing and haunting portraits were now being recognized for the treasures that they truly are.

All in all, a very worthwhile day.  I am already looking forward to next year.paperme

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Nobody wants to tell a mother that her baby is ugly

I got a call the other day from a local woman who was interested in having me do an appraisal.   The lady, who was elderly and spoke very politely, told me that she was downsizing and it was time for her to let go of a special item that she had inherited from her grandmother.  Something she cherished but had no further use for.  An item that reportedly her Grandmother had turned down an offer of $3000 some years ago. “Sounds interesting.  What do you have?”.  “Well it’s a collection of playbills and related records collected from all over the world.”

 Playbills and related records that she turned down $3000 for. Hmmm. I began to imagine that perhaps she was a regular theater goer and had built up a collection from plays she had seen. Perhaps it included rare autographed pictures of past stars, or was so comprehensive in nature that someone would offer such a sum.  If this was the case, I would suggest to her that she get in touch with someone who would be more familiar with such an item.  Someone like Ed Locke for instance who deals in nostalgia.  My imagination kicked in and I started to get a bit excited.

“O.K. Mam, you may have something here.  Is the portfolio handy, so that you can give me more details?”  “Yes, I will go and get it.  ”Grandma was very meticulous. It’s always been kept in a dry closet and it is in perfect condition.” More reason to be encouraged.  A few moments passed and she was back.  “As I said, this was her prized possession and she once turned down $3000 once from a person who was very interested in acquiring it.”  Evidently, I thought.  That’s a lot of money to offer for a collection way back when. I was now imagining letters from the authors and composers, perhaps some personal photographs.  The excitement was mounting.  She had the book in front of her.wgm4

“So please describe it for me.”  “Well it is in a box and there are over a dozen records, and a booklet that tells you all about each piece of music.”  What! I thought it was a personal collection. This doesn’t sound good.   She went on and my heart sank, “The title on the cover is Webster’s Basic Library of the World’s Greatest music.”  All the records and the book are in excellent condition.  “But Mam, what about the playbills?  I thought we were talking about something your grandmother has collected, but what you are describing is a commercial product.” “Oh well I haven’t looked at it for years and I guess I remembered incorrectly as there are no playbills.  However, it is full there of information on every piece of music.”  wgm6

I was on-line as we spoke so I googled Webster’s Basic library of the World’s Greatest music, and up popped a dozen examples.  E-Bay listings, and otherwise.  I went to the first E-Bay listing.  So there are 24 records, correct?  The first record is Bach, the next four Beethoven.   The sleeves have several pages of documentation included of the recordings called “The Listener’s Guide to Album 1” then in Volume 2 “The Listener’s Guide to Album 2″…and so on.  “Yes, that’s exactly right.”  That’s it exactly.  wgm5

“Ah, and this boxed set was released in 1958” It states here that there were several editions produced over a few decades, and you say you have volumes one and two.”  “Yes, that’s what I have.”  And there is no additional material.   No collected photos or playbills, or anything else.”  “That is correct.”  “Well, then I’m afraid I have some bad news for you Mam because the copy I am looking at here on E-Bay which is in excellent condition just like yours, is being offered for $62.99 plus shipping.”  The mood turned suddenly ugly.  “Well that just can’t be.  You don’t know what you are talking about.  My Grandmother was nobody’s fool and she turned down $3,000 back then so it has to be worth a lot more now.”  “I’m sorry to give you this news, but unless there is something else with that box of records, what I am looking at right now in front of me suggests your Grandmother should have taken the $3,000 when she had the chance.”  “No.  that’s just wrong. It’s worth at least $3,000, and you can’t fool me.”  I tried to reassure her that I had no interest in trying to fool her, or in acquiring her grandmother’s treasure.  I was simply trying to let her know that as it so often happens in families, myths get started and can easily be perpetuated until someone comes along and bursts the bubble.  Nobody likes to have their hopes dashed, and having to do so in all honesty is the worst part of the job, but the truth must come out eventually.  I apologized once more, wished her luck, and hung up the phone.wgm4