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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You can pay anything for anything these days.

here’s a really old picture of me.

It’s 4:30 pm April 20, 2018, and I am declaring it spring.  I just had to run out to my friends place on the edge of town to deliver a painting I had cleaned for them, and when I got out of the car, I thought,  “Hallelujah. at last, it’s spring.  What a long wait it has been for us here in south-west Ontario this year.  But it’s like being beaten over the head with a two by four, it feels so good once it’s over. I point this out to say it took a lot of will power to reject the offer of a beer and sitting on the porch for a spell for me to write this,  but I met a guy at the market last week who pointed out he noticed I was getting a bit irregular in writing every Friday as I was until recently, and he gently encouraged me to get with it.  It doesn’t take much to make me feel guilty apparently.  But what does this have to do with economics you ask.  Well nothing, but the arrival of spring could not go without comment.

What got me to thinking about economics this week is a new pair of blue jeans I bought at Costco.   I buy clothes only when necessary which at my age is rarely.  I’ve got a lot of clothes and not many occasions when I need to dress up,  plus I am not much of a shopper.  Anyway, seventeen bucks.  I got a really nicely made jeans of quality fabric that fit me and look good for less than the price of a coffee and a snack at Starbucks. I also had the occasion that day to be in the Bay and I saw some designer jeans for about $240.  I didn’t like the fancy stitching on the back pockets but I suppose it was there so people knew you hadn’t bought your jeans at Costco for seventeen bucks, and that’s fine with me. I’m not going to diss anybody for wanting to make a statement with their clothes, if that’s what makes you feel better.  It just doesn’t do anything for me.  I also know that if I looked around I could probably find a pair of jeans for $5, but if you want them to last you’re better off to spend a little more.   My point is you can spend $15 or you can spend $245, or more for a pair of men’s jeans. You can pay anything for anything these days

Next example.  We were at our daughter’s house and over breakfast she said to her husband “when you go out to get the groceries I would like you to go to a hardware store and get a new drip coffee maker.” This was the direct result of having to listen to me once more mutter under my breath when I tried to pour myself a cup of coffee and inevitably, no matter how hard you tried, the stupid spout of the carafe was so tiny that you ended up spilling all over the counter.  That, and the fact that it no longer had a lid and she doesn’t like the smell of coffee.  I find this hard to relate to because I love the smell of coffee, but I did agree with her that the spilling thing was a pain in the ass.  Of course it is not in my nature to replace anything that still works so I objected. I would have put up with that stupid carafe until the thing died a natural death.   Also, the fact is that neither of them drink coffee so the coffee maker is just there for us or other coffee drinking guests so is rarely used.  But she showed great determination so I headed out with my son in law, figuring that I would jump in at the last minute and buy the device as a hostess gift. As it turns out he wouldn’t let me do this but I digress. We went first to the local Loblaws for the groceries on our list, and low and behold, there in the middle isle was a very nice little coffee maker on sale for $22.   Amazing.  It has a spout that pours, a lid, a cleanable filter so you don’t have to  buy and dispose the paper filters, and I can tell it makes a much better cup of coffee than the old one.  I think I may have learned something from the experience. Spending $22 to not have to wipe up spilled coffee is a good move.  When I got home and looked at the Canadian Tire catalogue I noticed you can spend anywhere from $12 to about $350 for a drip coffee maker.  You can pay anything, for anything these days.

This seems to be the case for most items these days thanks to diverse world economics, and the modernization of manufacturing, and I think it’s a pretty good thing overall.   The frugal or poor can buy pretty good things for not much money, and the wealthy have an ever increasing selection to choose from.  However, I think it also makes people suspicious of their understanding of the monetary value of things.

This has always been an issue that antique and art dealers have had to deal with.  When you are asking $350 for a  100 year old rocking chair, there is no price in a catalogue to refer to.  There is just your knowledge of antiquity and markets which the buyer either believes in or not.  I believe that a lot of established, knowledgeable dealers do a good and fair job of pricing, but it is also the case with the way the markets are now that you see prices all over the place.  Recently, a painting by a folk artist that I represented for years sold at auction for $870.  I sold that painting in my shop for $495, and I know of other auctions were similar paintings by the same artist have sold for less than $100.

I once overheard a couple of old time dealers haggling over the price of a chair.  “Well I agree that it is a very nice chair in original paint and great condition but why is it priced at $600.” The other guy looked him strait in the face and said “because I paid $5 for it”.  Ha. They both laughed, and the questioning fellow knew that his negotiation technique was failing but you get the point.  You can pay anything, for anything these days. He may have only had to pay $5 but his knowledge of antiques made him realize it was worth much more. I think this is the basic appeal behind the business. It’s a treasure hunt.  That, and a love for the stuff.  You need that too, or you will never be able to make a go of it.

And don’t get me started on how this affects you when you are trying to do a decent job of appraising items for fair market value.  That’s a topic for another day. I’ve gone on long enough. It’s sunny on the porch and I am dying to go out there and have a beer.  I’m not a big beer drinker mind you.  Don’t touch the stuff all winter, and really don’t drink much in the summer, but on the first day of spring, who would deny me?  Happy spring everyone.