The Antiques Roadshow
edited by David Battie
Published by Mitchell Beazley
160 pages, 2005
Trucked in Treasures
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
It was, arguably, the original reality show. Though there are now versions of The Antiques Roadshow around the globe, the show that spawned the others first aired in the UK in 1977. Since then, hopeful fans have been trucking their treasures to sports arenas and community centers in their own neighborhoods in order to have them evaluated by experts on a weekly basis.
Though it seems likely that the largest percentage of those trucked in treasures are probably not worth the gas to cart them around, that's not the stuff the viewers at home see and it's not what we tune in for. What we tune in to see is, for example, the garish vase that Aunt Mabel purchased at a church bazaar for next to nothing a decade ago fondled lovingly by the appraiser. The words we lean forward to hear: "This is the best example of Blankety Blank kiln work I've ever seen on The Roadshow. Look at the hues in the glaze! I've been waiting and waiting for just this item. It is, as we say in the trade, the Holy Grail." And the price, when it's revealed at the end of the segment, is enough to suck the air from Aunt Mabel's lucky heir and bring a tear of sympathetic pleasure to our own eyes.
It's only occasionally that watchers at home hope the appraised value will be shockingly low. When, for instance, the item in question has been pillaged from a monument or otherwise lifted from its rightful place or ownership. Then we like to see the bearer properly informed. Or when the person bearing the treasure is cocky and has overpaid. "It's Tiffany," this cocky person might say. "And it only cost twenty-five hundred." We at home smile knowingly, along with the appraiser. And we nod with approval when she says, "Well, if it were what you thought it was, it would be worth 125,000. But unfortunately, it's a fake. A fairly obvious one at that and, as such, if you were to sell it, the value would hardly cover your bus fare home."
The enduring popularity of The Antiques Roadshow is unsurprising. After all, it has everything. Many will apply, but few will go home with the prize: an item that is actually worth something after all. Fewer still will go home with the grand prize: an item that is worth enough to change the owner's life forever. Yet both of these types turn up with pleasing frequency on The Roadshow and with common enough items that almost everyone who watches is given to understand that they, too, might just be sitting on some unrealized treasure.
Monetary considerations are, however, only one component. The human stories contribute just as much to The Roadshow's watchability. I'll never forget, for instance, the woman who brought in a naive piece of jewelry. Something that some youthful love had found and then given to her when both were in their early teens. The woman had kept the item -- likely secreted away at the back of some drawer -- for over half a century, finally showing it to a Roadshow appraiser who told her it was ancient and valuable far beyond her expectations. Paintings of family members with stories intact. Furniture given to great-great-great grandparents as a wedding gift. Silver services designed for the grand house of an ancestor, the house long since gone, but the silver remaining to tell its own sort of tale. The human stories give The Antiques Roadshow its texture and life.
The book deals entirely with the mother of all Roadshows, the BBC version produced in the UK. The Antiques Roadshow delves into the history of the show, the military precision involved in planning each episode, the locations from each season since the series' inception plus a very good FAQ section and a fat chapter highlighting memorable finds throughout the years.
One of the highlights for me was the sections that included profiles of the experts. After so many years of getting to know them slightly via the show, it was interesting to learn, for instance, that Bunny Campione owns a collection of 70 soft rabbits, though she has stopped collecting rabbits and is now focusing on corkscrews. Or that Simon Bull -- whose expertise is in the area of clocks and watches -- came to his current vocation via the raceway. He owns and manages a Formula One racing car as well as several vintage cars. Furniture expert John Bly is an accomplished jazz drummer. David Battie -- pottery and porcelain expert -- trained as a graphic artist and is an accomplished bookbinder. Geoffry Munn -- jewelry -- enjoys bonsai and has done 13 of them from saplings he got from his own garden. None of these facts -- plus the many, many others included -- will help deepen your understanding of the show. However if you're already a Roadshow fan, it's fun to put a more personal face on the appraisers.
A carefully compiled compendium of all things to do with the original Roadshow, The Antiques Roadshow would be a good primer for the uninitiated. However it's most likely to make its largest mark with those who are already fans. Those who already watch and enjoy the show will find The Antiques Roadshow to be a superb companion to their viewing. | August 2005
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.