hot springs, ark. — The man handed the golf club to the appraiser and said with exuberance, “Ever heard of an 11 iron?” The appraiser took the golf club and, with noticeably less exuberance, said, “We call this a wedge today.” He paused, studying the man’s face for disappointment. Then, seeing he was still smiling, said, “Well, they’re just now becoming collectible. I’d say $10.” “Oh great, thank you,” said the man, and he walked away beaming.
And so it goes behind the scenes at the “Antiques Roadshow,” the popular appraisal show that airs on PBS. At least that was the way it was July 13 when the show came to Hot Springs, Ark., where my grandmother now lives. Grandma got a couple of tickets and asked that I bring some family heirlooms. It sounded like fun, and it was — in the end. It was only after it was over that I realized I almost missed the real treasure of the show.
Obviously, Grandma’s tickets weren’t the only ones issued. In fact, approximately 6,000 people showed up at the Hot Springs Convention Center. Our ticket was for 11 a.m., but we decided to get there early, arriving at 9:30 a.m.
If there’s one thing I hate it is standing in line. When we pulled up, I was relieved to see the line wasn’t in the street, and was much pleased when we were allowed to go ahead and line up early. However, as we walked onto the convention floor, my heart sank when I saw all the folks ahead of us. And we weren’t put in the active, moving line. We were placed on the side track and watched hundreds with earlier tickets shuffle into line and on toward the appraisal room. My mood soured. And did I mention that the floor was uncarpeted concrete slab?
After 45 minutes of waiting, we were finally allowed to get in the “real” line. Police barricade tape funneled us up and down the length of the floor. It took right at least three hours to reach the appraisal room. I kept asking my grandmother if she would like to give up and just go home. But Grandma, an octogenarian who refuses to act her age, would have nothing of it. “I want to see the things people brought,” she said. She was constantly leaning over the tape, asking complete strangers what they had, sharing “ooh’s” and “aah’s”.
Unfortunately, all I managed to see was folks with — well — junk. I don’t claim to be an expert in fine things, but I think I know junk when I see it. “Man with an 11 Iron” was the norm. I saw every likeness of Jesus imaginable, all somewhere between tacky and gaudy. There was a self-proclaimed animal rights activist in front of us with a necklace she was convinced was made of pure elephant tusk.
One lady, the proud owner of an old doll, dropped her treasure on the unforgiving floor, causing all of the little one’s hair to fall out. She laughed at her own expense as she gathered up the pieces, leaving a sizable pile of tresses behind. And everyone else laughed, too, having the best of times.
Except me. Now I’m starting to really lose patience. I wanted to get on the PA system and say, “Everyone with pure junk, could you please get out of line so those with real treasures can get in the door? And for gosh sakes, wipe those smile off your faces.”
Finally, we reached the Promised Land. A screener looked at my things, showed much interest and guided me to my appropriate line. Except this time, there was only two people in front of me. The first guy was almost finished as I walked up. He had some document, and I heard the appraiser give his opinion — $15. Then “11 Iron Man” was hustled through, his $10-appraisal taking all of two minutes. I exhaled audibly, thinking these two misguided creatures had stood in line for three hours and their stuff is worth $25 — combined.
And then, it was my turn. I was immediately struck by the show’s staff, both their professionalism and tact. They knew their business, and they handled each person with respect regardless of what was presented. I showed my wares, got a great appraisal, and was done in 10 minutes.
Through with waiting and armed with an exciting appraisal, I began to feel badly about my attitude. I am a fairly regular watcher of the “Antiques Roadshow”, and I watch it for one thing — the stories. Sure, if somebody brings something that fetches megadollars, I feel some excitement. But I really watch the show for the stories behind the objects. If it’s truly a family treasure, it should be appreciated, preserved, not sold. So, who cares how much something is worth?
As I walked out, I realized just how fascinating people are, particularly Southerners when it comes to family. While I was fixed on my aching feet, everyone else was sharing — sharing in each other`s joys, the small things in life that in the end add up to the most cherished memories and possessions. Suddenly, I had a new appreciation for a man who would stand in line for hours, find his treasure was worth a bucket of chicken, and walk out all smiles. In a strange way, it reaffirmed my faith in my fellow man, and in a stranger way still, I felt part of a bigger family.
So, my advice to anyone thinking of visiting the “Antiques Roadshow” is — share in the human experience, it will be worth more than whatever you bring to be appraised, and wear comfortable shoes.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.