11 Authenticated Facts About Antiques Roadshow

Appraiser Francis J. Wahlgren (R) examines a photograph inscribed by Abraham Lincoln on Antiques Roadshow.
Appraiser Francis J. Wahlgren (R) examines a photograph inscribed by Abraham Lincoln on Antiques Roadshow.
Courtesy of Luke Crafton for WBGH, © WBGH 2018

Even people who might not normally tune in to the serene programming on PBS are fans of Antiques Roadshow, the long-running (22 years and counting) series that allows people with puzzling collectibles and family heirlooms to solicit expert advice on their historical and monetary value. More than 8 million people watch the show weekly. For more on the series, including the chances of getting on air, banned clothing, and the most valuable item to ever be featured, keep reading.

1. Antiques Roadshow was inspired by a BBC show of the same name.

Before the American version of Antiques Roadshow debuted in 1997, a BBC version had been airing in the UK since 1979. In 1981, a film investor named Dan Farrell decided to buy the North American rights to the format in perpetuity. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any takers for roughly 14 years, with American television producers fearing the concept of antiquities would have too narrow an audience. Eventually, Boston PBS affiliate WGBH and producer Peter McGhee decided to work with Farrell and the BBC and adopt the format for American audiences. The first taping attracted only a few hundred people. But word soon spread. By the second show, police had to direct congested traffic.

2. The chances of appearing on Antiques Roadshow are slim.

'Antiques Roadshow' appraiser Leila Dunbar (L) evaluates a Randy Gumpert baseball uniform
Antiques Roadshow appraiser Leila Dunbar (L) examines a Randy Gumbert baseball uniform.
Courtesy of Luke Crafton for WGBH, © WGBH 2018

Antiques Roadshow visits six cities per year for tapings in June, July, and August. At each event, organizers see anywhere from 6000 to 10,000 items, from upwards of 4000 people selected in a random drawing from a pool of applicants for the free tickets online. (Each ticket holder can bring two objects for review.) Of those, roughly 80 are selected for inclusion in episodes featuring that city. (As of 2019, the average was about 30 items per episode from a pool of 5000 pieces.) Items stand the best chance of getting airtime if the history of the item is intriguing, the owner’s story is captivating, and the appraiser has something to add. Unlike a lot of reality programming, there’s no group of producers deciding which content should make it to air. Appraisers typically listen to stories and then petition producers to feature the items they think would make for compelling television. If it’s merely valuable, it’s not likely to make it. The show has passed on featuring paintings worth $500,000 because the stories behind them didn’t hold any appeal.

3. Every Antiques Roadshow visitor gets a free appraisal.

Not selected for airtime? No problem. Ticket holders are still eligible for a free appraisal of their two items, regardless of whether you wind up being filmed for television.

4. Antiques Roadshow appraisers get a little time to cram for their subject.

'Antiques Roadshow' appraiser Katherine Van Dell (R) examines a watch and Art Deco star sapphire ring
Antiques Roadshow appraiser Katherine Van Dell (R) looks at a watch and Art Deco star sapphire ring.
Courtesy of Luke Crafton for WGBH, © WGBH 2018

While appraisers on Antiques Roadshow know their stuff, it’s impossible to have the finer details on every object that comes their way. Once an item is selected for taping, appraisers have anywhere from five minutes to 30 minutes to do some quick research and gather more information to share when it’s time to record the segment.

5. Antiques Roadshow appraisers don’t get paid.

Each taping of Antiques Roadshow uses roughly 70 appraisers across a spectrum of specialties, from fine art to pop culture. Surprisingly, none of them get paid for their work. They don’t even get to expense their travel, if any is required. Appraisers typically appear in order to bolster their profile in the antiques industry. The one perk? Free breakfast on filming days.

6. Antiques Roadshow has rules about what guests can wear.

'Antiques Roadshow' appraiser Frederick Oster (off-camera) examines a French violin circa 1875
Antiques Roadshow appraiser Frederick Oster (off-camera) discusses a French violin circa 1875 with a guest.
Courtesy of Luke Crafton for WGBH, © WGBH 2018

Producers have just one hard and fast rule about people who might have an appraisal filmed for television. Their clothes cannot display any corporate or brand logos, since the series would then have to obtain clearance to display them. You might have a great old dresser, but if you’re wearing a Pepsi shirt, you’re probably out of luck.

7. Antiques Roadshow won’t appraise certain items.

Just because something is valuable doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good fit for Antiques Roadshow. Appraisers will refuse to assess motor vehicles, stamps, stock certificates, paper currency, coins, tools, fossils (sorry, dinosaur collectors), ammunition, explosives, or anything they deem hazardous. The most curious banned item? Glass fire extinguishers. Also known as glass fire grenades, the fragile objects were tossed on fires in the 19th century in the hopes the chemical inside—carbon tetrachloride (CTC) —could suppress the flames. But CTC is poisonous and shouldn’t be handled by anyone.

8. Antiques Roadshow will move furniture.

A Matthew Egerton Jr. stand from 'Antiques Roadshow' is pictured
A Matthew Egerton Jr. stand circa 1825 waits for its close-up on Antiques Roadshow.
Courtesy of Luke Crafton for WGBH, © WGBH 2018

It’s easy enough to pack up a sculpture or baseball card and take it to a taping, but how do massive pieces of furniture get there? If the item is interesting enough, the show will move it for guests. Ticket holders can submit photos of their furniture to producers. If it’s chosen for the show, crew members will pick it up anywhere within a 60-mile radius of the taping and then deliver it back, all free of charge.

9. The most valuable item to ever appear on Antiques Roadshow might surprise you.

It can be difficult to assess what constitutes the most valuable item to ever appear in the 22-year history of Antiques Roadshow. Is it the value given in an appraisal, or what an item eventually sold for—if it was ever put up for sale at all? For an appraisal, the answer seems to be El Alabanil (The Laborer), a 1904 painting by artist Diego Rivera that was valued between $1.2 million to $2.2 million by appraiser Colleene Fesko in September 2018. Fesko originally appraised it at $800,000 to $1 million on the show in 2012 but updated the value to reflect the high sale prices of other works by Rivera. One painting, The Rivals, sold for $9.7 million.

10. Antiques Roadshow is changing.

'Antiques Roadshow' appraiser Gary Piattoni examines a trunk that once belonged to the Temptations
Antiques Roadshow appraiser Gary Piattoni examines a storage trunk that once belonged to the Temptations.
Courtesy of Luke Crafton for WGBH, © WGBH 2018

According to executive producer Marsha Bemko, the latest seasons of Antiques Roadshow have been a marked departure from seasons past. Instead of filming in convention centers, the show has been setting up their camera at historic venues. During their 2018 season, the show visited the Ca’ d’Zan in Sarasota, Florida, the onetime home of circus pioneer John Ringling. The series has also been to Churchill Downs in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, and the Hotel del Coronado resort in San Diego. Bemko told the realityblurred.com website that while they entertain far fewer guests during these visits—tickets are limited to 2500 people—some venues are hesitant to book the show out of fear they might be disruptive or create a mess. The crew, however, is nothing but professional. Bemko said one location representative told her the FBI once set up shop there and the Antiques Roadshow crew was by far the more organized of the two.

11. Antiques Roadshow can’t get everything right.

With thousands of items to sift through annually, the appraisers of obscure items can’t have a perfect batting average. The show experienced a twinge of embarrassment in 2016 when a disfigured face on a jug was presented for review by appraiser Stephen Fletcher. Declaring it a collectible pottery product of the late 19th or early 20th century, Fletcher said it was valued at $30,000 to $50,000. It turns out that the jug—which was purchased for $300 at an estate sale—was actually an Oregon high school art project from the 1970s. A friend of the artist, Betsy Soule, alerted her to its appearance on television. Fletcher maintained it was still valuable but reduced his estimate to between $3000 and $5000.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

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16 Priceless Treasures We've Lost Forever

jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Steven Spielberg is known for crafting such masterpieces as Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, and Jurassic Park. With such a long and acclaimed film career, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Spielberg got his start behind the camera at just 17 years old when (with the help of his friends and his high school marching band) he directed his first feature-length film, Firelight.

What's that? You've never seen Firelight? Well, you're certainly not alone; sadly, just under four minutes of the original footage remains. After screening Firelight for around 500 people, the young director sent a few of the film reels off to a producer for review. When the budding director later went back to retrieve his film, he discovered that the producer had been fired—and his movie had vanished.

Firelight is just one example of the many priceless items that have disappeared from history. On this episode of The List Show, we're rediscovering all sort of treasures—from writing by Ernest Hemingway to natural landmarks—that have been lost to time (or circumstance). You can watch the full episode below.

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