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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.