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.

Learn Python From Home for Just $50

Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com

It's difficult to think of a hobby or job that doesn’t involve some element of coding in its execution. Are you an Instagram enthusiast? Coding and algorithms are what bring your friends' posts to your feed. Can’t get enough Mental Floss? Coding brings the entire site to life on your desktop and mobile screens. Even sorting through playlists on Spotify uses coding. If you're tired of playing catch-up with all the latest coding techniques and principles, the 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle is on sale for $49.99 to teach you to code, challenge your brain, and boost your resume to get your dream job.

Basically, coding is how people speak to computers (cue your sci-fi vision of a chat with a creepy, sentient computer), and while it does sound a bit futuristic, the truth is that people are talking to computers every day through a program called Python. The 2020 Python Programming Training Certification Bundle will teach you how to build web applications, database applications, and web visualizations in the world’s most popular programming language.

Python is also the language computers are using to communicate back to programmers. You’ll learn how Jupyter Notebook, NumPy, and pandas can enhance data analysis and data visualization techniques with Matplotlib.

Think back to your creepy, sci-fi visual from earlier; was it some form of artificial intelligence? Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, artificial intelligence is something you can learn to create yourself. In the Keras Bootcamp, you’ll learn how to create artificial neural networks and deep-learning structures with Google’s powerful Deep Learning framework.

Coding is associated with endless text, numbers, and symbols, but the work code is performing is hardly limited to copy. Dig deep into image processing and computer vision tasks with sessions in OpenCV. You’ll give yourself an extra edge when you can use Python for sifting through information and implement machine learning algorithms on image classification.

Explore coding education with the bundle’s 12 courses, spanning from beginner to advanced levels, to elevate your skillset from home. The 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle is on sale for $49.99.


The Complete 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle - $49.99

See Deal

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Mark Hamill Learned About The Empire Strikes Back's Big Darth Vader Reveal Before Anyone Else

Nope, not even Harrison Ford knew about it.
Nope, not even Harrison Ford knew about it.
Michael Tran/Getty Images

Few cinematic secrets were better kept—or more shocking when they came out—than that of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa's true parentage in the Star Wars saga. According to ComicBook.com, the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke and Leia's father was such a well-kept secret that it wasn't actually put into the script at all. Evidently, only three people on set knew about the moment in advance: Mark Hamill, Star Wars creator George Lucas, and The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner. (Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was also aware.)

Hamill took to Twitter to explain the pivotal part of the franchise, during which a fake line was used so the actual reveal could be dubbed in afterwards, allowing the trio to keep the secret from the cast and crew for more than a year.

"The cast & crew first learned of it when they saw the finished film," Hamill said to his fans on Twitter. "When we shot it, Vader's line was 'You don't know the truth, Obi-Wan killed your father.' Only Irvin Kershner, George Lucas & I knew what would be dubbed in later. Agony keeping that secret for over a year!"

Props to them for not letting the spoiler slip early. Even with the pressure of keeping such a big plot twist under wraps, Lucas says financial concerns were what plagued him most.

“Well, to be very honest, the most challenging aspect was paying for [The Empire Strikes Back],” Lucas recently told StarWars.com. “In order to be able to take control of the movie, I had to pay for it myself. And in order to do that, I did something my father told me never to do, which was to borrow money. But there wasn’t much I could do because I only had maybe half of the money to make the movie, so I had to borrow the other half, which put a lot of pressure on me.”

If you feel like reminiscing about a galaxy far, far away, check out this year's May the Fourth celebration compilation here. And if you want to see the twist for yourself (whether it's for the first or the hundredth time), all nine movies in the Skywalker Saga are now streaming on Disney+.

[h/t ComicBook.com]

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.