PBS's Antiques Roadshow is a television show where people have their furniture, art, and other collectibles appraised by a panel of experts to the delight of the at-home audience. The experts look over each piece and give their best estimate on its origin and value. Since it's just for entertainment, the appraisals are considered “verbal approximations of value” and not necessarily entirely accurate. Past appraisals will even sometimes get updates on the show's website with more exact values, but for the most part, the panel generally lands somewhere in the ballpark of the actual worth of the item. That is, until they accidentally appraised a high schooler's art project for $50,000.
As Hyperallergic reports, last year, PBS aired an episode of Antiques Roadshow where an Oregon man named Alvin Barr brought in a "grotesque face jug." The jug had six different contorted faces on it along with a variety of scales and patterns. Barr found it covered in feathers and mud at an estate sale in a barn in Eugene, Oregon. He bought it for a mere $300.
Expert appraiser Stephen L. Fletcher examined the piece and estimated that it was from either the late 19th century or early 20th century. He assigned the jug a hefty value of $50,000. Understandably, Barr was floored. It didn't come to light until later that the jug had actually been made in the 1970s by an Oregon high school student named Betsy Soule.
Soule was alerted to her artwork's television premiere by a friend who saw the episode in January. “You’ve got to get on the internet and look up Antiques Roadshow; that weird pot you made is on there,” the friend said, according to The Bulletin.
The artist contacted the show and let them know about their mistake. She accompanied the story with a picture of herself as a student surrounded by the various jugs she created. Roadshow admitted their error and added the correction to their website. They also included a tidbit from Fletcher, who explained that he started to feel doubts after his initial estimate:
"After a couple of decades of Roadshow seasons, I note that each city presents new opportunities for discoveries and learning experiences. The grotesque glazed redware pot I saw and admired in Spokane is unlike any other example I have seen. We have sold at auction several examples from the 19th century — all of which are from the eastern half of the United States, and have a single grotesque face — some for five figures. This example, with its six grotesque faces, was modeled or sculpted with considerable imagination, virtuosity and technical competence. This mysterious piece was reportedly found at an estate sale, covered with dust, straw, and chicken droppings, and purchased for $300. As far as its age is concerned, I was fooled, as were some of my colleagues. Alas, among the millions of people who watch Antiques Roadshow faithfully was a woman who identified herself as being a friend of the maker, a lady named Betsy Soule! She created this in [1973 or ’74], while in high school! The techniques of making pottery, in many ways, haven’t changed for centuries. Obviously, I was mistaken as to its age by 60 to 80 years. I feel the value at auction, based on its quality and artistic merit, is in the $3,000-$5,000 range. Still not bad for a high schooler in Oregon.”
You can watch the whole episode on the PBS website.