I'm a girl who likes a good story. One of the best parts of my job as executive producer for PBS's Antiques Roadshow is collecting and sharing the stories we discover as we journey across the U.S.A.
We just wrapped our Season 17 tour in Seattle. We visited a total of six cities, with Boston kicking things off. Antiques Roadshow is based out of WGBH in Boston so stop one was home for us. "That must be great," was the general opinion. Well, yes, if you count not having to fly, it does make it easier. But, as I said to a woman I met while in Texas, it's like having a wedding in your home. You definitely need some extra help and, come to think of it, maybe we should rent a hall somewhere. I was thrilled to be the mother of the bride so to speak, but the pressure was on. Two hundred of my best friends called for a pair of tickets. I only had enough for my children to come (my husband gallantly offered to forego his visit).
Ah, but production is production and once the day gets rolling we could be anywhere. I mean that quite literally. Inside the massive halls of convention centers, the venues from which we produce our events, the interiors feel eerily similar from state to state. It's what the guests bring to our appraisers that makes each event day its own.
I really like when a guest has a first-person experience with the artist or maker of the object we're considering. One of my favorites is from Melinda who brings a painting by Norman Rockwell into our Boston event. Melinda is the subject of the painting done when she was a little girl. Her father was Rockwell's photographer and she spent time at the painter's studio. Her memories are just priceless: a little girl's frustration with having to be very still while her dad took photos, Rockwell's Coke machine in the backroom from which she was allowed a treat, flattening pennies in his press and getting pins stuck into her feet to make her cry. (Really? Melinda was there and she tells us it was so!) The painting was to be used by Kellogg's who rejected Melinda's portrait for being too pretty. Lucky Melinda because if Kellogg's had taken that painting she wouldn't have a Rockwell with an auction estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. Before deciding to tape this segment, Melinda mentions the chair we see in her wagon also belonged to Rockwell. Appraiser Alasdair Nichol's ears perk up when he sees a photo of a painting featuring the chair. We decide to include that chair in her on-camera moment: add $50,000. It's a very plain chair and had it been owned by someone else -- like me for example -- it would be worth a couple hundred dollars or so.
Post continues below the slideshow.
Our next stop, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a beautiful spot. If you golf, perhaps you've been here. Seems like everyone on the airplane has a set of clubs -- or a treasure to bring to Roadshow. (We do have our share of groupies who follow us when they can. The average distance traveled to one of our events is about 100 miles.)
One of my favorite items from our Season 17 tour shows up in Myrtle Beach. Suzie brings in a letter written by Abraham Lincoln that her parents collected and she now owns. The letter is dated June 18, 1860 while Abe was getting ready for the election. He had won the Republican nomination only a month before in May. It was a busy time for the man who was about to become our 16th President so he didn't write many letters. Not only is it rare to have any letter from this time, historians will find this one of considerable interest as the recipient was William Jones, considered by many to be like a mentor to young Abe. In one of his early jobs, Lincoln clerkedfor Jones in his Indiana store and read Jones's history books. Let me underscore the operative word on the letter: rare. Rarity drives value and expert Martin Gammon puta conservative auction estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 on this precious piece of paper.
We head back north for our third stop in Rapid City, South Dakota. It's our first visit to South Dakota and my first time to Mt. Rushmore. Those stone Presidents are impressive: I wouldn't go to the Black Hills without making a visit. Seems only fitting we'd find President Theodore Roosevelt here, or rather our guest Tim found an orotone photo of him and brought it to Roadshow. Tim bought Ted at a yard sale 20 years ago for $40; the image is unsigned and he hopes it's a Curtis. Tim's hunch is right -- the image was done by Edward S. Curtis, famous for the thousands of orotones he created for The North American Indian project. Daile Kaplan puts an auction estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 on this rarity.
The big find in Rapid City is just a taste of what used to be in Moses Annenberg's famous ranch in Wyoming, Ranch A. Annenberg hired Thomas Molesworth to decorate the lodge back in the 1930s. Now a National Historic site, the ranch went through many hands, including our guest Dorothy's stepfather when he bought it at auction in the 1950s. You can visit most of the 250 pieces or so Molesworth built at the ranch. Or if you're a friend of Dorothy's you can see about 40 of them at her place. She brings us a sweet little suite. John Sollo's auction estimate on her sofa: $40,000 to $50,000. And it's been reupholstered. Her chair: $30,000 to $40,000, along with two tables at $10,000 to $15,000 each. As John is about to conclude the appraisal, Dorothy mentions her daughter waiting in the Green Room has a lamp. Out it comes, an early design with a mica shade -- quite rare as lamps weren't Molesworth's thing -- adding another $60,000 to $90,000. That brings the total to $150,000 to $210,000.
While in Rapid City, we expected to see art from sculptor Gutzon Borglum: Mt. Rushmore is his most famous design. Instead, Borglum known as an artist who embodied the frontier spirit, journeys with us to Cincinnati. We don't see Borglum every year so to see one the following week is a surprise. Maryann brings in a bronze that once belonged to her uncle. She paid $2,000 to his estate and became the proud owner of "Horse Grazing." A nice investment; Kerry Shrives gives the signed piece a $20,000 to $30,000 auction estimate. Maryann feels grateful to still own her horse. She was robbed and the thieves found it heavy enough to abandon it in the front yard. And had her uncle not had that affair with the wife of an artist-friend who gifted him the piece, well, who knows? There are some secrets we learn that I can't tell you about but that one is on tape.
What we did expect to see in Cincinnati comes in droves: Rookwood Pottery. This city is Rookwood's long-time home. Begun in 1880, the pottery still runs today. I'm fortunate enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour, meet the owner and artists, and buy myself a little Rookwood. Yes, I appreciate new things too.
Some shopping trips pay off for their owners. Gaye, a Corpus Christi guest, discovers a good eye can mean a windfall if done right. Some years ago Gaye went shopping with her mom for an "investment piece" and spent about $2,000 on "Concentric," a painting by Alexander Calder. Most commonly known as a sculptor, Calder also painted throughout his career. Like all of his work, it needs to be authenticated by the Calder Foundation, but given the reputable gallery where it was purchased Gaye is the happy owner of a Calder. Nan Chisholm gives a retail estimate of $50,000.
Although we don't know what was paid, a Corpus Christi guest brings in a painting bought over 80 years ago at the beginning of Diego Rivera's career in the early 1900s. The subject of the painting is a Mexican worker, titled "El Albanil." While in Mexico, Rue's grandparents purchased the painting -- appraiser Colleene Fesko says today a Rivera is considered a national treasure and his works wouldn't be allowed to leave the country. For decades, "El Albanil" was missing. In 1995 it was found leaning behind a door in Rue's great grandparent's home. Three years ago, Rue became the proud owner. He knew the painting was good, he just didn't know how good. Retail value: $800,000 to $1,000,000.
Our final stop is in Seattle. Our most valuable find in this city is yet another painting. By the way, I recommend if you're throwing darts for value, aim at paintings. Or have parents who tried.
I'll always wonder if Charlie's dad did the right thing. Three years ago Charlie inherited a late 19th-century oil by Francis A. Silva he brought to Roadshow. It's a beautiful Gloucester Harbor scene of Eastern Point Light. To ensure Charlie's dad had a painting for each child, he traded an 1879 George Inness painting of Perugia for four paintings, the Silva being one. After choosing his painting, Charlie discovered a 1981appraisal for $21,000 making his the most valuable of the lot. Today's retail price: $250,000. But what about that Inness painting? Appraiser Debra Force believes it's in a museum -- we'll confirm and let you know -- and would have a value of $800,000 today. At the time of the trade, it was worth $80,000. Did dad do the right thing? We have to wonder since we didn't get to see those other three paintings.
We have our own first-person experience with a furniture-maker while in Seattle. A partners desk made by Vladimir Kagan comes in. Appraiser Peter Loughrey knows Kagan so he gives him a call to confirm: Was the desk, in fact, made by Kagan? Our discovery even astounds the maker: Kagan confirms not only did he make this desk, but it was his personal desk along with his partner, Hugo Dreyfuss. They shared the desk, made when Kagan was only 23 years old, for 10 years at their 57th Street address in the 1950s. Peter puts on a value of $8,000 to $12,000 retail. If Pam spends the approximately $6,000 to restore it, it could bring $20,000 to $30,000. Pam, if I were you I'd do it now while Kagan himself can be the master who fixes. Value will be impacted by whosever hands touch it.
We live in a world where treasures are sought, bought, inherited, collected, traded and even stolen now and then. We get to meet people with houses full of expensive objets d'art and others who don't have a home at all. Our guests may bring us their only surviving item or just a few from a bounty of 40 pieces of furniture. Either way, we'll keep gathering their stories so we can share them with you.