Rockin' the Roadshow

The Day PBS's Antique Roadshow Rolled Through Our Town

Rockin' the Roadshow
Photo By John Anderson

Forget Pokémon ... Disney can drop dead ... Sailor Moon sleeps with the fishes! In our house, a certain PBS TV show is where it's at. While other families with little girls know all too well the indelible star power of the Britneys, the Christinas, and the TLCs, what gets the attention and adoration of our particular eight-year-old is PBS's curiously popular Antiques Roadshow.

To our starstruck little girl, the celebrities that populate the Sunday night public television antique assessment program might as well be rock stars. In fact, when I informed Rosalind that Leslie and Leigh Keno, the show's charismatic twin furniture assessors, would appear at a special Austin shooting of the program, she positively squealed with delight. So, it came to pass that Rosalind had her first certifiable live pop culture experience last June, at the Austin Convention Center, when the Chubb's Antiques Roadshow came to town.

Devoted mother that I am, I was willing to jump through whatever hoop necessary to secure tickets to the Austin leg of the antique mega-tour. Admission to the Roadshow is free, but requires a ticket -- all of which, of course, were snatched up in a matter of hours. This show is hot -- Ricky Martin hot. U2 hot. So hot that the entry times are staggered to prevent the crowd crush experienced in years past. If you think a trampled attendee is bad news for The Who or Pearl Jam, think of the PR nightmare one could cause for a PBS show.

As a further screening measure to ward off deadbeats, all visitors are required to bring two items to be appraised. Once our tickets were secured, the search was on for the perfect items to bring. Rosalind's enthusiasm bore some hasty suggestions: her father's Peanuts book? Uncle Robbie's car-sized chess set? (Rosalind's disconcerting idea of antique might have something to do with her age ...) We finally settled on a Disney movie cell that her dad purchased while in college and a piece of her Nana's jewelry. After repeated assurance to my mother that we wouldn't actually sell any of it, I wrestled a couple of items away from her.

The morning of the show, we arrived at the convention center at 8:30am, only to find a line snaking its way around the center. What's the deal? I thought. If you have a ticket, you'll get in. If the ticket says 9:30am, it won't make a bit of difference to get there at 8am. Wow. This was just like a sold-out rock show. Everyone wanted to be there first. And you thought 'N Sync was the hottest ticket in town.

Unlike a rock show, however, audience members are required to bring items into the venue. Every possible ilk of painting, old doll, unfathomable sculpture, card, book, and furnishing -- even a wood propeller off a WWII plane, for crissakes -- was being toted, pulled, and hauled into the roadshow. Fans bonded over their shared appreciation, chatting constantly in the line, trading stories and divulging the pedigree of their precious "finds."

Before audience members enter the appraisal area, AR staff prescreens and sorts the items by category and issues tickets to the various appropriate booths. Is it a collectible or a toy? They decide. Rosalind was given a ticket to the jewelry booth and a ticket to the collectible booth.

The appraisal area looks like your average trade show. If you've ever seen Antiques Roadshow on TV, you'd recognize it all immediately. The booths ring an area of controlled chaos, with appraisals and videotapings of "finds" (that's Roadshow parlance for an item worth filming) going on literally in the center of the room. Dozens of workers were on hand to usher eager participants to the appropriate booth and facilitate crowd control. Loitering and lingering was actively discouraged, as the flow was kept moving to assure that all 6,000 ticketed people would have the opportunity to get their treasures appraised.

The line at "Collectibles" (which the Disney cell had been dubbed) was so long that we moved on to the jewelry area first. Rosalind clutched the necklace that had once belonged to her great-grandmother. She gaped at the appraisers who appear in her living room every week. She got very excited as Ms. Joyce Jonas accepted the necklace politely, eyed it in what I dismissed as an absent-minded manner, and asked us to wait a moment. She was only gone for a few minutes, then returned with a crew person who asked permission to tape Rosalind.

Baby! We had a find! Pay dirt!

I signed that release so fast, the fine print might have said that she would be abducted by a cult and sold into slavery, for all I knew.

This particular taping of Antiques Roadshow was one of the "on the scene" tapings -- shot right at the table, as opposed to the seated tapings in their makeshift set. It is fast and dirty. The ink on the release form was barely dry before the crew person hoisted the camera on his shoulder and Rosalind was on.

I must confess here that we are well-versed in the ways of the Roadshow. In fact, Rosalind plays Antiques Roadshow ... you know, the way other kids might play Barbie or Cops & Robbers. We take turns being the appraiser and the visitor. It goes like this: Take an item, any item (Your watch? A tchotchke from the living room? A book?) and present it for appraisal. The appraiser's job is to say, "Hello! Thank you for coming to the Antiques Roadshow. Can you tell me something about this item you brought in?" Then the visitor makes up a story about how it has been passed down in her family throughout the generations, or how she found it in her Nana's house, or whatever. Then the appraiser gets to spin a yarn about the make, the origin, etc., of the item. Then, it's on to the closing. The text varies only slightly at this point:

Appraiser: "Do you have any idea what this is worth?"

Visitor: "I have no idea."

Appraiser: "Based on what we know, I would estimate this to be worth [we make up some insane dollar amount here] at auction."

Visitor: Appropriate delighted response.

The only variation in this sequence on television is when the guest is disappointingly blasé. In our family, we frown on that. We feel that it is very bad form to react with anything less than utter delight.

But here we were at the real thing. Would Rosalind's hours of viewing and multiple episodes of playacting Antiques Roadshow pay off?

Sure enough, Ms. Jonas began with, "Thank you for coming to the Antiques Roadshow. This is an interesting necklace you have. Can you tell me something about it?" Rosalind took a moment to collect herself and told what little we knew about it: that her great-grandfather brought it back from a business trip to his wife, Rosalind's great-grandmother. We guessed that this happened sometime around 1910 or thereabouts -- before the crash of '29, certainly.

Ms. Jonas then illuminated us on the necklace's origin. It is, according to her assessment, a wonderful example of something called the American Arts & Crafts movement that began in the late 19th century. The necklace is turquoise (hmm, I always assumed it was jade) and is a particularly fine example of the workmanship of this movement. The chain and filigree over the stones is made of gold.

After a few minutes of this back story, Ms. Jonas offered the clincher, "Do you have any idea what this is worth?" No. Of course we didn't.

"At auction," Ms. Jonas began, "I would estimate this necklace to bring $4,000!" Without missing a beat, Rosalind responded, "Oh my goodness! I had no idea it would be worth that much!"


Before we could congratulate ourselves on having such a valuable necklace (it made the trip in a Ziploc bag, for pete's sake!) and before we could congratulate the one-take wonder Rosalind, we were informed that they had to tape it again. It's standard procedure to tape it once with the camera on the guest and once with the camera on the appraiser. They launched into the same routine: "Thank you for coming to the Antiques Roadshow ..." Rosalind was in the zone and repeated her story. When the $4,000 punchline came, Rosalind responded with an identical "Oh my goodness! I had no idea it would be worth that much!"

A star is born! Sing out, Louise!

After congratulations and thanks, we were ushered on. It was only 10am; the folks at the show had a long day ahead of them. There would be dozens of others finds after ours.

We took the long way around to the collectible table so we could pass the furniture department where the twins, Leigh and Leslie Keno, were offering their opinions to anxious antique holders. Rosalind gazed lovingly at the antique idols as they assessed a chest of drawers. We watched, spellbound. At the appraisal's finish, we approached Leigh Keno and introduced ourselves. Rosalind mentioned what a fan she was, and was rewarded with an autographed picture and a warm handshake. He couldn't have been more delightful.

At the collectible table, the results of the cell appraisal were satisfactory, if less spectacular. It was estimated that the picture is worth $300, not bad for a $100 investment. At that table, we also got to meet and chat with Leila Dunbar, another of our heroes of the show. She's from the collectible department of Sotheby's and was so enthusiastic about Rosalind's interest in collecting, that she extracted a promise to correspond by e-mail.

Our tired dogs were barking, our treasures had been appraised, we were starving, and there wasn't a chair or bench in sight, so we decided to hit the road. And the good folks at the Roadshow were on the road too, all summer, taping episodes from Denver, Charleston, Tulsa, Sacramento, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Boston, and Madison. The new season began airing in January, and there's still no word yet as to whether Rosalind's appearance will make the show or end up on the cutting room floor. No matter, she'll inherit a necklace worth a small fortune some day, and we have autographs to treasure and friends in the business to e-mail ... and miles to shop before we stop! end story

The Austin edition of Antiques Roadshow is a two-part series that will air on KLRU, channel 18 (cable channel 9). Part One airs Monday, Feb. 19, 8pm (with rebroadcasts scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 21, noon; and Sunday, Feb. 25, 6pm). Part Two airs Monday, Feb. 26, 8pm (rebroadcasts Wednesday, Feb. 28, noon; Monday, March 12, 8pm and 9:15pm; Sunday, March 18, 1pm and 2:15pm). No word yet on whether Rosalind and the necklace made the final cut for broadcast.

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PBS, Antiques Roadshow, antique appraisals, Leslie and Leigh Keno, Chubb's Antiques Roadshow, Joyce Jonas, Leila Dunbar, Sotheby's, KLRU

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