I grew up in the world of antiques and never left, sharing professional time as a dealer, auctioneer, lecturer and author. Invited to attend the very first US taping of Antiques Roadshow in 1996, I have since been to the majority, over 100 in all. Appraisers are chosen by WGBH in Boston, and are on their own dollar. There is no compensation for appearances, hotel or travel expenses, and all sign an agreement prohibiting commercial activity related to the show. This is PBS after all, and integrity is essential. I believe that is largely why (over 10 million viewers each week) love the show, and why we all keep coming back for more.
In the early days most guests wanted to know little more than the value of their treasure… some bought at last week’s yard sale, some held in families for centuries. In recent years though I have seen a change. When I ask “what would you like to know?” to start the two minutes or so a typical guest can expect with an appraiser, many are consumed entirely with history: “Where did it come from?,” “could great aunt Mary have brought it by covered wagon?,” “what was it used for?” These are the questions appraisers love to answer, especially if monetary value is next to nothing, as it typically is.
So what is the lesson here? I know the ‘reality’ and ‘game show’ elements of Roadshow have entertained millions of Americans, but perhaps our most valuable role is that of history teacher, right there in your living room every Monday night, enlightening every member of the family.
“The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know,” according to Harry S. Truman, art and objects are the perfect vehicle to navigate though history’s infinite expanse.
I commute to New York, and recently on the train a father recognized me and shared how much he enjoyed watching the show with his children, ‘for the history.’ Thank you PBS.