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Vince Staten: We didn’t hit it rich, but we did get to see ‘Antiques Roadshow’

VINCE STATEN • Jul 16, 2013 at 8:00 PM

While you were watching the Cardboard Boat Race and the Crazy 8s 8K Run at Fun Fest on Saturday, I was standing in line with 5,000 other people in Knoxville’s Convention Center. And standing in line and standing in line and standing in line. For five hours I stood in line, all to get an expert to tell me how much a little ceramic planter was worth.

“Antiques Roadshow,” public television’s most popular show, came to East Tennessee Saturday. “Antiques Roadshow” has been on PBS for 16 years, but this is the first time it has come to East Tennessee. And judging from the turnout — there were lots and lots of us standing in line — it won’t be the last.

If you haven’t seen the show, it goes like this: A hundred or so antiques appraisers fly into a town, set up in an auditorium and examine an endless parade of paintings and clocks and chairs, guns and radios and fiddles — and did I mention paintings and paintings and paintings? — and tell the owners what the item is worth.

The most interesting of the antiques make the TV show.

At Saturday’s event, the producers taped 90 segments, meaning most of us — about 4,900 — went home without getting on TV.

But we did get our antiques appraised. That’s part of the deal with standing in line.

Our local PBS affiliate, WSJK-Channel 2, had been promoting the event for months. Because of the show’s popularity, you had to write in and put your name in the hat for tickets.

I didn’t win the lottery. But my buddy Chris did. He invited me to use his second ticket if I would carry a couple of items for him. You see, each ticket holder is allowed only two items, and Chris had four things he wanted to find out about.

I agreed because as much as anything I just wanted to see how the whole thing operated.

Let’s put it like this: The “Antiques Roadshow” crew has it down to a science. This was not their first rodeo.

Ticket holders were divided into groups, starting with an 8 a.m. bunch. Our ticket was for 10 a.m. The last group was for 5 p.m.

Chris and I arrived at 9, and we were still well back in our group.

The line snaked around, at least 10 rows deep, to get into the main area where the appraisers were set up.

They really do have it figured out. They have a circular set with appraiser tables around the edge of the circle. If your item — or your story — was deemed show-worthy, they would take you to a chair on the outside of the set where a show producer would interview you more. If you passed both those tests, you got to go back into the center of the set, where the cameras were set up.

Chris had a painting — it seemed like everyone had a painting — an autographed jazz poster, a novelty wall hanging and the green ceramic planter that I was carrying.

There were eight entry points into the set, each labeled for particular types of antiques: books, jewelry, silver, glass, arms, military, textiles, photographs, dolls, toys, games, metalwork, tribal arts, Asian arts, collectibles, furniture, decorative arts, pottery, sports memorabilia and paintings. Did I mention paintings?

The longest lines were for paintings — well, duh — collectibles, arms and decorative arts. There weren’t that many decorative arts objects, but those appraisers seemed to have very tiny bladders.

Of Chris’s four items, the appraisers struck out on three. The painting was early 20th century, artist unknown, value maybe $85. The novelty wall hanging — a sailfish of wood and brass — was mid-20th century, artist unknown, value maybe $50. The planter was ’40s or ’50s, Japanese, made for the American market, cartoon character unknown, value $35-$85.

They got the poster right, but that was because Chris knew the story. He got it in London in 1972 at a jazz show, and it was signed by the artist, jazz bass player Charlie Mingus, a notoriously surly performer who seldom signed autographs. The appraiser tapped quickly into her iPad and valued it at $500-$750. I could tell she was interested in Chris’ story, but in the end, she let him go without a TV appearance.

Chris did get one last shot at TV at the feedback booth. (That’s what runs at the end of the show; folks say, “My mother told me this was worth $1,000; it isn’t.”)

Chris held up the green cartoon character planter. “They didn’t know what it was. But they did know it wasn’t worth anything.”

We will find out if he made the show when it airs in January.

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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