Friday, July 21, 2023

Value of Worthless Things

 We went to the Antiques Roadshow the other day when it was being filmed in Anchorage. I told my wife it was the old fart’s version of a Taylor Swift concert. We have watched the show for years, and always are amazed at the cool stuff that has little or no value and bemused by the ugly stuff that is worth a fortune. For those of you who haven’t watched Roadshow people bring their antiques and collectibles and expert appraisers tell them the value and usually some interesting background about the object. Based on my experience, I left all my cool stuff at home and took the ugly porcelain bowl that I’d saved for over fifteen years, waiting for this opportunity. 
Yup, I left home the cool antique chairs and pictures of my ancestors, I didn’t take the handwritten Alaska Gold Rush journal or my first edition books. We toted only things we were curious about including the ugly porcelain bowl. In fact, the only reason I still had the bowl was that I was convinced that somehow this could be the ONE. Why else keep something so odd? It had three stubby legs, a curled and lumpy rim that made it look like a bad Dutch baby pancake, and a brown background with grey flowers. The only way to make it look good would be to fill it with peanut M&Ms or Cracker Jacks. Ever since I found the piece in a box I bought at a storage auction for five bucks I have said, “If I ever go to the Antiques Roadshow, this is what I’m taking. So off we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center with our carefully packed. . . and repacked, and repacked again treasures: some kachina dolls, two obscure Winslow Homer (maybe) engravings, a set of mixed media southwest art, and the ugly.
As expected, the show involved a series of checkpoints with long lines at each, but people were cheerful and relaxed, and the weather was kind as well. The triage table screened our treasures and told us where to go to get each piece appraised. The Kachinas and Southwest pieces would be appraised at Tribal Arts, and engravings at Paintings, and the bowl was assigned to Porcelain and Pottery. I was eager to find out just how big a check my bowl was going to bring, but we were being systematic and the Paintings tent was first on our route. These Winslow Homer (maybe) pieces turned out to be late 19th-century museum gift shop pieces, not worth much and only one of the reproductions was a Winslow Homer. We learned something about our art and how to learn more then headed off eagerly to the Porcelain tent where I was sure good news awaited. 
    After a short wait, we were ushered to the table where Antiques Roadshow celeb, Nick Dawes, met us with a smile and a greeting in his disarming English accent. He took the ugly bowl eagerly in hand turned it and said, “Well, Inez Wilder — see the name right here— painted this lovely piece of porcelain in 1910. My heart raced! He recognized the artist! I could hear the dollar signs ringing in my ears like a slot machine paying off a jackpot. Nick continued, “This is called painted china, and during this period around 1910 it was a popular pastime for women to get together and paint purchased porcelain bowls like this. What you have is a nice piece of amateur-painted porcelain worth about $25-30 dollars.” 
    Nick Davies grinned and shook our hand with a charming grace that showed no hint that he had just burst my bubble. If one hadn’t listened closely, it could easily appear that he was giving us the best news in the world, “Well aren’t you pleased that you have a rare piece of Inez Wilder ceramic worth $5000.” But it was not to be. Disappointed, but still having a good time, we moved on with the slot machine silenced and took our place in line to have a Kachinas and the mixed media piece given the once over. 
We were about to be ushered to the appraiser’s table when Madelyn realized that she didn’t have the largest Kachina in her bag. I didn’t have it in my bag. It was gone. Suddenly, all the happy, good-time vibes were pushed aside. Where was it? This Kachina was not easy to miss. It was about eighteen inches tall and thick as your wrist. It wasn’t something that could be floating around in a pocket undetected. 
    Then it hit me, the Triage table! where we first checked in. I rushed back across the facility, past the lines of people at the Feedback Booth and the Free Photo Booth, and against the traffic flow back into the building where we started. There was the big Kachina sitting on a table between two people working so hard they hadn’t even noticed it was there. Well, I was glad she turned up because this was our prize of the show, worth several hundred dollars. Not bad for a yard sale find. 
    As we headed home with our valuables and not-so-valuables, I kept thinking about two lessons from this day. 1) We tend to overvalue some things and undervalue others, often for foolish reasons. In reality, the blue batter bowl that I use to mix my sourdough pancake batter was more valuable to me than some odd-shaped painted candy dish even before I knew it was worthless. And 2) We really benefit more from the experiences of life —like going to the Antiques Roadshow— than we do from all the stuff we collect along the way.  With that in mind, if you’re in the hunt for an early twentieth-century hand-painted bowl look me up.

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