Antiques Sideshow: When Your Valuables and Collector’s Items Are Worthless to the Antiques Roadshow (The Final Word Opinion Column)
Antiques sideshow: When value is in the eye of the beholder
Illustration by Chris Reed
It’s taken a while, but yesterday I finally accepted this truth: I’m never going to appear in an Antiques Roadshow segment where I learn that something I own is worth a fortune. I just don’t think it’s in the cards for me. But trust me, it’s not for lack of trying and hoping.
The story begins with my fondness for vintage watches. When I was in high school, I came across my dad’s retired tank-style Bulova from 1950. I put it on and didn’t take it off for the next 15 years.
At one point, it needed a new crystal. The jeweler I consulted in Iowa — where I grew up — had to send antique Bulovas away for repairs. After I got it back, the crystal came off the first time I wore it — and one of the hands fell off, too.
Fast-forward to yesterday, when a Hudson Valley jeweler replaced the crystal and the hand for me. He had some almost identical watches for sale in his shop, so I asked the obvious question.
He smiled. “Well, it’s not gold. It’s not in real good shape. Maybe around $100.”
“What about the engraving on the back?” I asked hopefully.
He smiled again. “That makes it more valuable to you, less to anyone else.”
To add insult to injury, the watch stopped ticking for good in the car on the way home. The dollar value ticked away too, I suppose.
I’ll add the watch to my “Antiques Sideshow” collection, which I think of as a sociological reflection of my typical middle-class upbringing. Monets didn’t come into play very much, since our head of household was a traveling salesman.
My hodgepodge assortment includes the pair of Rosenthal doves that someone gave my grandma, and she gave my mom, and she gave me — which would be surprisingly valuable, if they weren’t chipped like mine are. When I look at them, it’s obvious they’re mocking me.
My mother’s mid-century furniture is either a veneer knockoff obtained via Gold Bond stamps, or a hand-me-down from a taste-possessing friend who didn’t want it anymore, since it’s broken — just like the round wicker basket chair with wrought-iron legs that my dad sat on and bent. Now it all just looks fittingly depressed.
Then there’s the Shirley Temple mug, about which Mom always said, “Don’t touch that, it’s worth $500.” Current eBay bids on these are running right around $25. Maybe the only people who remember Shirley Temple are those who no longer know where their keys are, let alone have extra dough for buying mementos of their youth at exorbitant prices.
That gorgeous signed Mexican silver bracelet: I thought I had something there, until it fell off my arm and I ran over it in the driveway.
The stunning Raymor bowl someone gave my mom: She thought it was so hideous she let my brother putt golf balls into it. It is truly priceless now.
The paper bag full of Avon bottles and decanters that Mom collected during her stint as an Avon lady: “These will be valuable some day,” she said. Let’s just say they’re no longer in my closet waiting for that day to come.
I could go on. We certainly didn’t need to have the Brinks truck backed up to the garage when we emptied her house.
At last, I see my parents — their life, and my own — realistically. They had the ability to appreciate quality. I also have that ability, and have gone a step further to educate myself about the real value of items. It’s sort of a hobby: I know a lot about what I don’t have.
But best of all, I know the value of what matters.
And that watch of mine, engraved with my dad’s name and the date he managed the Iowa State League Champs in the semi-pro baseball league, means the world to me.