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HILLSVILLE — Locals brought their curiosities to the Carroll library for an appraisal by Antique Roadshow's Ken Farmer Aug. 31.
The visit by the Radford auction house owner, also known as one of the experts from PBS's most popular television show, happened just as vendors began to set up for the Labor Day Flea Market and Gun Show, when buyers by the thousands flock to the town to shop for firearms, antiques and collectibles.
Most items that Farmer examined had a modest value, but the more than 40 people in the audience shared a wealth of laughter during the 90-minute visit.
Farmer said he got started in the business not far from Hillsville, at the old Francis antiques and auction house in Fort Chiswell on U.S. 52.
The antiques and auctions business has been a real education for Farmer.
"So 15 years ago when they were looking for some people to help out with the 'Roadshow,' they called me to come help out with one of the Southern venues," he recalled. "So the first one I did 15 years ago was in Durham, and there weren't enough people there to even have a show hardly, so the producer talked them into getting in line again and again and again…"
"Of course, the first year that it aired, they just went crazy and now it's the number one show on PBS."
“Roadshow” filmed in six cities over the summer, gathering enough material to have three episodes from each place, he explained. Those shows will air in the winter and fall of next year.
PBS stations broadcast “Roadshow” 500 or 600 times a week across the country, and it's watched by 11 to 12 million people. Oprah, by way of comparison, has about 50 or 60 million viewers.
"We're not up to Oprah, but we're pretty close to whatever you can do on PBS," Farmer said.
What's It Worth?
When the show visits a city they give out 6,000 pairs of tickets by lottery to participants, Farmer said. Each pair can bring two objects to appraise.
"So you've got 80 or 90 appraisers looking at 12,000 objects in one day, and out of that we will take about 60 spots to make three new shows," he told the audience. "So, needless to say, it's a long day and if you're not appraising 150 to 200 items in that time period then, you know, you're not doing your job."
The longest is the paintings line. Everybody has a painting, Farmer noted, looking over at the things people brought to the library and seeing more than five prints and paintings.
When filming, the appraisers typically use three Web sites as resources, including auction house records posted on Artfact or Artnet, but also on eBay.com. Farmer said eBay is a good place to check because it sells things like Blinko glass, a West Virginia handmade item, which would never show up in a place like Sotheby's auctions.
EBay will also give current information on everyday items that have been sold.
Farmer ventured to guess several of the audience members would probably have an example of Blinko glass at home.
"Well, it's a sickness," he joked. "We have all this stuff in our houses, and I'd say if it weren't for this sickness I wouldn't be in business."
Appraising items is not an exact science, but he likes having other appraisers around at the tapings to pool their knowledge.
"Today, we might not be able to nail everything that you've got," he said. "Every Saturday that we do the show I always get stumped."
Farmer said the average home “has less than $10,000 worth of contents… because most of us don't accumulate stuff because it's worth something," Farmer said. "It might be family stuff and it might be mainly new stuff you bought, but it's a rarity that you have a house full of things that are going to be real good antiques.”
What may have been valuable 10 years ago may not be valuable today.
"How many people in here have tried to give their fine China, or their sterling silver or their cut glass to their kids and they don't want it?" Farmer asked. "They don't want anything they can't put in the dishwasher."
Pocket watches are another example of something that's decreased in value in the last decade.
When the appraisals started in Hillsville, audience members asked Farmer to look at a sword and silks brought back from Japan during World War II, a soldier's helmet, a pocket watch, several prints and paintings, a cobalt lemonade set, an opalescent and blue carnival glass bowl, a brass pot, a cricket box and more.
Mary Russell figured she would keep the chest of drawers she brought if it was worth something, and sell it if it wasn't, she told Farmer.
He looked at it, noted it used to be a part of a bedroom suite, mass produced in the 1930s or 1940s, covered with a veneer. Farmer felt he could sell that for $50 at his auction house.
"This is worth how much you can sell it for," he said. "You been offered more than that?"
"Take it… bake them a cake," Farmer said.
He tries to be realistic when he gives a value — he doesn't want to paint too rosy of a picture, he explained.
Lois Burcham brought a baby doll, which Farmer thought dated back to the 1920s or 1930s.
Mary Anna Turner brought a bonnet that Farmer evaluated as Victorian, made between 1865 and the turn of the 20th century.
He advised Turner to wrap the bonnet in acid free paper to preserve it better, saying that plastic and cardboard put out gas that will cause fibers to break down eventually.
Lee Spangler pointed out his chair with the gargoyle face that he got from his aunt. "We have it in our den — Santa Claus sits in it during Christmas."
This lyre-shaped chair is made out of mahogany, Farmer said.
"This is a style of furniture that was real popular between, say, 1880 and 1900," he apprised the audience. "That was a time when machines were really starting to come more and more into their own where they could do things that looked like they were made by hand, but they were actually carved with machines."
Workers would have to finish the chair by hand, but it was made in a factory.
Probably the most interest in any piece came from Rhoda Robert's teaching tool, which she rescued when remodeling the old Forest Oak school.
It's in terrible shape and dirty, she admitted right up front. She swung open the two boards from the tall, narrow box and pointed to the maps and lessons on history and penmanship on scrolls inside.
A chart inside the circa-1890s educational tool made in Ohio warned of the dangers of alcohol and cigarettes. Hailing from the times of Temperance movements, the chart showed a virtuous, apple-cheeked, non-drinking man holding a history book, while drinkers were in various states of dishevelment — or in the worse case, madness.
It also compared healthy blood cells to those of a drinkers', and illustrated "smokers' cancer," too.
Roberts wondered if she could preserve it. Farmer said she could have the pages de-acidified, but it would cost her a fortune.
Sometimes an item is better off being utilized for its intended use, rather than treated as an heirloom.
Farmer doubted an amber decanter brought in by Amy Surratt was as old as her family thought it was. One of the tells came from the fact he saw no wear on the bottom
He valued it at $25. "Put something in that thing and enjoy it."
• Farmer Auction Center is located at 105 Harrison St. in Radford. The website is www.kfauctions.com. The auction house has free appraisals on the third Wednesday of the month from 1 to 4 p.m.