Have you ever felt sorry for someone who found out his cherished item wasn’t worth much?
Most people take it on the chin pretty well. But one day, a guy showed up with a beautiful decanter, and on the bottom it said “Lalique” [an expensive type of crystal.] I looked at it and said, “I don’t see anything wrong with this, but something doesn’t feel right.” Our art glass appraiser gave me a smile, and I turned back to the guy and said, in a happy, triumphant voice, “It’s a fake!” I was right, but he wasn’t too happy with me. The appraiser said, “Good call, but you need to work on your bedside manner.”
What items have you seen over and over?
Lots of Bibles, lots of silver. I always tell people that just because something’s old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s valuable. A woman came in with a very old volume that was in bad shape. The appraiser said, “This is old and rare, but it’s not in great shape and it’s worth maybe $150.” The woman said, “Don’t you realize how rare this book is?” He answered, “Yes I do, but even rarer are those who might wish to own it.”
How do you decide who, among the thousands of people who bring in objects for appraisal, gets on TV?
We get about 5,000 visitors in every city. Everybody gets seen, but not everybody gets on TV. If we find something that’s good for the show, the appraiser will ask the owner what they know about the item rather than telling them everything right away. Once that happens, they’re brought to the producers, and if they feel like it’s something they want to put on the air, the guest goes in the green room and gets ready to be on TV.
How grueling is a day of appraisals?
For the appraisers themselves, it’s a long day. They start around 7:30 a.m. and sometimes will go as late as 8:30 p.m. But it’s fun, and everybody is in good spirits. The appraisers don’t get paid to do this. They’re doing it because they love it, and of course there are business benefits for them. But everybody’s so happy to be there that it’s more fun than work.
What’s the most unexpected reaction you’ve ever seen?
We get all kinds, from people who go crazy to people who you’d think would go crazy but simply take it in stride and say, “Oh, that’s nice.” What I love about our show is that it’s a true reality series. The reactions you see on TV are genuine, because we don’t tell them in advance about the value of their item. The reactions are honest and real and probably my favorite part of the show.
Do people who come in for appraisals do so because they want to sell their item, or just out of curiosity?
Even when people get something appraised at great value, rarely do they turn around and sell. Ninety-five percent just want to know its story and what it’s worth. They hold onto the item because it matters to their family.
What’s the biggest, most ungainly thing anybody ever brought in?
Our executive producer saw somebody bring in a bed, headboard, frame, and mattress. I’ve always said we could do a special not on the items people bring, but on the contraptions they use to lug them through the door. They can get quite creative.
Do you get a lot of weird stuff?
Sometimes we get items so weird that the appraiser will walk from table to table, asking other appraisers if they have any idea what it is. It doesn’t happen often, but we do get items so bizarre nobody can figure them out.
Do the appraisers really come up with instant answers for all these people, or do they have to do some off-camera research?
You’d be surprised. Our appraisers are rarely stumped. Many come from families that have done this sort of work for decades. From time to time, they have to consult with someone, but for the most part they pretty much know what’s up. I’m amazed by their breadth of knowledge.
Have they ever gotten anything wrong?
It happens. That’s why we tape in the summer but don’t air it until January. Everything gets vetted. The staff is very busy, making sure everything we taped in the summer gets corroborated and that the information is correct.
Does the stuff you see vary from region to region?
You’ll see regional trends, but less than you’d imagine. It’s because people move around so much—and take their stuff with them. You can get Revolutionary War stuff in Hawaii and Hawaiian stuff in Boston. There’s very little rhyme or reason to it.
Have you ever had any personal items appraised?
My wife and my mother have been collecting Madame Alexander dolls for my daughter for years. We have 20 of them, and they’ve never been out of the box. During my first year on the show, I asked an appraiser about them and he said, “Honey, take them out of the box and play with them.”
Has anybody ever tried to fool an appraiser?
Most of the time when we get a reproduction or fake, the people who brought them in aren’t aware of it. I’m not going to say that people haven’t tried to fool us, but it’s very hard to fool our guys. And that’s not what our fans do. People love the show and feel ownership of it. They’re not going to pull one over on us.
Any tips for people attending the Indianapolis taping?
Wear comfortable shoes. And bring an item you truly want to learn something about. If you already know about it, you really aren’t getting the best value for your time.
How has your association with the show changed your view about old stuff?
I think I have a heightened appreciation for things that have been in people’s families for a long time. Because “value” is a subjective, fluid thing. Often, when people find out an item isn’t worth a lot of money, they’ll say, “Well, it’s worth a lot to me.” It’s the same reason people who discover something’s really valuable usually won’t sell it. Because it means something to them.