Peggy stood outside of Hall J at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans on Saturday. In her right hand, she held a cane, while her left steadied an enormous painting in the cart next to her.
“I bought it for $12.99 at a thrift store, and I want to find out what it’s worth,” she said. “It’s by Brauner.”
Inside the exhibition hall were dozens of appraisers ready to evaluate as many as 10,000 objects over a period of 12 hours for PBS' "Antiques Roadshow." (The show asked attendees to give only first names.)
The cast and crew were in the city to shoot segments for the 22nd season of the network's most-watched series.
“We put out 5,000 tickets total and each person may bring up to two items, so it makes for a busy day for the appraisers,” said Hannah Auerbach, of WGBH in Boston, which produces the show. Guests applied for tickets through an email lottery in the spring.
Once inside the convention center, guests followed a carefully prescribed sequence of stops.
“The first stop is what we call triage,” Auerbach said. “It’s where we take a quick look at whatever a guest has brought in and give them a ticket to take with them to the right table."
A survey of the triage area revealed a woman accompanied by a life-size acupuncture statue swaddled in canvas and posed on a hand truck; a young man carrying a violin that he would lift to his ear and shake occasionally; and a young woman cradling a ceramic pitcher inscribed with an anti-slavery message.
“No matter where we go, jewelry and paintings are always the longest lines,” Auerbach said. “In one part of the country, we might see a lot more military items than in another, but in general, people want to know the value of the necklace or portrait, for example, that their grandmother left them.”
The newest member of the appraiser corps was Richard Lloyd, the international head of prints at Christies’ in New York. He seemed unfazed by the steady stream of hopefuls.
“When I was just starting out, the auction house I worked with in London would travel to all parts of the country, all villages and towns, and the residents would bring us items that they hoped were valuable,” he said. “It was a real boot camp.”
According to Lloyd, if the "Antiques Roadshow" experience were only about appraising items, 12 hours’ worth of work would be condensed into less than two hours.
“But it isn’t just about that, is it?” he said. “We try to help guests get a better understanding of what they have and to hear the stories they have about them.”
When most people approach an appraiser, they are asked, “What can you tell me about this item?” Although it helps establish a context for the piece, it also allows the appraiser time to examine it.
“For 99 percent of folks, that question will begin a few minutes of discussion during which the appraiser will explain what the piece is, when it was made and what it might be worth,” Auerbach said. “But every now and then, an appraiser will excuse himself or herself and go in the back to pitch the item to our producer for recording for the show.”
The plan in New Orleans was to develop enough material to fill three episodes of the 2018 season. Not all segments would be full-on appraisals; some would be snapshots.
It’s common for appraisers — who pay their own way to participate in the events — to confer with one another.
Lea Coonce Ogundiran, a jewelry appraiser from Charlotte, North Carolina, studied a small gold brooch set with sapphires and diamonds before consulting with Kevin Zavian, a longtime "Roadshow" jewelry appraiser.
The piece had a contemporary look to it because of its oblong shape and the acid washing of the 18K gold, but when they found a tiny mark on it, they were able to confirm that it was made between 1864 and 1893.
“I had guessed 1880, so I wasn’t far off,” Zavian said.
The experts agreed that the piece’s retail value would be anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000. Some appraisers — for special pieces — estimate an item’s “insurance value,” which is the cost of replacing the piece should it be lost or stolen. The "Antiques Roadshow" website explains that insurance values are generally at the top end of the range of retail prices, or what the piece might command if on sale in a jewelry or antiques shop. “Auction value” is lower than insurance and retail values and is considered a quasi-wholesale price.
Auerbach said after the event that there had been a few New Orleans-specific items that commanded attractive appraisals: paintings related to the Krewe of Comus (up to $1,000); Newcomb pottery (up to $20,500 for American Arts and Crafts era pottery made from 1895-1940 by students and alumnae of Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans); and archives of architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who designed the U.S. Capitol before moving to New Orleans and eventually succumbing to yellow fever (up to $12,000).
Higher values still were assigned to a bracelet designed and made by Charles Loloma, a Hopi Indian known for his inventive use of sandcasting as well as for combining lapis, turquoise, coral and opal in a single piece (up to $50,000) and a portrait of artist Andy Warhol by his colleague Jamie Wyeth ($75,000).
“This is not the ‘top finds’ list in its completion,” she said, before hinting at a show-stopper. “We saw a potentially high-valued item, but we are keeping it under wraps for now.”
Might it be the Brauner painting that Peggy had out on the curb?
Stayed tuned to local PBS affiliate WLPB in 2018 to find out.