Turn on your television and you’ll find a slew of reality TV shows whose cameras are fixed on nearly every facet of the antiques world. Some shows are serious; others, a little silly. Still, I must admit that I like the concept of antiques and auction TV shows; they shed light on the fun and fascination of the industry. They entertain a lot, educate a little, and leave people wanting to know more about art, antiques, and auctions.
I’ve been an appraiser for over 30 years. I’ve also been behind the scenes and in front of the camera on Antiques Roadshow, the original and, in my opinion, best antiques reality TV show. Over time, I’ve noticed that many shows perpetuate certain myths about the antiques world. To get the most out of your viewing experience, keep the following truths in mind when tuning in…
Truth #1: Antiques Appraisals Happen Every Day
Some of these programs seem to suggest that you need to attend a special appraisal event and wait in line for hours to learn the value of your items. The fact is, verbal appraisals happen every day at auction houses around the country. The service is typically provided at no charge and with no obligation to consign. You simply need to call and make an appointment with an appraiser. Alternatively, many auction houses offer online antique appraisals on their websites.
Truth #2: That’s Why They Call It “Rare”
Watch these shows awhile, and you get the idea that nearly everyone has a valuable family heirloom or a long lost work of art. The truth is, antiques and art of great value are rare – that what makes them so coveted. It takes hours of filming, plus hundreds, even thousands of people, each with several items in tow, to capture just a few great moments of antiques TV. Keep this in mind when you see something spectacular on air and think, “I have one just like that!” When you get something appraised, keep your fingers crossed, your mind open, and your expectations reasonable, and you won’t be disappointed.
Truth #3: Shady Characters Aren’t the Norm
Another myth perpetuated by some of these programs is that shady and unscrupulous characters abound in the world of antiques and auctions. That’s simply untrue. The vast majority of dealers, appraisers, pickers, and collectors are honest, knowledgeable, hard-working professionals who are dedicated to the sale and preservation of antiques and fine art. They love what they do and have a passion for the objects and the business. Most aren’t trying to swindle people out of their family fortunes. If you have an experience with a dealer, auction house, picker or appraiser where something seems amiss, trust your gut and find a reputable expert to work with.
Truth #4: Estimated Value Isn’t a Price Tag
We’ve all seen those TV moments where someone is told their item is worth thousands, even a million dollars – it’s exciting! But estimated value is not a set price. It doesn’t mean an object would sell tomorrow for that amount of money. It’s simply the opinion of an expert at a given point in time, based on what similar items have brought in the recent past. Like all markets, the art and antiques market fluctuates and values change over time. Don’t assume your chest of drawers, appraised for $10,000 a decade ago, is still worth that amount today. It may be worth more or less depending on the venue in which it is sold, changing tastes and market demands, and the economic climate at the time of sale. To realize the full value of your property, work with a dealer, appraiser, or auction house representative who knows the current market and can provide maximum exposure to a world of buyers.
Truth #5: Collect for the Experience, Not as an Investment
Sometimes these shows give people the idea that they can make easy money simply by buying old things at flea markets and tag sales, then selling them at auction for a hefty profit. If only it were that easy! The world of antiques is not a “get-rich-quick” environment. Antiques and art of great value are rare, and it takes years of experience before one is able to discern the truly valuable from ordinary stuff. I always caution both new and seasoned collectors: buy for the love of the objects, not as an investment strategy. After all, collecting should be about the journey, not the destination. If you first follow your heart, and then buy the best quality you can afford, you will rarely go wrong. You’ll enjoy your collection everyday, and likely see a modest profit when you eventually sell.