Amblin’ Alameda: Antiques Roadshow Local

Amblin’ Alameda: Antiques Roadshow Local

Morton Chalfy

If you’re a fan of KQED’s Antiques Roadshow (and who isn’t) a trip to Michaan’s Auction House on Wednesday mornings is a chance to get a taste of the world that the show has made so famous. Wednesdays are “free appraisal” days when people can bring up to five objects to be valued by the professionals. The valuations are given verbally and so have no weight with insurance companies or others with an interest, but they are free and can serve as a fairly reliable guide if one is looking to sell or to gift.

While there wasn’t a line out the door (as there apparently is at the real Antiques Roadshow), there was a steady trickle of folks carrying objets d’art through the door. One registers under the category of object – fine art, decorative arts, furniture, coins and stamps etc. – and then sits in the waiting area where the scene of the appraisers working and looking over the items is the entertainment. Each appraiser has a laptop open on their table which allows them to quickly access the internet for information.

As you can see on the television show, the people who come to appraisal fairs are a very varied lot from all walks of life and all ethnic persuasions. Some are there out of curiosity, some out of greed, some out of need and some who are trying to put their affairs in order. One gentleman displayed the division in his behind (known as the plumber’s crack) when he sat down and, though he was on display to all, none of us felt like telling him.

People all around us were discussing their items and speculating on value. The appraisers sat at tables in front of the waiting group and every time they finished with a customer, they walked to the back of the room to get the name of the next in line. When they walked back to their table they would glance at the items in people’s hands and you could read their expressions. The usual one was boredom at what they were seeing.

We were waiting for the Fine Arts appraiser and when he had set up his computer and walked to the back for the first name, his eye lit on the framed object next to the woman sitting in the row just in front of us. It was an original Sunday comic drawn by Charles Schulz, an early Peanuts. The interest in his face was palpable and he addressed the lady who had brought it in, “You already know this has some value, right?” She nodded. “Yes. But I don’t know how much.”

It turned out that she was the first customer he was to see, so four of us - my sweetie and I and the two women friends who had accompanied the owner - could watch their exchange from just several yards away and guess as to the value. When the appraiser fetched what was clearly a contract and brought it to the table we raised our valuation guesses. When we read his lips and saw “fifteen to twenty thousand” we were surprised, she (the owner) was pleased and everyone was relieved when he carried the piece to the table of items to go to auction.

The experience has everything; drama, suspense, disappointment, elation and really good people-watching. It scratches some primitive itch in people and tickles the “maybe it’s a treasure” spot. And it’s free with plenty of parking.