Follow the Stories | Providence, Rhode Island (2006)
Getting Your Furniture on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW
Only pieces that need two people to carry are specially transported to the event.
You don't see collapsible bathtubs like this one everyday.
ROADSHOW producers are especially keen to find authentic furniture that comes with a great story.
During an on-air appraisal of a sideboard at the 2005 ANTIQUES ROADSHOW in Providence, Rhode Island, appraiser Karen Keane said to the sideboard's owner, "People always ask me when I'm appraising a huge piece of furniture, 'Do people carry these things with them?'" The answer is that they hardly ever do; each of the 10 or so hefty pieces of furniture — Gustav Stickley tables, Queen Anne spice chests, Mission-style desks — brought to each show is transported by specialty movers who are contracted by ROADSHOW.
"We know it's hard for people to bring in large furniture," says Sam Farrell, coordinating producer for ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. "We move them because we want pieces to fill the background and we also need furniture to appraise."
But how is this chosen furniture selected from hundreds, even thousands, of submissions made through this Web site and by postal mail for each show? For an answer, we talked to Farrell and three others who help select furniture: Adam Monahan, a ROADSHOW production assistant, and appraisers Kerry Shrives, of Skinner Inc., and J. Michael Flanigan, a Baltimore antiques dealer. They provided these tips for moving your furniture from the "No-way" pile to the "We gotta have it" one.
Curious about how big fancy furniture finds its way to the Roadshow? Read on
Only big pieces, please
Says Farrell, "We want large pieces to fill the backdrop and give local color and flavor." For that reason, smaller pieces, such as children's rockers, end tables, and chairs won't do. Producers also don't want to waste the cost of movers and moving trucks on smaller furniture. "Generally, if you don't need two people to carry it," Farrell says, "we won't select it." The only exceptions to the big furniture rule are pianos, which are too heavy and expensive to move, and clocks, which are avoided because their inner workings can be fragile.
Send a good photo
The photo that selectors are looking for will be of the object, not the owner. Adam Monahan remembers receiving a headshot from one woman, who apparently thought that her photogenic face might help get her and her furniture on the show. It didn't. "It's always about the object," he says, "not the person." The appraisers want at least one crisp photo — and no more than three — so they can assess whether a piece is authentic or a reproduction. "When you get dark, pixilated and out-of-focus pictures, you don't take a second look," Kerry Shrives says.
J. Michael Flanigan points out that current photographs are preferred because they give a more accurate snapshot of a piece's condition. "There are people who send in a faded, 30-year-old Polaroid with a five-page letter," he says. "They'd have a better chance if they sent a current 8x10 photograph with a postcard." He defines a good photograph as "current, clear, and as big as you can get it." It's recommended that submissions also include a brief summary of the piece's history, to give a sense of the story behind it.
Regional pieces are good — to a degree
The show's producers and appraisers also keep an eye out for regional furniture. At the Providence event, for example, appraisers picked a gold-leaf rooster weathervane that was a classic example of New England folk art. The man brought in a photograph from the 1880s that showed the weathervane in downtown Wakefield, Massachusetts. "Part of the appeal of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW," Shrives says, "is that it shows how diverse the country is." But Flanigan warns that if a piece is too local, it won't make the cut. "If the piece was owned by the first school superintendent in Dutchess County, New York," he explains, "it won't mean anything to people in the rest of the country."
If you've already seen it on the ROADSHOW, don't submit it
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW producers are always looking for fresh pieces, so don't submit furniture that duplicates ones that have already aired, unless it comes with an amazing story. "How many Queen Anne highboys can you film?" Shrives asks. Much preferred, she says, are surprising pieces such as the deluxe collapsible bathtub from the mid-1800s that she plucked from the Bismarck, North Dakota, submissions. "I'd never come across anything similar," she says. Leslie Keno appraised the piece and used it to touch on the history of westward expansion as well as the history of American hygiene. "We're looking for furniture that can tell a story," she says.
If you already know everything about your piece, don't submit it
"We're looking for something that will make good television," Shrives says. "If the prospective guest has already thoroughly researched the piece, there's little chance the appraiser will be able to add enough to make it a compelling segment. You want the owner to be at least a little bit surprised." Adds Flanigan: "The key to a successful ROADSHOW experience is that someone wants to learn something. The question may be what it's worth. It might be the history, too, like some family story that we can verify or debunk. ... What I always say to people is, 'Tell us what you know, and what you want to know.'"
And do as George Washington did: Tell the truth. "It's like Dragnet," Flanigan says. "'Just the facts, ma'am.' There's a temptation to tell us what we want to hear. But there's nothing angrier than a producer who's been lied to."
And if your piece is chosen ...
Each spring prior to the summer tour, a team of appraisers winnow the selection of furniture down to about 20 pieces. Then ROADSHOW staff, including Farrell and Monahan, whittle the group down to about 10. If a piece isn't selected, the owner is sent a postcard or an e-mail. The lucky ones will get a call from ANTIQUES ROADSHOW a few weeks before the show to make sure that they do plan to attend and do live within 50 miles of the event — another requirement. Arrangements will be made for picking up the piece. Then, when the furniture arrives at the ROADSHOW event set, appraisers give it an up-close inspection.
That's what appraiser Karen Keane did with the sideboard that looked in the photo as if it might have been made in the 18th century. But Keane found it to be a late 20th-century reproduction, revealing a truth that appraisers live by. "What we see on the surface," she said, "is not always as the piece appears."
See the Providence, Rhode Island (2006) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Furniture category:
A Match Made in Heaven (Or at Least New York) (Milwaukee, 2007)
Elk Antler ... and a Little Bit of Moose (Omaha, 2005)
A True Roux? (Reno, 2005)
Honestly Abe's Chairs? (Mobile, 2007)
A Cabinet Full of Eggs? (Philadelphia, 2007)
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a contributor to Antiques Roadshow Online since 1998.