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The Antiques Roadshow: A Testimonial Essay

Updated on January 30, 2016
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


I love everything about Antiques Roadshow on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). This is the kind of 'reality' television I can get behind. If I may say so, it seems to me that the difference between public television 'reality' programing and that featured on network television is this: The former seeks to bring out the best in ordinary people; and the latter seems determined to bring out the worst in ordinary people.

The stations and programs that fit into this category shall remain nameless in this essay. But we all know who and what they are. These programs are determined to catch people at their lowest and weakest, or to drive them to that state. And once they have been driven to this artificial state of desperation, they are "voted" off the island or out of the house, and so forth.

PBS is not like that, thank goodness. Public television programming---even in this day and age, its good to see---is about engaging people intellectually.

I'm thinking of a PBS show, years back, called, if I remember correctly, Frontier House. The show took ordinary people from varied backgrounds and showed them what living in the American west in the middle of the nineteenth century was like. They had to do things like build their own log cabin to live in, grow their own food, barter and trade with "Indians," and so forth.

The object was to learn. Viewers tuned in to see how the participants were getting along, not to see who would embarrass themselves or humiliate others, or get themselves "voted" out. The exercise was not competitive but cooperative.

My point is that this kind of thing is what public television is all about. I don't want to get too romantic about this, but I think its fair to say that public television, in stark contrast to network so-called 'reality' programming, gives all of us to be a better version of ourselves.

One last 'romantic' statement: Even in this 'day and age,' with all of its allegedly diverse media platforms and supposedly varied kinds of content, public television---PBS---brings the world, almost literally, into our living rooms every night.

Okay, enough of that. Let us return to our specific testimonial about Antiques Roadshow. For those of you who have not seen it, here's the rundown. It is a show fully powered by everyday, ordinary people who come into possession of items of interest, of all kinds: furniture, stamps, coins, musical instruments, paintings, sketches, sculptures, rugs, sports, advertising, and paraphernalia of all kinds, and anything and everything else you can think of.

Folks come by this stuff in every way you can possibly think of. They pick up things from garage sales. A relative will leave something in her will to her descendant. You may find something in your attic or basement, while your family is preparing to move to a new city, state, or country. You may find something of interest in an attic or basement of the house you have moved into. A desperate man may have given your great-great-great-great grandfather a painting for a bowl of soup. You may have picked something up at a government auction: say some criminal who got his stuff repossessed under the RICO laws.

I mean to emphasize that the ways and means of acquisition are absolutely limitless. Or at least it seems that way.

This is the host of Antiques Roadshow, Mark Walberg---obviously not the Mark Wahlberg, formerly of "Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch," but a different one.
This is the host of Antiques Roadshow, Mark Walberg---obviously not the Mark Wahlberg, formerly of "Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch," but a different one. | Source

The next step is for folks to bring in what they have, to see if it has any monetary value. Is that the wedding dress that your great-great-great grandmother had custom-made for her in Turkey, made by that, at the time, internationally renown dressmaker, and which has finally made its way down through the generations to you (whoever 'you' may be), worth anything over and above the deep sentimental value it has for you and your family---not that you would even think of doing anything with it other than pass it down to your daughter for her wedding...?

Who was that desperate man who exchanged one of his original sketches for a bowl of soup from your kindhearted ancestor, who, of course, would have fed one of God's children for nothing? Did the guy turn out to be a famous artist? If so, what is that sketch now worth?

What, you have a saddle signed by Billy The Kid?

Antiques Roadshow employs a range of professionals who can give you the full rundown on what you have. They are museum curators. They work in antique shops. They come from a wide range of specialties: jewelry, furniture, art, sports collectibles, movie collectibles, Civil War collectibles, and so very much more.

These professionals will invariably treat you with respect and courtesy, as they explain the object's pedigree: Who made it? When was it made? With what techniques and materials was it made? Under what circumstances was it made? Why is all of that meaningful? What you can expect to get for the item should you sell it at an auction of collectors? Sometimes the experts might advise you on what you should insure the item for.

The experts and the participants---the ordinary folks---sit at a table and talk about it.

That's it. No car chases. No explosions. No hair-pulling. No "alliances."

But if you watch over a period of some time, you can learn a thing or two. Before you know it, you may find yourself starting to absorb a good bit of cultural history.

In any case, I just want to say, again, that I love everything about the show. I love the theme music. Mark Walberg is exactly the right person to host the show. I don't know about you but I find his presence soothing.

You know, I love the part at the end of the show, when they're running the credits. What you have are people in the (galley?). They give a quick intro and tell us all what they brought and what the appraiser said about it.

Oftentimes they are disappointed. The items they brought, which they thought might have a substantial cash value, turn out to be virtually worthless on that basis. However, without exception, they say that they had a wonderful time. And, of course, you know they are telling you the truth.

Okay, let's wrap it up there. No need to beat a dead horse.

By the way, if you have one---a dead horse, that is---which is an exceptional example of quality taxidermy, bring it on it to the Antiques Roadshow, and find out what its worth!

Thank you so much for reading.



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