Greetings from the Hunter House Victorian Museum! I am so happy you have decided to stop by for a spell. First, let me introduce myself- my name is Jackie Spainhour and I am the Director of the Hunter House. I have been with the museum in some capacity since 2009- it’s hard to believe it has been so long already! I am married to my dear husband, David, and have a joyful five month old baby boy named Declan at home. Many of the musings you will read from me on this blog will be the brilliant ideas some people have in the shower- only I have them at 3:30 am while my teething child angrily growls at his gums. Still, I hope my middle-of-the-night musings are somewhat comprehensible and entertaining to you…and keep you coming back for more!
So, here’s a little of what you can expect from bi-weekly posts on this blog:
- Articles full of well-researched topics related to the 19th century, specifically the Victorian Era
- Insight into what it is like to work in the museum field, specifically for a small non-profit historic house museum
- Opinion pieces from our staff, on topics from the most beloved items in our collection to the sustainability of historic houses in a digital world
- Interviews with relevant local non-profits, businesses, museums, and interesting individuals
- A mixed bag of delightful stories and personal anecdotes that will have you wondering why you still haven’t joined our wonderful volunteer staff (Seriously, we love new additions- call me for more information! 623-9814)
Today, I want to relay my genius to you in the form of a personal story of the day I decided to do something I have dreamed of for years- bring my priceless items to the Antiques Roadshow. We’ve all heard that happy jingle on our TV sets notifying us that we are about to witness some unsuspecting person go from a net worth of $1 to $100,000 in a matter of seconds. I, my friends, have always wanted to be that person. Some little girls grow up dreaming of being a ballerina or a country singer, but I have always wanted to stand in front of those blue walls with some exotic piece of antiquity and have an expert confirm that my ridiculous obsession with silver teaspoons and gold-rimmed teacups is not so crazy after all. Now, let me tell you how my dreams were crushed.
I tried desperately to ‘win’ tickets in the lottery the show does, even having my coworkers and family members enter their information so I could have multiple chances of getting tickets. After we all submitted our information, it was an agonizing two months before I received a cheerful email from the Antiques Roadshow that I could view their decision immediately. I should have know better- the email was worded eerily similar to those ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ rejection letters I received as a student and later as a job seeker (That’s a story for another blog post, stay tuned!). So, of course, none of the entries I did myself or that I coaxed others into were winners. I was depressed. I needed a nice pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia- which, by the way, we can no longer be friends if you dislike this indulgence. I abandoned hope that I would be able to attend the Antiques Roadshow in Virginia Beach. I picked up what was left of my wide-eyed optimistic self and banished all thoughts of the event. That is, until I got lucky.
At the urging of a new friend, I joined the Norfolk Sister Cities Organization (Don’t know who they are? Check them out here: http://www.norfolksistercities.org/ They are awesome!) Unbeknownst to me, they had acquired a collection of tickets which could be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Let’s just say when I received that email I replied in .1 seconds. Luckily, they granted me the gift of a single ticket, and I gratefully accepted!
I spent the next few weeks torn about what to bring. You see, they only allow two items to be appraised per ticket holder. How could I possibly choose?! I managed to snag one extra ticket from my friend with Norfolk Sister Cities and invited my husband to attend, partly because I thought I would be bored in a long line by myself but mostly because I wanted to bring more items. He is aware of this and still continues to love me, God bless him. I had already decided I wanted to bring a few items from the museum that we wanted to know more about- maybe a few paintings. Well, I hadn’t really thought the whole transportation angle through, so that didn’t end up happening. I talked it over with one of our Asst. Directors and we decided I should bring lightweight items I could hold all day in the line I would inevitably be stuck in for hours. In the end, she packed up a fan with various stickers adhered to it, a collection of items from the Jamestown Exhibition, and our commemorative teacup celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. I had one spot left to fill and chose to bring a 19th century photo album complete with turn of the century portraits I purchased at a yard sale for $1. I daydreamed about the scenario:
Me: “Oh, this old thing? I purchased it at a yard sale for $1. I thought it was beautiful and deserved to be held onto by someone who appreciates the artistry of turn of the century bookbinding and photography.”
Appraiser: “Well, we are sure glad you did! This is a delightfully wonderful find, and at such a great price! You did great. By my estimation, the photo album alone should be insured for $5,000 and each photograph should be insured for $100 each, which brings your total value at auction to $15,000!”
Me: <Insert expected dumbfounded look> “How wonderful! Of course, I would never sell it, but thank you! I am so surprised!”
Unfortunately, this is how things really unfolded:
Me: “I purchased it at a yard sale for $1. I thought it was beautiful. Can you tell me anything else about it?”
Appraiser: “Well, it is neat. I like the pictures, but there isn’t anyone famous so there is really no value. The album itself is very nice though, but not in great condition. I would say you could sell it on Ebay for $50. Thanks for bringing it in though…<shouts loudly> NEXT!”
Me: <Forcing a smile and remembering all of those times my mom said “If you can’t say anything nice…”> “Thanks” <Sulking away and looking for the next line to wait in>
Dreams. Effectively. Crushed.
But, I persevered. I thought it couldn’t get much worse than that. Plus, I hadn’t even gotten into the museum items yet. Yes! Something would surely be of value to them.
I was told the paper fan was “quite common” and then he thanked me for bringing it. No appraisal value. No background information. Then, the appraiser who looked at my Jamestown items started the conversation with “These are really not that uncommon and not worth much” followed by “now, if you had something purchased at the exhibition, you would really have something!…but I guess you could appraise the collection at a few hundred dollars or so, depending on who is at the auction that day.” So, I asked inquisitively if he could tell me more about the items. Apparently they are not there for that purpose, as he quickly remarked he didn’t know much and thanked me for coming by. Okay, three strikes, but surely our museum’s most beloved possession must be intriguing enough for television, right?
Now, let me tell you the most disheartening experience of the day. I stood in line to meet the porcelain appraiser. I arrived at the table and an older, somewhat smug, gentleman willfully ignored my presence as I carefully unwrapped my favorite teacup in our collection. I waited. Then waited some more. Then watched in amazement as he and another appraiser gawked at this hideous, and I mean hideous, set of open-mouthed fish vases, commenting on how they need to put them in the show. Sidenote: If you see them, comment on this post and give me your take on them. Anyway, the man then irritatingly motioned for me to come forward and asked what I had. I stated I had a teacup commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. He literally took two seconds to look at it and then said the five words that ruined my life:
Appraiser: “This is not a teacup”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Appraiser: “This cup does not have a handle and that was out of fashion by the time you said this was created, so it is probably a saucer and cup that someone thought should go together and they just put them together. They did not come like that.”
Me: “Sir, are you sure? This is in a museum collection and I am almost positive what you are saying is wrong.”
Appraiser: “Well, to start, it is in horrid condition so it isn’t valuable. Still, I stand by my assertion. Thanks for bringing it by. Have a nice day.”
And with that, he walked away. David saw I was visibly upset as we left the showroom. We stopped for a picture and I mumbled under my breath how pretentious these people are. “Who does he think he is? Shooing me away like that. I waited like everyone else! I love that teacup! And d***it, it is a teacup!”. David just rubbed my back comfortingly and walked me to my car. I spent the next twenty minutes complaining to one of our Asst Directors about the experience and she tried to calm me down. When I got off the phone, I looked at David, He had been silent for some time. He looked up at me with a smile and said, “That guy is full of crap. I just did a simple Google search and went through a few websites and found that there were cups just like the one you have given out for the Diamond Jubilee. They weren’t meant to be used but they were teacups. What an idiot.” Oh, my hero. Let me just say, I know I have a keeper in that man. We ended the day by having lunch to celebrate the fact that we were collectively more intelligent than the bitter appraiser who obviously needed to check himself. Oh, it was a glorious afternoon.
So, the moral of the story is this: sometimes experts aren’t experts at all, and sometimes you really know what you’re talking about. Stand up for yourself and your intelligence.
As for me, I probably won’t attend another roadshow, although it was fun to go for the sake of saying I have been. I will still watch on WHRO, but I might take those appraisals with a grain of salt next time.
Sidenote: My dad is the king of tall tales, but he did tell me that his friend’s son took a school art project that was some type of tribal mask to the roadshow and someone appraised it for $5000. Apparently it looked like the work of some Indian tribe. Truth or Tall tale? After my experience, I have an inclination to believe him, but you be the judge!