The national treasure hunt, Antiques Roadshow is, in its third season, the most popular show on PBS. Every week it draws millions and millions of viewers to the edge of their seats as independent dealers and specialists from the country's leading auction houses appraise family heirlooms and flea market finds alike. Now this knowledge, authority, and passion is distilled in the Antiques Roadshow Primer, an introductory guide to American Antiques and collectibles.
Antiques Roadshow has taught us to look for fortunes in our attics--perhaps to find, as other lucky souls have, an Anna Poole Peale portrait miniature worth $5,000 to $7,000 or a Confederate sword worth $35,000. Focusing on 11 major areas--including Furniture, Painting, Silver, Jewelry, Porcelain, and Toys--the primer addresses the essential things buyers and collectors need to know, covering vital details for each category, such as shapes, styles, and patterns, provenance, periods, and motifs. A 32-page full-color section amplifies each chapter by illustrating numerous examples of styles and techniques, and individual items are fully identified, often with their appraised value. Above all, it helps even first-timers to answer the two key question every collector must face: Is it old? Is it valuable?
The simple but brilliant attraction of the popular PBS series is that deep down inside, everyone wonders if that family heirloom or flea-market antique in the corner of the living room has any real value. Antiques Roadshow Primer can help you answer that question. Carol Prisant, who writes about antiques and collectibles for Martha Stewart Living, House Beautiful, and New York, quickly notes in her introduction, however, that this is a primer--an introduction to the basics of antiques--and does not presume to make the reader an instant expert.
In that vein, the focus is on the bread and butter of the antique world: silver, glass, pottery, porcelain, books, paintings, jewelry, rugs, clocks, and furniture. These are the items that are not trendy (Barbie dolls, 1920s beaded bags) and subject to massive fluctuations in price and value. Instead, Prisant points out, they are the types of items that are good for the long haul and, she notes, the front hall. So how do you determine if an heirloom is worth something? The following tips are offered when inspecting furniture: run your fingers underneath or over the back of the piece--very sharp edges and corners indicate recent manufacture. Remove one screw in some inconspicuous spot. An old, handmade screw will have irregular widths between the spirals, running the whole length of the shaft. The slot in the head may be off-center. Look for the distinctive curved pattern left in sawn wood by the teeth of a circular saw--it is one important sign of manufacture after 1840.
Prisant also reveals tricks of the trade for inspecting diamonds: place the gem against your upper lip, she advises. If it's glass--the oldest imitator of a diamond--it will not feel cold at all, while a real diamond will. Definitions are also offered for "antique furniture" (any object 100 years old or older, according to the U.S. government), "used furniture" (secondhand furniture less than 100 years old), and "period furniture" (made when its design was first popular and new; generally the most valuable of antique furniture). At its best, Antiques Roadshow Primer instills a sense of genuine interest and enthusiasm, much like the PBS show, by making the antiques and collectibles world less of a stuffy discussion about an untouchable item behind lock and key and more about drawing connections to the heirloom in the corner. --John Russell