Go Behind-The-Scenes At Boise's 'Antiques Roadshow' Taping

Jan 6, 2014

April and Andy Davis don’t have many antiques. The couple doesn’t have much money to spend on collecting and they do have a 2-year-old, Hudson, who will pull down anything not nailed to the wall. But April Davis has been watching PBS' 'Antiques Roadshow' since she was a kid.

David Rago says he's been in pottery and porcelain for more than four decades and with Antiques Roadshow from the beginning.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The popular public television show travels the country to appraise antiques people bring to the event. Some of the antiques, and their owners, end up on the program talking about their treasures and the stories behind them.

Antique Roadshow’s 18th season premieres Monday night on Idaho Public Television. This episode features people and antiques from the show’s first visit to Idaho last June. 

Nearly 15,000 people applied for the free tickets to the taping, about a third got one. The Davises nabbed two tickets.

April Davis brought one thing for the Roadshow experts to look at, a Nancy Drew mystery novel. It belonged to her grandmother who died before April was born.

“I know that she was a very strong woman that lived a very hard life,” April says. “But apparently [she] liked to kick back and read a mystery once and again. And that is interesting to me.”

April treasures this book but she doesn’t expect it to be worth anything. However, there is something unusual about it. Most Nancy Drew books have the phrase “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories” or “The Nancy Drew Files” on the cover.  April’s has only the title, The Message in the Hollow Oak. Since Nancy Drew’s name is not on the cover, April wonders if -- just maybe -- it could be a first edition.

So she’s come to the Ada County Fairgrounds (known more formally as Expo Idaho) where 'Antiques Roadshow' is set up for its Boise visit. She has Hudson in a stroller and Andy has a box with the Nancy Drew, his family bible from the 1880s, a plate that belonged to his grandmother, and a punchbowl from his great grandparents.

April and Andy Davis talk with Idaho Public Television employee Kathe Alters back stage at the Antiques Roadshow Boise taping. Two-year-old Hudson is much more interested in his press pass than in antiques.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

April’s glad she has the stroller because the line stretches between multiple buildings. 

“It’s amazing, you never realize how many people actually live in the area,” April says.

“When you watch it on TV you don’t see all this,” Andy says with a nervous laugh.

People are assigned times to show up with their tickets and the Roadshow crew runs the behind-the-scenes elements with Rolex precision, but there’s still a lot of waiting. As the line zigzags through the huge rooms there’s a dizzying array of things to look at. A chair balanced on someone’s head, a six foot painting strapped to someone’s back like an ornate hang glider.

“I’ve just been eyeballing different stuff that people have been bringing in and I’m like, 'I really wonder what the story behind that is,'” Andy says.

April says when she watches 'Antiques Roadshow' she likes to think about where the stories will go in the future.

“I kind of imagine what they’re going to do after they find out if they have a family heirloom that’s worth a lot of money,” she says. “Are they going to keep it because it’s so important to their family? Or are they going to try and sell it and lose that family legacy?”

Eventually the Davises get to what’s known as triage. Here, a Roadshow staffer assigns items a category from a list of dozens. They get three cards. One says books, another says glass, and the third is pottery and porcelain.

Now they move onto the TV set where antiques experts are talking with hundreds of people. These people are in the background as the chosen few talk on camera. They’re waiting to find out if they’ll join that select group. April stays with Hudson and Andy takes his grandmother’s plate to David Rago who owns an auction house in New Jersey.

“I don’t want to start out by telling him he’s got a $3 plate,” Rago says. “I want to not just romance it, but also explain what it is because it’s a crystallization of cosmic energy that’s manifested in one place at one time to create this. So this defines that place and time.”

Rago says the plate was made shortly after World War II. He spins an elaborate tale of soldiers coming home from the war, getting married, and starting families. He talks about their struggles, how society was evolving and how this plate shows all of that.

“So this really is a little time capsule in the form of a dinner plate that’s worth $3,” Rago concludes.

Over at the glass table Andy has better luck. His punch bowl could be worth $250, or $300 including cups.

“Even though I never met my great grandparents it reminds me of my grandpa and my grandma, who I have very fond memories and times with,” Andy says. “And that to me is worth probably any amount of money.”

Now, it's the moment of truth for April and her Nancy Drew book. She meets Roadshow expert Ken Gloss who has a bookshop in Boston. The Bible’s not worth anything he says, because Bibles are the most printed book in the world. They see 50 to 100 on a single day of taping. Then he picks up her grandmother’s Nancy Drew mystery. Gloss has seen a lot of first edition Nancy Drews, which, he says can be worth $500.

“I could stand at the other end of the hall and if you’ve seen them, you’d pick it out every time,” Gloss says. “This is not it.”

Even if April’s book were a first edition, Gloss says it wouldn’t be worth much because it doesn’t have a dust jacket and it’s a little worn. 

“You get the mint, perfect copy that’s top price and you go ‘no child ever touched used or enjoyed this book,’” Gloss says.  “Whereas you get one that’s somewhat used and it really has almost no value. But, it got used. So which one, in a way, is worth more?”

On set, the cameras are in the center of a circle and the tables of antiques experts appraising things make up the outer ring. The people who don't get picked to talk on air make up the back drop.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

More than half a million people have had an experience similar to April’s since 'Antiques Roadshow' started in 1996. Less than 1 percent of those who come to tapings make it into the broadcast show. But people keep coming because they love their antiques for all kinds of reasons.

And the appeal of the show isn’t just in the potential of discovering things worth a lot of money. The producers of 'Antiques Roadshow' say they select something for air as much for the story behind it as for how much it could fetch at auction.

But April says she’s not disappointed, she got what she came for.

“I didn’t really expect them to be worth much,” she says. “It was more the experience of getting to talk with him and listen to him talk about the books.”

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio