For the first time in 12 years, and the third time in its 17 years on the air, the traveling television treasure hunt known as “Antiques Roadshow” returned home to Boston last June, and the results will premiere tonight on PBS.
The nine-time Emmy-nominated show that began at WGBH has since brought its crew and participating auctioneers on the road, inviting the curious to bring their questionable antiques for appraisal.
Predating more flashy cable shows like “Pawn Stars” and “Storage Wars,” “Antiques Roadshow” is television’s original reality appraisal drama. Family heirlooms and found treasures are assessed, mysteries are unveiled and sometimes fortunes are revealed. Just as often, hopeful hypotheses can be crushed and put to rest.
With 70 of the country’s best auctioneers, specializing in 24 specific categories, the “Roadshow” provides each local audience with a chance for free appraisals by world-class auction houses. Audience members receive an estimated value and complimentary historical background of their object. The best finds and biggest disappointments are later brought to center stage to be recorded with the possibility of appearing on TV.
There is no admission fee, but audience members must apply for free tickets. In Boston, more than 27,000 applied to attend, while only 3,000 pairs of tickets were granted. Picked at random, each winning pair was given the chance to have four items assessed. People can bring just about anything, and many do. Even Boston Mayor Thomas Menino brought in one of his favorite paintings.
At the Boston Convention Center last summer for the taping, a murmured roar echoed through the halls as a line snaked around the waiting area. Paintings were wrapped, furniture was wheeled in on dollies and countless specialties and rarities lay dormant, hidden in boxes, wrapped and waiting for their time to shine. People seemed eager to discuss their items with neighbors in line and the firsthand stories seemed to bring history to life.
According to executive producer Marsha Bemko, Boston’s best story regarded a woman who brought in a drawing of herself as a child drawn by Norman Rockwell. Meant to appear on a Kellogg’s cereal box, the portrait came complete with a signed letter from the artist, a photo with the artist and the wooden painting chair that Rockwell sat on in his later years. Her total collection was estimated at $140,000.