Like most people, I never plan to devote my Saturday night to watching people discuss the value of ancient Chinese parasols or collectable porcelain baby figurines. And yet, five episodes of Antiques Roadshow later, there I am: sprawled across the couch, gasping at the screen because I’ve just witnessed a woman find out that the commemorative bald eagle plate she bought at a yard sale for $1 is worth $25,000.
The American version of Antiques Roadshow has been airing weekly on public television since 1997. The original British version is almost 20 years older than that. In each one, a frequently changing group of antiques appraisers and museum curators travel to cities across the country, where people gather in throngs, clutching their most prized found collectibles, hoping to learn that one of their items is so valuable that selling it might change their life, at least for a little while. Basically, Antiques Roadshow is American Idol for old junk that’s been collecting dust in your attic.
It is not a cool show. No one live-tweets it. I never have to worry about accidentally reading spoilers online. But every time I watch it I am filled with undeniable AWE. I am not alone in this—there is a Facebook page called “The Adrenaline Rush You Get While Watching Antiques Roadshow” that currently has 68,529 likes. I don’t really get football, but when I watch Antiques Roadshow I think I understand the thrill a sports fan gets when their favorite team scores a touchdown.
Antiques Roadshow has also instilled in me a kind of paranoid hoarder mentality, the same way that watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie makes you suddenly wonder what kinds of secrets your neighbors might be keeping. When I go thrift shopping, I flip over ceramic plates in hope of finding the markings that the Roadshow has taught me denote high value. I’m convinced that inside every reclusive old person’s home lies hidden treasure. Like, what kind of ancient objects are just sitting idle in my neighbor’s basement? Maybe that painting being sold at the yard sale down the street was stolen from the Louvre 100 years ago! OK, probably not.
Each time I watch an episode, my attitude starts out like, “So what? It’s just a vase.” But then the appraiser starts describing some obscure detail about the piece, like how only three of them were ever made and the other two are hanging out in some distant royal palace, and then I’m like, “HOW COULD I BE SO NAÏVE? I BET THEY’RE WORTH LIKE $500,000” and then the appraiser’s like, “At auction, I believe these would go for around $3,000.” And by now I’m so invested that I feel palpably angry on behalf of the dude who brought the vase to the show in the first place.
If you think I’m exaggerating the drama of these moments, watch this woman’s life change forevermore because of a vase:
This isn’t a quaint show about casual antique-shopping on a Sunday afternoon, OK? This is X-TREME ANTIQUING for people who actually get breathless over the sight of an heirloom blanket. HEIRLOOM BLANKETS. Seriously, watch this guys call a BLANKET a “national treasure”:
Have you ever seen a blanket stir up such passion?
Often, though, people come in with high hopes, only to have them crushed. Like this guy, who gets trolled over his wood bathroom cabinet:
Watching Antiques Roadshow is a multidimensional experience. Each half hour is a history lesson, a sporting event, and a game show rolled into one. Also, it’s full of hilarious moments where people take themselves way too seriously. Like the woman at the beginning of this episode, who calls an ANTIQUE DRIED FLOWER a “poignant, evocative witness to the First World War.”
Sometimes the funnest part of the Roadshow is screaming at the people on it. Excuse me, but you just found out that your 18th-century Qianlong jade collection might be worth over a million dollars, and your response to “Is this going to change your life at all?” is “No”? Ummm.
But most of the time you’re so excited for these people! This next lady was a lifelong Elvis fan. Her friends found a old cardboard cutout in their attic and gave it her. There used to be many of these stand-up figures, but lots of them were torn to shreds by PASSIONATE TEENAGE GIRLS. She keeps it by her bed!
I also love it when the uptight appraisers aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Is your bracelet authentic? IDK, LEMME JUST BREAK OUT A GLASS OF WATER, DIP IT IN, AND SMELL IT.
This episode just left me mystified as to what a sock darner actually is, but I think I now need a dozen of them.
I’ve started to build my bucket list around this show. If anyone would like to join me on a road trip to the American Sign Museum, you’re more than welcome.
I like to imagine that when they’re on field trips like that, they kick back together at the end of the day at a Marriott Hotel bar and have passionate arguments over the worth of Fabergé eggs.
When I moved away from home without a TV, I worried that I wouldn’t get to binge-watch Roadshow anymore. But now that I know every episode is online, I am no longer afraid. To me, Antiques Roadshow is a timeless classic whose value will never diminish in my heart. ♦