Antiques on parade at home and garden show

October 26, 2011

Southwest Virginia’s attics yielded few genuine treasures, but most of the people said they were glad to know something of their items’ worth.

Celebrity appraiser Harry Rinker started his show on a soberingly realistic note on Friday when a woman brought a 1970s Norman Rockwell collector plate to the stage.

“There is no market for these,” he said. “We do have a term for these in the business: They’re called wedding gifts.”

Throughout the afternoon, a parade of objects — some beautiful, some fascinating, and some downright bizarre — crossed the stage at the Greater Roanoke Valley Home and Garden show as Southwest Virginians took advantage of a rare opportunity for a free verbal antique appraisal.

All 30 chairs were full even before Rinker took the stage in the Roanoke Civic Center exhibition hall, with as many more people standing in wait. As soon as one person wandered away, it seemed, another two took his place. The turnout was so large that Rinker abandoned his plans to lecture and kept rolling through the appraisals as the afternoon wore on.

“How am I doing? Look at this crowd, man,” Rinker said at one point. “It’s a good thing I have good kidneys.”

The Pennsylvania native, who has appeared on HGTV and hosts “Whatcha Got?”, a nationally syndicated call-in show that streams live on the Internet every Sunday, calls himself “one of the last great generalists,” meaning that he is knowledgeable about many categories of antiques and collectibles, not just one.

“Most people don’t know this, but there is a collecting gene in the DNA,” he said. “I have advanced from saver to collector to accumulator. I believe that he who dies with the biggest pile wins.”

Ken Farmer, who owns Ken Farmer Auctions and Appraisals in Radford and appraises items on the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow,” said Rinker has been well-known in the business for a long time.

“If you are a general appraiser,” he said, “I think the main thing you need to know is you need to be smart enough to know what you don’t know.”

Rinker was upfront with the crowd on Friday, reminding them periodically that he was providing verbal appraisals, “otherwise known as my best guess.” But few objects, save a cruel-looking spiked wooden club and a wooden box with a slide-off top, stumped him. He referred to the latter as a classic example of a “whatsit.”

Otherwise, he enthusiastically appraised such objects as a Shriner memorabilia figurine (not much value), someone’s grandmother’s doll in a cigar box (the box was worth more than the doll — $20 to $30), an 1812 Army voucher ($75 to $100), a little yellowware coffee pot ($200 to $225), and a 1930s “shoot the loop” marble game ($50).

He told a man with a $750 crock that it was worth barely half that much because it had cracked after sitting in the garden. He told a man with bronzed male and female busts that they weren’t worth much, but got a big laugh when he added, “I usually appraise them according to how much cleavage I can see on the female.”

But not all was without value. A man whose parents used to run a motel had a guest book signed by baseball legend Cy Young. If he could authenticate the signature, it would be worth about $300, Rinker said.

An early Weller Pottery vase could fetch $700, a World War II-era dagger might bring $475 to $600 in the right circles, and there was a miniscule chance that one lady’s vase could be a $2,000 to $3,000 Tiffany, although he doubted it.

What with Rinker’s personality and the high number of unusual objects crossing the stage, most folks seemed to think it was worth the trip even if their treasure was only a treasure in their eyes.

“It’s nice to know,” said Paul Pearman of Covington, the owner of that marble game. “We can tell our kids what it’s worth so they don’t throw it away.”