The other night I watched my first-ever episode of the Antiques Roadshow, in the company of our youngest daughter, who is a big fan.
After a painting that somebody bought for $5 at a thrift store was appraised for something like $150,000, the Y.D. suggested we start visiting Goodwill more often.
The trouble is, as we readily saw from watching the show, it’s almost impossible for the layperson to tell the good stuff from the junk. It’s tough to hear, in front of cameras, that the valuable chandelier you thought you’d scooped from its previous owners is not worth the trouble it took to unscrew it from the ceiling.
Likewise, no one really wants to know that Grandma’s prized painting of wolves in the snow is worth less than its frame, or that the antique postcards so painstakingly collected are worth roughly 50 cents each.
I would be afraid to trot out our family goodies for inspection by anyone.
For instance, we have a thing in our upstairs hallway called the “three-legged dresser.” We inherited this piece from my Beloved’s family, and they all called it the three-legged dresser, despite the fact that it has always had four perfectly good legs.
Somebody during that 1970’s craze for “antiquing,” “antiqued” it, and now it’s kind of greeny-white and has a drawer that will drop on the foot of the unwary like a guillotine. The Roadshow people would asphyxiate from laughter, at least until their toes were crushed.
Then there’s Aunt Lunar’s teapot. Aunt Lunar did not belong to us; she belonged to a former minister’s wife, and apparently took a shine to my mother.
Aunt Lunar gave teapots to people to whom she took a shine, so my mother received a small one in Pepto-Bismol pink, with swirls and tiny flowers. A person of refined tastes would be reluctant to drink tea out of it, but we suspect it’s not ugly enough to be truly Antiques-Roadshow-valuable.
In fact, the Y.D. and I noticed that the value of an object could be said to be inversely proportional to its appearance, in many cases.
Horrible bits of pottery, formed in weird lumps and glazed with unhappy colors, tend to be worth a lot more than small, exquisite things. Two black salt cellars that I would happily have lived with forever, for example, turned out to be worth about a fifth of the $25 they cost.
This guideline would probably not hold true for us, however, and we suspect that the aqua and brown pitcher someone gave us as a wedding present is worth approximately $1.50 of anybody’s money.
We would also be afraid to display our antique textiles, since most of these are actually towels that we also got as wedding presents. It’s been a LONG time since that wedding, and our towels are looking pretty “damaged.”
This is Antiques-Roadshow code for “worthless.”
We will keep them at home with our antique tablecloths, since we already know what the appraisers will say about those Kool-aid stains and places where it appears someone ate a cheeseburger without a plate.
Antique jewelry is also a no-go, since we do not, in fact, have any.
We did inherit a long strand of pop-beads from an aunt. If you’ll recall, pop-beads are things that might look like pearls from a long distance away, in a dark room, to a visually-impaired person.
The great benefit of pop-beads was that the wearer could create a medium-tacky necklace of any length just by popping apart the plastic beads and adding or subtracting some. They came in a lot of colors; my aunt’s are gray.
I keep them in the bottom of a box, but I’m afraid that someone will find them when I die, so perhaps I’ll bury them in the backyard. Everyone knows that things dug up in the backyard are valuable, so maybe they’ll be a windfall for someone else.
This leads us to buttons.
Antiques Roadshow attendees are always finding buttons in their backyards, and these always turn out to be from Civil War uniforms. They could be sold at auction for $700 each.
We actually have a bunch of buttons. They are all brown, and they were removed from my grandfather’s work shirts by my frugal grandmother, who then couldn’t use them because they’re so … brown. A truckload of these would not be worth $700.
After watching Antiques Roadshow and observing the amazing treasures other people find in their attics, garages and backyards, one could get the impression that one’s home is a gold mine, with all sorts of treasure waiting to be discovered.
When we looked around, however, we were forced to conclude that, however treasure-like other people’s trash may be, our trash is just trash.
Perhaps, though, we’ll start digging up the back yard, just in case somebody buried the 19th Century equivalent of pop-beads under a bush.