Sunday night would not be Sunday night without clinging to the radiator while the trumpeting descent of its theme music ushers in the Antiques Roadshow. Running since 1979, it had a winning made-for-TV format.
A clarion call goes out to a locality to bring forth the aged goodies and a nice big historical hall or swathe of lawn is thrown open to the crowds with their crumpled plastic bags and trailers. A group of world authorities, (after a discreet distillation by the programme-makers), then nose around the swag and give that all important valuation. Who could resist?
Sometimes the commonplace gasps over the Clarice Cliff sugar sifters and cock-eyed dollies gives way to open wonder as a worldclass treasure is identified. In most cases, even a five-to-six figure estimate elicits a tightly managed Anglo-Saxon “oh....really”. I would be cartwheeling down the colonnades, foaming at the mouth and knocking the late Victorian tat from off the trestle tables.
In April the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, will whip aside the veil to reveal its most expensive find in 38 years of broadcasts. It started a tease campaign about this object in November 2015. We’re quivering to know what it is, but so far, the programme-makers have managed to suppress any spoilers.
All they will say is that it is “a world famous piece, owned by a sporting institution”, and turned up in Harrogate in north Yorkshire. Previously, a maquette for the Angel of the North by sculptor Anthony Gormley, assigned a valued of £1m-plus (€1.3m) in 2008, and owned by Gateshead Council, was the richest booty discovered by the team.
Five maquettes were made during the creation of Gormley’s angel, a larger one achieving £2.8m at Sotheby’s in 2012. The appearance of the maquette was described by series producer Simon Shaw “as one of the most exciting moments we’ve had on the show” and not least as the piece was a mere 15 years old.
Another spectacular and truly antique treasure, a portrait by Anthony Van Dyck, was bought in Cheshire for just £400. The beaming and youthful Canon Jamie MacLeod, had presumed the piece to be a later copy of the 17th century Belgian master’s work when he picked it up in a small antique shop for a bit of a lark.
Philip Mould, art expert with the Roadshow identified the portrait as genuine, but only after extensive research with Christopher Brown (a world authority on van Dyck), They felt it was worth over £400,000.
The sketch for the Magistrates of Brussels is worthy but not the most thrilling subject matter, and was put up for auction in 2014 by Christie’s but failed to reach its projected estimate of £500,000. The art market is a funny old game. In startling contrast, a self-portrait by Van Dyck sold for an eye watering £8.3m in 2008.
Back in the 20th century — unique and sometimes tiny treasures still appear on the Roadshow. An elegant Leica camera bound in faux lizard skin with a crocodile case and 50mm Elmar lens, was brought to a show in 2000, 12 years after the death of its last user. What could have been taken for a brass finish on the body of the camera was found to be gold plating.
This Luxus II dated from a limited edition in 1932. It was given a relatively modest value of €5,000 by the show’s expert. Only 4 such Leicas were ever made and the whereabouts of the other 3 is unknown — making this, for a time at least, the rarest Leica in the world.
Despite a frenzy surrounding its sale in Bonhams in Hong Kong in 2013, the tiny snapper made a mere £380,000 (€460,000) rather than the £750,000-£1.7m being bandied about between enthusiasts.
The Roadshow format has been taken to Canada and the US. In America, the market value is expressed far more enthusiastically, a symbolic treasure chest and a cheery noise heralding a repeat of the expert valuation across the bottom of the screen accompanied by the refreshing, open joy of the item’s owners.
The high-ticket items are showcased in full, with lesser objects delegated to also-ran cameos. The top estimates Stateside, are truly tasty, making the UK version of the show look like a church hall bring and buy.
In the US version in 2011, some unsettling Chinese carved rhino horn cups dating from the 18th century, were given a number of $1-$1.5m (€900,000 to €1.4m) at an Oklahoma event.
An episode aired this year from Birmingham, Alabama, featured a fabulous portrait of a Western gentleman by Frederic Remington, best known for his windswept bronzes of Native American horsemen, gauchos and bronco riders. It could at sale, according to the appraiser, have achieved more than $800,000 at auction, if sold.
Most amazing of all, was the rather stingy mobile by inventor of the aerial sculptural form (yes, the mobile) by Alex Calder, c1950. Barely visible on screen in Palm Beach, Florida, and staged in a blue tent for focus, the few scraps of metal leaves and twisted wire were said by art expert Chris Kennedy, to be worth in the range of $400,000 at auction — to $1m retail. The usual irritating back-story of the piece being ‘a gift’ just added grist to the mill of public resentment.
All that was suspended for me here, however, was sheer disbelief.
The Antiques Roadshow can be found before the spring season on the BBC iPlayer presented by Fiona Bruce. The American franchise is aired regularly inan excellent line up on PBS on Sky TV, channel 166.