A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Showbiz and the Antiques Roadshow

I have to admit that I love watching the Antiques Roadshow on PBS.

It's not quite as much fun as the British version shown on BBC America but it's an interesting way to pass an hour. For those of us who keep up with the antiques market it's always a laugh to see the prices placed on the items at the end of each evaluation. It's not that the prices are necessarily incorrect in the general sense, but the values are always couched in such ridiculous ways to inflate them far beyond what one may realistically expect in the antiques world.
Such phrases as "well advertised auction," "retail shop," and "insurance value" are intentionally downplayed on screen to give the illusion that a piece has greater value than it really does.

For one thing I doubt if many people outside of the antiques business know that "insurance value" is generally double, or more, the real value of an object. The reasoning behind this is that many pieces are unique or practically unique so that replacement is practically impossible.
Here is the definition of "insurance value" from the Antiques Roadshow Web site:

"Insurance values tend to be set at the top end of retail value. That is done ... so that those who need to replace goods lost to theft or to accident will have enough insurance money to buy an equivalent item from a dealer at current prices.

Thus, an insurance value is based on the price you might find for an object in what the IRS defines as a "reasonable time" — usually not the price you might get after bargain hunting for months. Unlike retail and auction values, which are often verbal, appraisers issue insurance values as formal written appraisals. People pay for these appraisals, because they must be carefully researched and hold up to legal challenges."

To someone casually watching the Roadshow this nuance of appraisal will just slip by unnoticed, obliterated by the excitement of the high value quoted.

The same happens when they use the phrase "well advertised auction."
In this case they are factoring in a competitive market that has two or more insatiable bidders competing against each other to inflate the price of an object. How many times have you been to an auction where a common piece sells for three times its retail value to the horror of the audience?
This has nothing to do with the real world value of the object. You are dealing with a rare situation where a piece's value is inflated far beyond its value to achieve the desired reaction from the audience.

The term "retail shop" is somewhat more understandable to those not in the trade, but is still deceptive by inflating the value. Retail value can be anything from 10% above the wholesale price to 200% above the wholesale price. Giving someone a retail value tells them absolutely nothing about what an owner can expect to receive for such an item.

In the end it's more about achieving the desired response of awe in the greedy eyes of the owner of the object on screen than informing the viewer about the real value objects.
If you want to know the genuine value of an object shown on Roadshow a good guide is to cut the "appraised" value given at the conclusion of the appraisal by 33%-50%. That's usually the real world value of a piece.

Antiques Roadshow is a lot of fun but it's hardly an informational reality show. It's just entertainment, all about showbiz.

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