A Surprise Gift

By Merry Carol Cotton

Last June my husband surprised me with a gift that didn’t need to be unwrapped and that wasn’t even immediately useable, but filled me with so much anticipation that the remainder of the summer seemed to drag on forever. You see, he had quietly entered the Antiques Road Show random drawing for tickets for their much-celebrated television series. Since I have been a faithful viewer for many years – and the series has been televised for over fifteen years – and I have talked often about how much fun it would be to actually attend an appraisal show, he more than took the hint and secretly entered his name for a pair of tickets for the two of us.

For those of you not familiar with Antiques Road Show, the format of the show is ticket holders such as ourselves can bring for appraisal two of their antique valuables. Nearly seventy or more experts are available to evaluate and offer appraisals. On an average taping day nearly 10,000 items – items ranging from A to Z – that is to say, perhaps, amulets to zithers – from the rare and wonderful to the seemingly weird and insignificant are brought to the location of the show which in our case was Atlanta.

Knowing the taping of the show wasn’t until August, I had plenty of time to select two of my many antiques for evaluation and, of course, appraisal. So began the nearly summer-long search through my house for the two perfect items I wanted to take – would it be my hand-carved wooden soldier, a hat pin holder with several hat pins in it, a signed copy of President McKinley’s biography, or my very old German belznickel, commonly known as Santa? Decisions, decisions!

None of the above seemed to be the perfect item…until I remembered a Native American birdstone. A birdstone is exactly as its name describes – a bird carved from stone. As for its use, that is still uncertain, but some collectors believe birdstones were used for ornamentation while others believe they were attached to the ends of spears to give more thrust. It really didn’t matter as I figured I had found a perfect item for identification and appraisal.

The second item was an Austrian military medal my mother had given me many years ago. I had forgotten what she claimed as its significance, so I figured that taking the medal was a good choice to make.

Finally the day arrived, and we headed to Atlanta for the taping of the show that would air on PBS in January, 2012. I was excited and hoped not only for good appraisals, but that I would be chosen for a spot on the show.

I was like a child in a toy store when I entered the appraisal area after passing through a preliminary screening where other antiquers with their larger pieces were hauling in everything from Radio Flyer wagons to super market pushcarts. It was a festive atmosphere as all participants probably had the same expectations as I did for their antiques – a good appraisal plus a personal appearance on the show with their antique. As for being chosen for a personal appearance on the show, I understand the criteria for an owner is to have an antique that has “star quality, exceptional monetary value, historical significance and a compelling story.” Some have all four attributes. But one of my two antiques seemed to have just historical significance.

When we arrived at the Convention Center in Atlanta, I had to show my objects to the first round of knowledgeable dealers who made the initial consideration as to which of the 23 appraisal tables I would be permitted to take my treasures. I was given two tickets – one for the military memorabilia table, and one for the Native American arts table. All of the tables had large banners indicating Books, Glass, Furniture, Folk Art, Native American Arts, Paintings, and Jewelry, to mention a few, so participants could easily locate which table they should go to take their antiques.

I understand the appraisers rely on their own knowledge and, perhaps, a magnifying glass, a jeweler’s loupe, a cell phone and maybe even a reference book or two. Also, behind the scenes are a few computers and a portable research library.

My suspense had brought me a sleepless night so I could hardly wait for my turn.

My first item was the military medal that appeared to be from Austria. I had no idea where my mother had gotten it. So, the appraiser examined it carefully. I held my breath. Surely, this military medal would be very valuable. But, I was wrong. The appraiser told me it was costume jewelry and worth around $10 – not $1,000 – not $100 but $10. I was more embarrassed than disappointed, but only temporarily.

My next item was the birdstone. The appraiser asked questions as to where I had gotten it, how long I had owned it, and what did I know of its origin. Well, the first two questions were easy. My husband’s grandfather had given the birdstone to him, and he had given it to me. I have owned it for over 40 years. But I did not know where the grandfather had gotten it and, of course, what Native American tribe had previously owned it.

The appraiser examined it closely and told me it was the first real one he had ever seen. My anticipation grew…my hopes started to soar. I began to think it would be worth several hundred dollars. He said it was museum quality – my anticipation continued to grow – in my mind I also hoped I’d be chosen for one of the interview clips prepared for the TV show itself. Then he said the birdstone was worth over $3,000.

Now, that was a surprise…a surprise gift…from my husband, and he had given it to me over forty years ago. The tickets had been a surprise but the value of the birdstone was an even bigger surprise. I was elated.

About then, my husband had returned from the appraisal booths where he had taken a military officer’s antique knife and sword, and a hand-engraved antique pistol. I must say that my husband’s antiquities received a much higher appraisal than mine, but it really didn’t matter.

Finally, as we were leaving the show, Roadshow personnel asked us if we’d like to go to the “Feedback Booth” where those of us who had articles appraised could talk about the fun we had at the Antiques Road Show. We won’t know if we will appear on the Feedback Booth segment until the show airs in January 2012.

Even though I didn’t get a personal appraisal appearance for the show itself, the tickets and the trip to the Antiques Road Show were a surprise gift. But my Native American birdstone with its appraisal value of approximately $3,000 was truly a bigger surprise gift, one that I had owned for years.

About this writer

  • Merry Carol Cotton Merry Carol Cotton arrived in Pawleys Island over five years ago after having taught high school English in Michigan for nearly thirty years. She has published in the National Council of Teachers of English Journal, edited medical textbooks, and contributed many articles to church-related publications. She and her husband have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

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2 Responses to “A Surprise Gift”

  1. The Antiques Road Show is one of my favorites, and your story is wonderful. Hope you make a personal appearance. I’ll be looking for you.

  2. Monique Philips says:

    Loved your article, Merry!!! Thanks for sharing such a SUPER experience!!!!

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