Monday, June 6, 2011

I stood in line for five hours for this

The Antiques Roadshow filmed the opener of their 2012 season in Eugene, Oregon this weekend, and I was given a ticket to attend the filming, have an item appraised, and possibly even appear on the show.

I have loved the Roadshow ever since Stacy Wall introduced me to the original British version of the show many years ago.

There's a TV ad for the show that shows people guessing the value of the items. Will the painting from the garage be worth $500,000? Apparently that happened in Eugene. I'm not really interested in that part of the show.

I'm interested in the people. I'm interested in what people value. I'm interested in the stories we tell and the stories contained in the objects themselves. I'm interested in watching how people act and react, how the simplest gestures and comments and responses reveal us. I wanted to go the filming of the show to soak all of that humanness up.

I'd heard I would be spending a long time standing in line, so instead of the 1964 Fender Mustang or the framed portrait of Cannonade along with the winning ticket from the 100th Kentucky Derby, I chose to bring something I could carry in my shirt pocket.

We live in a 1910 Portland craftsman house, and a few years ago, we renovated a basement that hadn't changed much in 90 years. The contractor reached into the beams and found an antique condom tin, complete with instructions, clear wrappers, and a small ad for Ramses Vaginal Jelly.

After a few hours in line, meeting other people, hearing their stories, I finally got to the front of the Collectibles line. I was now one of those dorky gawkers that you see standing in the background of the show. I showed the appraiser my item. Expressionless, he told me that the market for tins was down right now, but with contents, it might be worth $40-50.

He couldn't tell me what I was most interested in: who was the person who stashed that tin in the basement rafters, back in the 1930s? What was that story?

In a historic mood, later this weekend I stopped in thrift store around the corner from my house and picked up a few story-rich objects. They weren't expensive, a couple of bucks each, but they grab the imagination.

The first is an amazing photo postcard of Washington DC from the turn of the century. It's taken from NE Washington, possibly from West Virginia Avenue, and the only recognizable buildings are Union Station and the Capitol.

The letter is from Albert Asher, writing back to his wife? mother? Connie, in Portland. It seems Albert has crossed to country to join the Army, in the closing days of World War I? You can see soldiers in the foreground of the photo, working. Albert writes that he has passed the physical exam and is scheduled to leave camp on March 5 or 5, 1919. "You should see me wash dishes," he closes.

This postcard is also intriguing:

"Dear Clara," Lillian writes to her friend in Portland, Oregon from South Bend, Indiana. "If you can't get work out there, you had better come out to the Watch Co. We need a couple of girls in our room." It was the day after Christmas, 1911.

The Watch Company was the South Bend Watch Company, which made more than a million watches and employed 300 people, until it closed after the stock market crash of October 1929.

Lillian filled most of the card, but squeezed on the bottom is a short message, possibly from Lillian's beau? "O.K. Ben." he wrote.


Kim said...

I'm sure you've already been, but I just love spending an afternoon at Ampersand digging through their's easy to get lost in history and dream up stories of peoples past...

suosdey said...

May I recommend

I love seeing how people tell the history of themselves so succinctly and poetically with images.