On the road to ‘Road Show’

When Forrest Hammond and his wife Mildred drove to South Carolina last month to be part of PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” they had to choose from many family heirlooms in their collection.

KEARNEYSVILLE–Forrest and Mildred Hammond didn’t come away from last month’s taping of PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” with the news that a family keepsake actually is a treasure worth hundreds of thousands.
And that’s just fine with them.
“It was wonderful just to be there,” explained Mildred, an 82-year-old Berkeley County native who retired as a school librarian and now works with her husband as the popular clown act, Bubbles and Mr. B.
The Hammonds say they loved having the chance to see an 18th-century Parisian baby buggy, vintages dishes, hats, dolls, photographs, oil paintings, rifles and all the other heirlooms that visitors took to “Roadshow” when the appraisal program set up in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on June 23.
“You wouldn’t believe the things people carted in,” said Forrest, 86. “Anything and everything that you could put on a dolly or somehow wheel in, they had it there. It was incredible to see all of that in one place.”
For the Hammonds, it wasn’t easy getting to “Roadshow” – or deciding what family items to take.
The program, which began in Britain in 1979 and now is in its 16th season, has been PBS’s most popular show for years, and its fans tend to gobble up tickets fast. When the show came to Washington, D.C., in 2010, for instance, more than 23,000 people applied for the 6,400 available slots.
The Hammonds went online to apply for tickets to the two “Antiques Roadshow” visits closest to their home in Kearneysville – in Myrtle Beach and Pittsburgh – but didn’t have luck with either.
Help came via a retired friend of their daughter’s who knew they wanted to be on “Roadshow.” She’d also applied for tickets and as she was traveling in her RV through South Dakota, she learned she’d gotten passes – and offered to pass them along to the Hammonds.
Each ticket-holder may bring up to two items for appraisal and the Hammonds, lifelong antique lovers whose family roots on both sides go back to the 1700s, engaged in much debate about what to take to the show.
Among the family heirlooms the couple could have taken to the show: a pair of charcoal portraits of Forrest’s great-great-grandparents from the 1850s; a delicate instrument used by society ladies to dial a rotary telephone (“Audrey Hepburn uses one in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ ’’ Mildred explains); an early 20th century metal hand pump for creating whipped cream; an Edison-brand cabinet phonograph; a musical instrument called a hurdy-gurdy; a prehistoric sandstone ax; and a rag doll and other childhood toys from the 1950s.
“We didn’t know what we were taking until the night before we left for South Carolina,” Mildred said. “Our kids were over here and everyone had their suggestions. It was so tough trying to decide.”
In the end, the Hammonds chose small, easy-to-transport items, including a miniature pistol that had belonged to his grandmother and pieces from a Christmas village his father collected in pieces for decades.
The Hammonds already had a good idea of the value of the items they took to have appraised on “Roadshow,” and weren’t anticipating any of the happy shocks that sometime arise on the show.
Take what is perhaps the best-known “Roadshow” moment: in Tucson, Ariz., in 2001, a man brought in a blanket that had been given to his grandmother’s foster father by Kit Carson, the frontiersman who died in 1868.
Said appraiser Donald Ellis: “Did you notice when you showed this to me that I kind of stopped breathing a little bit?”
Ellis went on to explain that the simple brown, blue and white striped blanket was a rare, early example of Native American weaving. The blanket, made in the mid-1800s and in near-perfect condition, was created for a Navajo chief. Fewer than 50 survive, and the appraiser put its value at between $350,000 and $500,000.
The silk-like blanket later was acquired, for an undisclosed price, by the Detroit Institute of Arts.
On another occasion, a woman came to a taping in Raleigh, N.C., with a collection of jade that her father had purchased in China in the 1940s and ’50s. The appraiser put the set’s value at $1.07 million.
And then there was the gentleman who brought in Chinese cups carved from rhinoceros horn – and learned that the set he’d acquired in the 1970s dates to the 17th century and was worth up to $1.5 million.
For the Hammonds, a less-dramatic “Roadshow” moment works all right.
“Even though we didn’t get to say ‘Wow!’ it was an absolutely fabulous experience,” Mildred said. “We had just an awesome time.”
The couple – also faithful viewers of “Pawn Stars,” the “Roadshow” copycat that airs on the History Channel – say they’re eager to see the three episodes taped at the convention center in Myrtle Beach.
Those shows are slated to air sometime in 2013. Details may be found at www.pbs.org.

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