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THIS WEEK'S FEATURED STORIES

Antiques Roadshow: Uncle’s legacy becomes a ‘wow moment’ for Pawleys woman

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Mary asked her brother if he wanted the cigar box left to her by their uncle. “I did almost throw them away,” she said.

Her aunt told her they were baseball cards. When she opened the lid, she didn’t see anything that looked like baseball cards.

The first person to look below the surface of the tightly-packed cards was Grant Zahakjo, an appraiser from the state of Washington who is in his second season with “Antiques Roadshow.”

Mary took the box from her home in Pawleys Island to the Roadshow set in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on Saturday because a friend had tickets. “I had no idea what we were getting into,” Mary said.

Seven hours later, she walked out knowing the collection was worth $6,000 to $8,000. She’ll have to wait until early 2013 to find out if her discovery is part of the next season of the popular PBS series.

There were 650 cards, Zahakjo said. Some were politicians and Wild West figures. Some were cards of African wildlife. But one was Ty Cobb, which on its own is worth $500 to $1,000. The baseball cards were included in packs of Mecca cigarettes in the early 20th century.

“There’s John McGraw. Wow,” Zahakjo said, lingering over the image of the Hall of Fame player and manager.

The wow moments are what appraisers look for. Over 17,000 people applied for tickets to the Roadshow visit. There were 6,000 issued and each ticket holder was entitled to have two items appraised.

The producers have worked out that formula to gather 80 filmed segments, of which 50 will be broadcast when the show’s new season begins in January. Mary’s story is one of those filmed Saturday. Like all Roadshow guests, her last name is only known to the legal department.

“We’re very strict,” said Marsha Bemko, the executive producer.

That was news to Mary, who has never seen “Antiques Roadshow.” “I didn’t know it was a television thing,” she said.

She took the cigar box and some brooches that were said to belong to her great-grandmother, who died in 1898. The jewelry appraiser told her the brooches were exican and dated from the 1930s. “Here I think I have this heirloom,” Mary said.

Appraisers say most of the people who attend the Roadshow are looking for information as much as hidden riches.

“Some people want numbers. Others just want to tell their stories,” said Laura Crockett, an art appraiser from Asheville, N.C. “The purpose is to have a Roadshow experience.”

Craig Evan Small, a watch appraiser from Los Angeles, was a fan of the show before he became one of its appraisers five years ago. Letting people down gently is part of the job, he said.

Maureen, a Murrells Inlet resident, had two Swiss watches from the mid-19th century for Small to look at; one silver, the other gold. An appraiser once tried to tell her the gold watch was brass.

The bad news for Maureen was that at the time the watches were made the Swiss hadn’t earned the renown they enjoy today. “It’s not skilled watch-making,” Small said. “They looked important, but they weren’t.”

The good news was that the gold put the one watch in the $600 to $700 range.

Mary was still a little disappointed by the news about her brooches when she made her way to the sports memorabilia table. And she was puzzled when Zahakjo asked her to take a seat outside the Roadshow set without telling her what he thought about the collection of cards.

While Mary waited, Bemko made the rounds of the circular Roadshow set as appraisers made pitches to get different items on the air. Maise, 7, had a fire bucket that had a link to a Revolutionary War hero. Jeanette had two pieces of glass from a chandelier attached to a heart-shaped wire. She also had a letter from Ralph Roberts, an actor and friend of Marilyn Monroe, explaining how the glass was given to him when he helped Monroe move after her divorce to the playwright Arthur Miller.

“I love this thing,” Bemko said, holding the crystal that Monroe had made into a decoration. “It’s awesome.”

After each chat, Bemko dashed across the set, talking to production staff, weaving through a maze of equipment and the lines of guests waiting for appraisals. That eventually brought her to Mary, who showed her the box of cards, and was ready to get a valuation and go home.

Bemko asked her to wait.

She conferred with Zahajko, who was still counting the cards and adding up their value. “They’re extremely hard to find,” he told her. “I don’t think she ever took them out of the box.”

The number of cards is significant because the baseball cards came one to a pack. The other cards were included in Pullman bread. One per loaf. “For somebody to keep this many in this condition …,” Zahjako said, finally at a loss for words.

“This is amazing,” Bemko said. “He’s freaking out.”

Appraisals that are filmed are always subject to a second opinion, and a colleague quickly confirmed Zahako’s evaluation was correct.

It would be his first on-air appraisal, so Bemko discussed ways to capture the essence of Mary’s collection. “It’s always hard when you have a lot of stuff,” she explained.

Bemko let Mary know next. “We’re going to tape you,” she said.

“OK,” Mary said. She had arrived at 9 and it was already 11:30.

Jill Santopietro and her husband, Tom, also had a long wait as an appraiser pitched their historic documents to a producer. Jill is the director of the Georgetown County Museum and the board asked her to take a bill of sale for slaves and a letter signed by Francis Marion to the Roadshow.

“The manuscript appraiser reacted the same way my school kids do: dead silence,” Jill said. “These are beautiful documents.”

But despite the appraiser’s enthusiasm, the producer said the show’s policy requires that the people who are taped be the actual owners of the items. The documents are actually owned by the Georgetown County Historical Society.

“It was a really fun experience for us,” Jill said. “I’ve watched it for years. My father watched it religiously. I guess I caught the bug from him.”

Her real regret was not seeing the host, Mark Walberg.

Mary was escorted to the “green room” to await her turn in front of the camera. Though she had more hours of waiting ahead, she said she started to get excited when she found out the woman who did her makeup also did Jennifer Aniston’s makeup and works on the films of Nicholas Sparks novels shot around Wilmington, N.C.

While finally learning the value of her cigar box full of trading cards produced a “wow moment,” Mary said afterward that the Roadshow experience also gave her insight about her family.

Her uncle, who died at 96 three years ago, wasn’t old enough to have collected the cards in the first decade of the 1900s. But he had an older brother, born in 1899. “That might be why he held onto them,” Mary said. “It made sense.”

Not only held on, but put them in wrappers with the meticulous skill of the engineer he was in his career, and packed them into a cigar box.

And now “Antiques Roadshow” has another viewer, 10 million and one.

“I’m not much of a TV viewer,” Mary said, “but I’m definitely going to watch it.”

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