From trash to treasure, the experts tell us what it’s worth

Skinner appraisers were on hand for the Martha's Vineyard Museum's "What's it worth" evening Friday night. From left: Kerry Shrives, Skinner VP, Karen Keane, CEO, Sarah Bernatas, MV Museum curatorial intern, guests Sherman Goldstein of West Tisbury and Stephen Chapman of Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Michelle Gross

A vintage map and porcelain teapot, a mysterious serpent-shaped object, and an unmarked collapsible gold box were just a few of the many items that graced the living room table of Julie Flanders’s Chilmark home Friday night.

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum hosted the third annual “what’s it worth” event, also known as a scaled down version of an antiques roadshow.

“People bring in items that were inherited or that they bought at a yard sale on the Island,” Katie Fuller, marketing and events manager for the museum, told The Times. “It’s funny to see. Someone will say ‘oh we have this item’ and a lot of times another person will know the family or the history of where it came from. It’s very Vineyard.”

For the uninitiated, an antiques roadshow can be somewhat overwhelming. Part history lesson, part guessing game, art historians, specialists, and appraisers determine the value of each object based on the make, model, history, and design.

Many of the treasures and personal trinkets people brought on Friday held sentimental value — some purchased randomly, some long-forgotten in the attic of a distant relative. One object was taken off of the bathroom wall. While each antique varied in size and shape, each had one thing in common — a story to tell.

Karen Keane, CEO of Skinner Inc., of PBS “Antiques Roadshow” fame, was one of four Skinner appraisers on hand Friday night.

“We love what we do because we really like looking at stuff and examining the aesthetic quality of an object,” Ms. Keane told The Times. “The rarity and its historical context help us determine why it’s important. Whether you believe it or not, objects do have a story to tell.”

At a cost of $50 per person, the MV Museum invited guests to bring up to three items including a piece of fine art, furniture, ceramics, glassware and the like. Items that were not accepted included coins, stamps, jewelry and musical instruments.

Around 5pm, guests began to arrive. Asked to place their objects on the table, one by one the experts looked them over and evaluated based only on what they could see, and in some cases hold and touch in front of them. After thirty minutes, the guests, around 15, then moved into the living room for the show.

One by one, an item was brought into the room and the appraiser would ask it’s owner for the “story” behind it. Where it was bought, or found or from whom it was inherited.

Johna McVey, the owner of an intricately painted porcelain teapot, shared her story with the group.

“My grandmother passed away about 25 years ago, and my sister and I were allowed to go in and pick a piece from her collection. That was my choice,” Ms. McVey said.

A handwritten note inside the teapot written by Ms. McVey’s grandmother was the real treasure.

“The china was made in Japan, before the turn of the present [20th] century. It was made to imitate a certain issue of European enameled porcelain. Value $85,” the note read.

From there, Ms. Keane and her team of appraisers began their valuation.

“This is something that would not have been used in a Japanese market, it was intended for the West,” Ms. Keane said. The appraisers estimated the teapot between $100-$150.

The lesson this evening was that collecting antiques is a subjective art that more often than not turns out to be a risky, oftentimes disappointing venture.

A hand painted map, as it turned out, dated back to the 1930s by an artist local to New England. Despite its age, the map is a decorative piece whose value fell somewhere between $250-$300. A serpent object? Appraisers guessed it was a well-loved letter opener that had since dulled over the years along with it’s value.

“People really come to find the stories of these objects,” Ms. Keane told The Times. “It’s really just stuff. And the monetary value is interesting when it’s high but when it’s not so high, it’s what the object tells us about our culture and the past and how we lived as a culture to how we’ve grown that becomes important.”