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Behind the Scenes of Winterthur’s ‘Antiques Roadshow’ Episodes

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Antiques Roadshow appraiser Kevin Zavian, right, was among the dozens of experts on hand for the show’s filming at Winterthur./Photo by Katherine Nelson Hall for WGBH © WGBH 2019

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As I handed my grandmother’s aquamarine ring to Antiques Roadshow jewelry appraiser Kevin Zavian, I wondered what he could tell me that I didn’t already know. Not that it mattered, I was just excited to participate in the show’s first filming in Delaware at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library.

My grandmother had promised the ring to me since I was a little girl because aquamarine is my birthstone. The ring had a large central stone, a rectangular aquamarine that was between slate- and sky-blue in color, bordered by tiny diamonds.

Zavian passed the ring back to me with a wry smile that hinted I was in for a surprise. It turns out the beautiful blue stone isn’t an aquamarine at all—it’s a blue topaz.

What? A blue topaz? Huh.

I wasn’t the only one seeking more information about a family artifact. More than 3,200 eager attendees had items appraised at the June 18 event, the last stop on the show’s five-state tour at distinctive historic properties: Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona; McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas; Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California; and Bonanzaville in Fargo, North Dakota.

When Antiques Roadshow took over Winterthur, it brought in 70 appraisers specializing in 23 categories from jewelry to firearms, 50 crew members and 125 volunteers.

“It takes a village to run a TV show,” says Marsha Bemko, the show’s executive producer.

They typically film at convention centers that can accommodate a large crew, but Winterthur made the cut when the producers decided to feature unique historic locations.

Most filming took place outside in the courtyard, attendees milling around in the summer heat, talking with appraisers, watching other appraisals and waiting in line to talk about their experience for the segment that runs at the end of each episode.

A camera’s eye view of the action./Photo by Meredith Nierman for WGBH © WGBH 2019

Visitors toted their items around in boxes, bags or rolling carts. One man, an antiques collector and former Antiques Roadshow volunteer named James (no last names, as the Antiques Roadshow folks guard the privacy of their attendees), found a more inventive way: He transported an old jug safely bundled in a baby carrier.

Another attendee, Tom, and his 8-year-old grandson, Michael, took turns carrying a little chair Michael bought for $2.50. “Michael’s learning how to bargain,” Tom said, noting how antiquing has become their shared hobby—and possibly a lucrative one. An appraiser estimated the chair’s worth around $100.

Most people brought two items, which meant more than 6,000 appraisals were conducted in one day. Of those, about 150 were captured on film.

A work by a quintessential Delaware artist arguably generated the most buzz when an attendee brought an illustration by Wilmington painter and illustrator Frank E. Schoonover for the 1923 book Privateers of ’76. The owner’s mother saved $5 a week for two years to buy his father the illustration as a gift, according to Antiques Roadshow spokesperson Demee Gambulos. An appraiser valued the illustration at $125,000, she said.

Will the Schoonover illustration be featured in one of the three Delaware episodes? Not all of the appraisals that are filmed make the final cut, of course. The appraisers decide which items are worthy, and a shockingly high or low valuation isn’t enough—to be good television, an item needs a really good story, said Bemko.

I pulled out my ring to look at it again and smiled as I imagined my grandmother’s reaction to the blue topaz revelation.

She always told me an old boyfriend gave her the ring, and she continued to wear it after marrying my grandfather. The Grammy I remember would simply refuse to believe the stone was anything but an aquamarine.

I’m more pragmatic. I don’t have an aquamarine ring, but I do have an even better story.

The Winterthur event will air in three episodes on Jan. 6, 13 and 20 on WHYY locally and on public television channels across the U.S.

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