In late winter we entered the PBS Antiques Roadshow lottery to gain two passes to the show in August. We spent several months anticipating our win and deciding what to bring. The trouble is, how do you choose when everything in your small lake house is an heirloom, a collectable, or at the very least valuable?
Contemplating about what was truly valuable forced us to look at what wasn’t: almost everything. I also saw this as an opportunity to clean the house. Whenever I try to throw anything away a family member accosts me.
“What are you doing?” my husband gasped as I tossed old programs from Broadway shows into the recycling box. “Those are valuable.”
“Valuable?” I questioned as I flipped through the stack of playbills from bygone performances like Roza, the 1987 show with Georgia Brown that closed practically the day before it opened.
“What do you think you’re going to get for these?” I asked. But the better question was when are we going to bother to try to sell them, because we certainly were never going to look at them again. I grabbed my laptop and went straight to eBay, typing “Playbill” in the search box.
Smugly, I said, “You can buy playbills by the lot or singles for around a dollar.”
“A dollar?” Rob exclaimed. “Let me see that.”
It turns out there are 24,916 results for playbills currently listed on eBay. They range in price from 99 cents to $35.00. The high-end playbills are covered in autographs from famous casts but none of them are selling. They don’t even have bids on them. Apparently everyone wants to unload his or her old programs. This made me question the full-page newspaper ad for the premier of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, complete with cast signatures. But at least Rob hangs this up in his darkroom and appreciates it. Things in storage tend to stay in storage.
We have a bin in the living room filled with old periodicals that we need for some reason. I recently cleaned it out. It included old New York Times magazines and the Time magazine cover with Shepard Fairey’s portrait of Obama, which turns out is worth around five dollars in mint condition. Our copy was bent and had creased corners.
We have a china cabinet that is stuffed with beautiful figurines and miniature shoes that we culled from a lifetime of junk-collecting by Rob’s parents. A few pieces may sell for thirty or forty dollars, but not many.
We recently headed up to Beacon, New York to check out the antique scene along Main Street. It was more like a smattering of musty, disorganized junk shops sandwiched between a few sparsely occupied restaurants. The best part of looking at someone else’s junk is that it helps you consider your own.
“Oh, look at this,” Rob said. “My grandfather had one just like it.” He stared at a chrome ashtray sporting two long beaked birds where the smoker sticks his burning cigarette. “It must be worth a lot.” He flipped it over and read. “Six dollars.” He shrugged and placed the dish down. “His was in better condition.”
When my mother and her husband were moving from a four-bedroom house into a condominium they had to get rid of some beautiful pieces of furniture that wouldn’t fit in the apartment. A small wooden rocker with a rush cane seat sat off to the side. I seized it and spent a lot of money shipping it to New York. The chair is pretty but small and armless and nobody ever sits in it. It moved from room to room in our house and always seemed to be in the way. My son has a large apartment and I offered him the chair in lieu of getting rid of it.
“No, I don’t want it,” he said.
“But it’s an antique.”
“What’s the provenance?” As a budding historian he always wants to know the origins.
I called my mother and she remembered buying the chair in Virginia early in my parent’s marriage.
“You bought it new?”
“Oh sure. It was a common chair, they made a lot of those.”
So I am faced with these dilemmas: continue to stub my toe on the rocker rungs, donate the chair or lie to my son.
“It’s been in our family for generations.”
“How many?” he asked.
He paused. “Including you?”
“Yes,” I demurred.
Now if the chair belonged to my husband’s family I’d have no problem setting it out curbside.