Will items collect dust or money?

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Robert Friedman

Kathryn Greshem and her husband display the tea set that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest brother.

The matching teapot and sugar bowl set owned by Kathryn Greshem of Ellicott City happened to once belong to the Baltimore wife of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest brother, Jerome.

The wife, who was a flamboyant beauty named Betsy Patterson, gave the set to a family of newly freed slaves, who passed it on to Greshem’s great-grandmother, Kathryn Smith, who had provided a home for the former slaves. Smith then gave the set to her daughter, who kept passing it down.

Meanwhile, back in the First French Empire, Napoleon didn’t like his youngest brother marrying an American. After Pope Pius VII refused Napoleon’s request to annul the marriage, big brother did it himself. He refused to allow the pregnant Betsy of Baltimore to accompany her husband on his return to France. The couple never got together again.

All very interesting, said appraiser Bill Shaeffer of Shaeffer’s Antiques, of Glyndon, Md., who put the worth of the tea set at about $350. Unfortunately, the item itself wasn’t considered intriguing or valuable enough to be filmed, together with its owner, for the upcoming sixth season of the TV show “Chesapeake Collectibles.”

Vying for a spot

Mimi Arsenault of Ellicott City was a bit disappointed that the vintage toy cowboy she hoped would make it onto the next season of MPT’s “Chesapeake Collectibles” show — a local version of PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow” — was “not the gold mine I thought it might be.” Appraiser Mike Stanton of Hampton House Auctions said the toy, made in Japan in the1950s, was worth about $150.
Photo courtesy Maryland Public TV / Larry Canner Photography

In August, about 1,000 area residents flocked to the Turf Valley conference center in Ellicott City — the site of two full days of taping for what will be edited into 13 half-hour episodes of Maryland Public Television’s (MPT) highly popular spinoff of the national “Antiques Roadshow” television show. “Chesapeake Collectibles” explores the region’s history through its antiques and treasures.

Those hopeful of a TV spot, with what they deemed their valuable heirlooms, were from all over the MPT viewing area, which includes Maryland and Washington, D.C., as well as parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, said Fran Minakowski, who works at the public television station.

Some 1,300 items were appraised during the weekend, she said. This was the second year that Turf Valley hosted the taping. The previous programs were produced in the MPT studios in Owings Mills.

During the recent event, the joint was jumping, to say the least.

Hundreds of collectors were seated in rows and rows of benches in an outside room, waiting to be ushered into the even larger room where 22 appraisers contemplated, often with the aid of computers, the value of items brought before them by the collectors lined up in front of their tables. Meanwhile, producers, assistant producers, cameramen and volunteers roamed the room.

The appraisers sat behind tables categorized for, among other objects, Books & Manuscripts, Black Americana, Drawings and Paintings, Firearms and Swords (but only arms manufactured before 1900, and definitely unloaded), Furniture & Decoratives, Jewelry & Watches, Porcelain & Pottery & Glass, Rugs & Textiles, and Toys & Amusements.

For the filming, a set decorated like an antiques shop was erected in the large room. The chosen, who were lightly made up, were then taped there, along with their valuables and the appraiser.

In another section of the room, public television host Rhea Feiken was taping the introduction to the 2016 Chesapeake Collectibles season, which will get underway in January.

The show broadcasts on Thursdays at 8 p.m., repeating on Friday at 1:30 a.m., Saturday at 10 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m.

Rings and things

Donna Will of Mount Hebron in Ellicott City held up for view the 18 karat gold snake ring with what seemed to be an in-set diamond, passed down to her from her father, who got it from his father, who bought it at auction.

The ring, Will said, was from around 1900, when snake rings were the rage, ever since Albert gave one to Queen Victoria for their engagement. The Will family’s particular snake ring — four tiny markings on the underside revealed it was manufactured in Carlisle, England in 1907 — was valued at $1,300.

“I thought it would be worth a little more,” said Will, noting that she has seen other snake rings selling on the Internet for $3,000. But the appraiser found that the original stone set in the ring had been replaced sometime in the 1950s.

Where does the ring go now? “Back in the jewelry box,” Will said. “I can’t wear it. It’s made for a man; it’s too big for me.”

Lorraine and Bill Tropf of Fulton learned that a porcelain vase they brought for appraisal was worth “double what we paid for it.” It was bought, said the Tropfs, at a garage sale for $1.

The Tropfs had other items that they expected would be worth a lot more. They displayed two flower watercolors by Jane Whipple Green at the Drawings & Paintings table. The painter’s works, garage sale finds for $10, were appraised at $150 each.

Stumping an appraiser

Bill and Lorraine Tropf stumped an appraiser with this silk textile portrait of a weeping Madonna.

One more item of the Tropfs’ raised eyebrows, but baffled Rugs & Textiles appraiser Jeannie Blassingham of Hampton House Auctions. Both the appraiser (and the computer) “never saw anything like it,” said Lorraine Tropf of the silk textile portrait of the weeping Madonna she received from her grandfather.

“It was made of one continuous thread of silk, but the appraiser couldn’t locate any further information about such an item on the Internet,” she said.

Ami Stefhon of Columbia brought for appraisal a ship’s throttle (also known as a telegraph) — a device that informs the engine room at what speed to set the vessel. Her friend, Mike Marsh, rolled the item in on a dolly.

“You’re definitely going to get on the show with that,” some of the program’s staff told Stefhon, she said. But, alas, the “Chesapeake Collectibles” powers-that-be decided that the item, which stood some four feet tall and may have gone over the 50-lb. weight limit for the TV program, would not make it for a taping. Its value was put at $700 to $1,200.

Besides meeting “very interesting people with very interesting items,” Stefhon said there was one other consolation. “When Rhea Feiken was being taped, a producer saw Mike wheeling the throttle and asked him to move back and forth behind Miss Feiken so it, and he, would be in the background. At least Mike got on TV,” she said. 

What would she now do with the bulky item, which came from a collection of nautical pieces owned by her late stepfather?

“I’ll keep it in the living room as a conversation piece,” she said.

If any item brought to the MPT event had been chosen to be taped for a future show, MPT would not have revealed the name or location of the owners for security and privacy reasons, said Susanne Stahley, the show’s producer. The Howard County residents interviewed for this article gave permission for their names to be used.