'How much is this worth?'
Portland resident Natalie Linn got her start as an expert basket appraiser 46 years ago when she was ripped off.
The California transplant was only trying to make her new Portland home cozier when she wandered into an antique shop, where she laid eyes upon a beautiful basket, advertised as an original Native American handmade basket at a steal: only five bucks.
Her gut knew something was off, though. She found out from another collector that Native American women didn't, in fact, make it — it was just a common raffia-style basket.
"I didn't know anything about baskets then. I was so mad that I had been taken," Linn says.
Many years later, Linn has appraised baskets worth tens of thousands of dollars on the famous "Antiques Roadshow" program, which is making its way to Portland for the first time since 2004. It was held here only once prior to that, in 1998. It will take place Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — although tickets for the event have "sold out" (they're actually free). The Portland taping won't air until sometime in 2018. The show, the most-watched PBS series and based out of Boston, airs regularly at 8 p.m. Mondays on Oregon Public Broadcasting.
A whopping 23,300 people applied for tickets to the Portland leg of the six-city tour, with a lucky pool of 6,000 who were selected at random. Portland had the most people apply for tickets out of any other city for the show's 22nd season (the all-time record belongs to Cleveland, where 35,000 people once signed up for tickets to the show).
Of the 6,000-person pool, show organizers expect to see around 5,000 people who can bring up to two items each, keeping appraisers busy for hours, eventually culminating in three one-hour episodes of the curiously hypnotic program. It also will repurpose unused footage for its sister show: "Junk in the Trunk."
So what can folks expect?
What's fun about "Antiques Roadshow" is that expectations often go out the window. Your great-grandma's old lamp could be worth thousands, or to the frustration of some, nothing at all.
During the 1998 visit to Portland, someone brought in a "Gone with the Wind" script that appraised for between $30,000-$50,000, as well as a few Mark Twain books between $35,000-$50,000.
In season 9, in 2004, an 1814 Lewis and Clark map was appraised for $45,000 retail.
Appraisals are conducted in three different contexts: auction, retail or insurance.
"When the maker is known, it does unbelievable things. It's like finding a painting, and finding out that it's a Picasso. The more you know about it, the more valuable it can become — especially if it's beautiful."
— Natalie Linn, Portland-based appraiser
"Antiques are a tricky business," says the show's producer, Marsha Bemko. "Sometimes the auction price can be half of the retail price — and sometimes it can be the same."
And, although everything will be appraised, not everything will get on TV.
Producers like Bemko are looking for the good stories of how people acquired special items.
Linn recalled one instance during a stop at "a city in the south" of what not to do.
"This woman comes in, you could see she tried to be dressed to the nines," Linn says. The woman was holding "this outstanding basket that I would've traded one of my children for. It was truly outstanding."
It was an apache olla, which is like a big woven vase.
"I thought to myself, 'Oh my god, here comes at least a $175,000 piece,'" Linn says. She proceeded to ask the woman basic questions — what she knew about it and how long she's owned it.
"Before I asked the second question, she reaches into her purse and takes out notes. That was a giveaway," Linn says. "If they know, they don't have to go into their purse and get notes."
It turned out that the piece had come from a dealer who wanted to get it on television, which helps boost the item's worth.
"That's a no-no," Linn says. "You have to own the piece."
The thing that highly valued items have in common is simple: They're rare. And, knowing the original artist helps.
"When the maker is known, it does unbelievable things," Linn says. "It's like finding a painting, and finding out that it's a Picasso. The more you know about it, the more valuable it can become — especially if it's beautiful."
Bemko adds that it's an opportunity to get questions answered that folks can't just find on the internet.
"What you need us for are the things you aren't sure about, and you can't really find it online. Our appraisers love that. You're coming into a room of geeks who love stuff," Bemko says. "You can try to stump them, but it won't be easy."
Certainly not easy for experts like Linn, who returned that incorrectly advertised basket 46 years ago.
"I took it back to the antique shop I bought it at, and they gave me my $5 back," Linn says. "And many years later, someone brought it to me to appraise. The same damn basket."