What are your memories worth?


Unless you have been living under a rock, inside a cave in Outer Mongolia for the last 15 years, you at least know about the amazing success of WGBH’s Antiques Road Show on PBS. Rhode Island PBS is hoping that its viewers will join with them as they do an antiques show that’s slightly different.

Instead of applying for free tickets and then waiting to see if you luck out in the random drawing, you buy a ticket and bring it, and your treasure, to the Crowne Plaza in Warwick on Feb. 18. The ticket gets you into the event and you and your artifact some face time with a certified appraiser.

Rhode Island PBS said this is the first event of its kind for the station – and a first-in-the-nation event for ASA accredited appraisers. The Rhode Island PBS Antiques Discovery & Appraisal Show provides an opportunity for people all over New England to bring objects of unknown or uncertain value for a written appraisal. Those two distinguish the Appraisal Show from other antiques events in the region. It will cost an attendee $65 per item to get an appraisal and all of the money goes to the station.

Steve Fusco, of Estates Unlimited in Cranston, is the local sponsor for the event and admits he has an ulterior motive, but it is not to get people to bring him things he can buy low and sell high.

“There is no doubt that it is a public relations thing for me and the other appraisers but it is also educational,” said Fusco, who has been a dealer and auctioneer of antiques since his teens. “There will be absolutely no buying and selling at the event.”

Fusco, who started working with his father, who was also an auctioneer, said he takes the long view when it comes to the antiques business and knows that he and the industry in general will do better in business by making customers and sellers better at choosing the right person to go to.

“There is virtually no one out there who won’t have to deal with an estate at some time, whether it’s their parents or aunts or any other relatives that they survive,” said Fusco. “The more they know about what makes someone an expert on antiques, the more they will be seek out people like me and other certified appraisers.”

Fusco said one of his major complaints about shows like Pawn Stars, and American Pickers in particular, is that they are highly edited and that they often give people false notions about the value of things they have kicking around their attics and basements. They have something that looks old or resembles something they’ve seen on TV and think they have a treasure. On Friday, Fusco explained how he got back from an appraisal in West Greenwich sooner than expected.

“It was just old furniture,” he said. “If you know what you are looking for, all you have to do is take a quick look around to see if it’s stuff you’re interested in.”

But Fusco wasn’t complaining. He said it’s much better for him and for you to have someone who knows the subject tell you what you have is old furniture than to just assume it’s used furniture and sell it for fractions of what worth. Most antique dealers relish the opportunity to get a first look at an estate’s content and that’s when a seller needs an expert they can trust. Fusco is not the only professional who knows the ethics you see on Pawn and Pickers are not always those of the person who is appraising your things.

“Another thing they don’t show on TV is when a picker buys something from someone at a ridiculously low price and turns around and sells it to someone else for a big profit,” said Fusco. “It’s very easy for a dealer to take advantage of a seller.”

Fusco and other professionals agree that getting a reputation for taking advantage of sellers eventually gets “ethically challenged” dealers out of the business. A certified appraiser or dealer would not last long with a reputation for questionable practices.

“I have been around for a long time and now people come to me, because they know I’m going to do my best for them,” he said. “We work on commission, so it just makes sense for me to get the best price. It makes sense for the buyer to get the best price, so you will see people getting something for less than its worth sometimes and I don’t always put reserves on items; but there is no way I would allow someone to pay $500 for something I know is worth at least $10,000.”

To get an idea of the sort of things that Fusco comes across on a regular basis, visit www.estatesunltd.com. Get an early look at the lots he is auctioning on Jan. 28 at 6 p.m., including an original plaque by Picasso and two artistically ho-hum but decidedly rare original watercolors by Adolf Hitler (Yes, that Adolf Hitler) and one very rare and very beautiful oil painting by American master George Henry Hall (1825-1913), which is expected to grab a six-figure price.

Beyond the money, Fusco says there is the chance to savor treasures that you may not otherwise encounter and that, as they say, is priceless.

“I do this because I love this business,” said Fusco, “This is a passion.”

Richard Conti of Conti Appraisal Service in Attleboro, is one of the appraisers participating in the Appraisal Show. He has a lot of experience organizing charity auctions but he also has a lot of experience as an appraiser in Rhode Island.
“Rhode Island is literally a treasure trove of original works of art and furnishings created by masters of their craft,” said Conti in a press release. He tells of the estate of a man’s elderly aunt:

“I walked into the home and saw a painting on the dining room wall over the buffet. ‘That's been hanging there since I was a boy,’ the 50-something year old client told me. The painting was an original oil on canvas signed by Guy Wiggins. It was dusty, but worth between $35,000 and $40,000.”

Needless to say, Conti's client was pleased.

“I see this all the time. A piece of furniture or a painting that has been part of everyday family life – and virtually ignored for decades – is actually a valuable antique, hidden in plain sight.”

What Rhode Islanders should be aware of is the esteem for ‘costume jewelry’ that has grown steadily since Rhode Island ceased to be a major provider of the product in its prime. Pieces by Monet, Coro and Trifari demonstrate craft and artistry that has appreciated over time and have become collector's items.

“Masterful pieces created in Rhode Island over the centuries can be found all over the world,” Conti said, “but there are still many originals right here in New England. Some objects never left, while others have made their way back home.”
If appraisers determine an item really is a treasure, the owners could see their story told on television. Select appraisals will be filmed in the manner of Antiques Roadshow for airing on Rhode Island PBS.

Throughout the day, while folks are in line for their written appraisals, Conti and Fusco and the other experts will occasionally mingle in the crowd on the lookout for treasures. Producer and host Brian Scott-Smith and the WSBE camera crew will be there to film the formal appraisal to capture the moments that will air on WSBE. All appraisers are volunteering their time and expertise and all ticket proceeds benefit WSBE Rhode Island PBS. Firearms or other hazardous materials are not allowed.

The Rhode Island PBS Antiques Discovery & Appraisal Show will be held at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick on Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. One $65 ticket permits one written appraisal for one item, and admits one guest (two people). There is a choice of three admission times: 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets at the door are sold on a first come first served basis. For more information, visit www.ripbs.org/antiques


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