Eli5- How antiques appraisers (like the ones on Antiques Roadshow) know so much?


I was watching the show tonight and one of the appraisers mentioned that when online searches fail, that’s when they can come to appraisers to get more information. How do the appraisers know or obtain this information? How are they able to estimate prices and give such detailed descriptions of the history of an object? This has always mystified me.

In: 27

Keep in mind that they can do research and consult with other appraisers before going on TV. But they also have looked at thousands and thousands of objects and built up a lot of knowledge so that some things that look obscure to us are instantly recognizable to them.

That said, there are notorious examples of respected appraisers being wrong. Sometimes they are too confident. Other times they miss stuff.

There was an example on Antiques Roadshow where a silk tapestry was appraised as Chinese. Then at auction Korean bidders drove the price way up beyond the appraisal. Apparently the tapestry was not Chinese but Korean, done in a Chinese style, and as a Korean tapestry it was much rarer and more valuable. But the appraiser didn’t know that until the auction. So even the experts can learn things.

They learn.

Anyway, what you see on TV is misleading. Everything is planned, scripted and staged. The items they show aren’t picked at random. They have a number of experts specializing in different topics. The item is picked if the expert can talk about it. The expert then goes back and performs some research. What you see is the result of personal knowledge and research focused on that item. To the audience that process behind the scenes is invisible. There are 10 times more items they aren’t showing because the info is missing.

As for the monetary appraisal – there are auction houses that publish everything. Experts follow these auctions as well as online bidding and learn about latest prices on the market. Art dealership and appraisal is a profession.

Appraisers spend a lot of time not only reading up on a subject, but they also are tuned into the market, be it auctions, online sales, etc, which help them get a sense for the value of items in a particular niche market. Often appraisers don’t give an instant appraisal, but will examine the object closely and consult with their records and books to determine the legitimacy and value of an object.

TV appraisers are not real. Real appraisers have particular areas of expertise. When a TV show has one guy appraising antique cars, china, clothing, stamps, and rare books, he isn’t actually knowledgeable in all these areas. What is actually happening is they have a team of real appraisers each with their own expertise, who they consult. They then take the information from the real appraisers, and give it to the TV presenter, who acts out giving many different types of appraisal. Sometimes the show is staged to make it look like the appraiser is seeing the object for the first time, but in reality the objects were provided for appraisal days or weeks before filming.

They don’t.

I’m serious. The show LOOKS very ad-hoc, but it’s all VERY staged, and VERY scripted.

A positive side effect of TikTok is that it has made it more clear and obvious that so much of the media that we consume (TV in this case) is heavily scripted, staged, and edited.