The Most Valuable Items to Appear In Antique Roadshow History

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By: Kate Row | Published: Jan 10, 2023

Antiques Roadshow isn’t just for old folks. The show appeals to a broad demographic, with people of all ages tuning in to discover the secret value of seemingly mundane objects. It’s exciting to think that you could have something valuable lurking in your attic or basement. So, we watch with empathy (and perhaps a little envy) as other ordinary people like ourselves learn how much money they could make from their heirlooms.

 

Though there have been plenty of duds and lots of “fool’s gold” along the way, Antiques Roadshow has uncovered some items so valuable that their true worth will shock you. Indeed, these items are sometimes so valuable that they can transform the owner’s life. Read on to see if you have any of these treasures in your cupboards at home. 

A Special Rolex Watch

Most people are aware that Rolex watches are valuable. However, few people understand just how valuable some special models can be. One Antique Roadshow participant was blown away when he discovered how good of a deal he’d secured himself. This U.S. Air Force vet picked up a Rolex in Thailand in the 1970s.

 

 

 

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Explaining how he came by the watch, the veteran said, “most of the pilots that were flying those aircraft wore Rolex watches, and I was intrigued by them… but they were very expensive. I found this particular watch where I could afford it.”

The Owner’s Reaction

Back in the 70s, Rolex watches were luxury items, but they hadn’t yet become collector’s items. So, the man paid a decent chunk of change for his sparkly Rolex, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t afford. 

 

 

 

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Source: Inside Edition/ Youtube

Still, he knew what he had acquired was valuable, so he kept it safely tucked away in its box for 40 years. Occasionally, he would pull it out to check on it, but that was it. He wanted to keep this special possession safe. 

A Rare Paul Newman Model

The Antiques Roadshow appraiser could not believe he was really looking at this rare and special Rolex. It was one of the most incredible things to pop up on the show, and he quickly confirmed that it was a rare Paul Newman model. The owner had no idea it was so special. 

 

 

 

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Source: Inside Edition/ Youtube

Since the owner had kept it safely in its box all those years, it was in perfect condition. The man had even held onto the original documentation and receipt, which only added to the watch’s value. Can you guess how much it was worth? 

A Life-Changing Decision

Back in Thailand all those years ago, the man had paid $345.97 for the watch. At the time, this was his entire month’s salary, so it was a significant investment. Still, when he discovered how much the watch’s value had grown, he was (literally) floored. 

 

 

 

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In pristine condition, with all its paperwork, the watch could sell for anywhere from $500,000 to $700,000! If you already had some savings squared away, this watch could quite literally make you a millionaire. 

An Old Oil Painting

One woman showed up for an Antiques Roadshow episode with a large oil painting in tow. It had been commissioned by her family in the early 1900s and passed down through the generations. The current owner’s grandmother is the woman in the painting, and the artist, Robert Henri, was a friend of their family at the time. 

 

 

 

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In fact, Henri was such good friends with the woman in the painting that her granddaughter confirmed, “I don’t think she ever boiled a pot of water for tea.” Instead, the artist took care of her needs.  

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The Work of Robert Henri

The current owner knew Robert Henri was well-regarded, but she still didn’t realize just how valuable the painting had become. The last time she’d had it appraised was in the 1960s when it was handed down to her as part of an estate. 

 

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At the time, the appraiser didn’t think much of it. They told her, “it was not worth much more than Grandpa paid for it.” That was around $4,500. Since the woman loved this family heirloom so much, she decided she wouldn’t part ways with it for that amount of money. 

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How Much Was It Worth?

The sentimental value outweighed the 1960s price tag, but what about now? Had anything changed in the decades that spanned between that last appraisal and this new one? Since it was a family portrait, the woman wasn’t holding out much hope. After all, what museum would want a painting of her granny?

 

 

 

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As she explained on the show,  “No one likes all those Van Gogh paintings of his mailman since none of us are related to that guy.” As it turns out, this assumption was completely wrong. 

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The Unexpected Truth

It’s possible that the value skyrocketed after the 60s. However, it’s more likely that the appraiser the woman took the painting to back then simply didn’t know a masterpiece when he saw one. The painting was reappraised and given a startlingly high value. 

 

 

 

 

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This original Robert Henri masterpiece could sell for anywhere from $500,000 to $700,000. This just goes to show that you should always get a second opinion. And if that second opinion comes from Antiques Roadshow, you’re off to a good start! 

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1896 Portrait and Letter

This 1896 Frederic Remington portrait ruffled some feathers between the owner and appraiser when the episode aired in 2014. The appraiser explained, “I’ve never reprimanded a guest for manhandling a painting before. When you were pulling it out and that foam core was there…”

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Despite the fact that the owner did not know how to properly care for the painting, the others that had owned it in his family had taken great care of it so it was still in great condition.

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1896 Portrait and Letter Continued

The family members who had owned it had taken extremely good care of the art and had even kept the letter to the owner’s great-grandfather, who is pictured in the painting. 

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The appraiser placed an auction value of about $600,000 for the painting and letter combination. But, after the show aired, a new surprise added to the story that was very unexpected.

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1896 Portrait and Letter Continued

When the show aired, the director of the Remington Art Museum, Laura Foster, was interested enough to look back at the records. She found that the owner’s family had actually done a trade with the museum for the piece to come into their possession.

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The family handed over 2 of their own Remington pieces and the museum gave the family the art piece which appeared on the show. Apparently, there was some foul play involved.

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1896 Portrait and Letter Continued

Apparently, the 2 Remington paintings that the family had traded to the museums were not Remingtons at all! They were actually replicas of the famous artist’s work.

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The museum director explained that the family didn’t know they were fake at the time of the trade, “Everybody meant well… In 1938, the world was full of fake Remingtons. Remington has always been a great target for fakes and forgeries”.

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1896 Portrait and Letter Continued

The trade involving the fake Remingtons meant that the family actually got an unbelievable deal on the valuable painting brought to the Antique Roadshow. 

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The owner could walk away with about $600,000 due to the incredible condition of the painting as well as the letter that accompanied it.

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Alexander Calder Mobile

This fascinating find was one of the most surprising Antique Roadshow items for audiences everywhere because the artwork doesn’t look like anything very impressive.

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Unlike some of the other fancy artwork and valuable jewelry that has been appraised on the show, this piece looks like someone took some wire and attached colorful pieces of paper to the ends.

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Alexander Calder Mobile Continued

As it turns out, this item was one of the most valuable art pieces appraised on the show, which came as a shock to the owner as well as audiences everywhere. The piece was a work of art done by the artist, Alexander Calder.

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It had been given to the owner’s aunt and uncle by the artist himself at a cocktail party of all places! Apparently, it was a thank-you gift because the aunt had stitched one of Calder’s works onto a pillow.

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Alexander Calder Mobile Continued

Alexander Calder was so impressed by the work that he gave her this mobile as a thank-you for the pillow. Now, it might not look like much to a layman, but this mobile ended up being incredibly valuable.

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The appraiser gave a wide estimate for the value of the art; between $400,000 and $1,000,000. The owner was completely shocked and excited but immediately wondered which of her children’s rooms the mobile should go in.

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Jade Collection from the Qing Dynasty

In one of the most impressive Antiques Roadshow episodes which aired in 2009, a woman brought in a very impressive collection of jade. Her father had collected the jade items when he was stationed in China in the 1930s and 40s. 

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The collection was incredibly impressive and historically significant to the Qing Dynasty. The pieces in the collection date all the way back to the 1700s.

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Jade Collection from the Qing Dynasty Continued

This collection made Antiques Roadshow history because it was the very first item to be given a value of more than $1,000,000. The entire collection was valued to be between $710,000 and $1.07 million!

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The executive producer of the show even called this collection the “Great White Whale” as they had been hoping to get an item over the million-dollar mark since the start of the show. 

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Jade Collection from the Qing Dynasty Continued

However, there was a major twist in the story that reminds us not to count our chickens before they hatch. While the collection was valued at over a million, an item is only really worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

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Appraisals are simply educated estimates of what professionals think it might be worth. The collection itself only sold for about half of what the appraisers felt it was worth.

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Boston Red Stockings Collection

Anyone who has collected baseball cars would be thrilled to have a collection like this one that was appraised on a 2015 episode of the show. The collection had come into the family in 1871.

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Source: Antiques Roadshow PBS/ Youtube

The owner explained, “My great-great-grandmother had a boarding house in Boston, and she housed the Boston baseball team. Most of them had come from the Cincinnati Red Stockings and were among the first to be paid to play baseball”.

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Boston Red Stockings Collection Continued

That’s what made this collection so special. These were some of the first baseball cards from professional players ever! The letter that accompanied the cards had little handwritten notes and signatures from each of the players as well.

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These special additions really add to the value of an item. Many of the notes were comments about the food that her great-great-grandmother had cooked for them.

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Boston Red Stockings Collection Continued

Apparently, the owner had once been offered $5,000 for the collection. While that might sound like a nice chunk of change, that is nowhere near the true value of the collection. When she heard what it was really worth, the owner was extremely grateful she hadn’t sold the collection for $5,000.

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The appraiser called it “the greatest archive I have ever had at the roadshow”. She was even emotional as she choked back tears and told the owner that the collection of cards was worth $1,000,000!

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Rhinoceros Horn Cups

This item brought to the roadshow in an episode that aired in 2011 stirred a lot of controversy among audiences. This individual brought in a set of cups made from rhino horns.

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Since most rhino species are not endangered it is very frowned upon and often illegal to use their ivory horns. However, the intricately carved cups date all the way back to 1700 when it was widely acceptable to do so.

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Rhinoceros Horn Cups Continued

The owner was fascinated with the stunning cups and collected them throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He explained to the appraiser how he had come into contact with each of the cups in the collection.

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“This one that I bought in England was $500, and that took almost all the money I had with me to buy that one. So it was kind of a cheap trip the rest of the time I was there. This one I had to put two credit cards and some cash together to buy”.

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Rhinoceros Horn Cups Continued

He was so invested and fascinate by the handy work of the rhino cups that he traveled all over and continued to add to his collection. He even stated that he “would rather collect something like this than eat”.

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This collection was interesting in that the owner had collected each of the items himself rather than having it passed down through family members. 

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Rhinoceros Horn Cups Continued

As his collection grew, the value increased as well. He was stunned to hear the real value of his collection. He knew the value it had for him but couldn’t have imagined the monetary value.

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It was appraised to be worth between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000 at auction when it aired on the show. However, the collection was only actually sold for less than $400,000.

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Navajo Ute Blanket

This Navajo blanket was brought to the roadshow in Tucson, Arizona in 2001 and made Antiques Roadshow history. In fact, it’s one of the episodes that many people are familiar with even if they don’t typically watch the show.

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The owner of the blanket explained that he didn’t know very much about the blanket other than the fact that it was owned by Kit Carson and given to the foster father of his grandmother.

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Navajo Ute Blanket Continued

While the appraiser was interested in the connection to the famous American Frontiersman, Kit Carson, the owner had no proof of this so it could not add to the value of the appraisal. The owner did not know the value of the blanket until the appraiser said something surprising.

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He told the owner of the blanket, “When you showed this to me… I kind of stopped breathing a little bit”. He also called the blanket a “national treasurer”.

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Navajo Ute Blanket Continued

The appraiser asked the owner if he was a wealthy man to which the owner responded that he was not. The appraiser stumbled over his words. He stated, “Well, sir, um… I’m still a little nervous here, I have to tell you.”

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On a bad day, the blanket would be worth about $350,000 and on a good day it would be worth about half a million dollars”. Recently, new estimates have put the blanket between $1.5 million and $2 million. That’s one expensive blanket.

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