The Roadshow More Traveled, Pt. IV: Attitude is Nothing, and Neither is Your Damn Book...

I suppose that I had seen glass fire extinguishers before, but I had never really given them pause for thought. But there they were, the fourth of five items on the list of things that the Antiques Roadshow does not appraise at their events. It just seemed such an odd, specific thing to be on a list comprised otherwise of coins, currency, stamps or vehicles. I later asked our Roadshow "in," Rod, exactly why one cannot bring, assuming one is amongst that surely limited class of collectors, a glass fire extinguisher, and his answer was pretty definite. Yes, it probably isn't a good idea to bring in an antique, fragile item filled with potent and highly combustible chemicals into a crowded convention center.

But why not my stamp collection? Rod's answer was the problem of keeping qualified experts at each show, but I also proffered up my take on it, which he agreed might be a good reason too. Go to even a relatively small town and you can find stamp and coin shops readily available. There seems to be no shortage of places at which one can get a stamp collection appraised. It's much harder to find someone who can take a qualified glance at that ancient portrait of a grinning fisherman that has been handed down in your family for innumerable generations. And so they keep the stamp and coin people to the strip mall shops, and offer up the Roadshow services to everyone else that thinks they might strike gold.

Which is something I knew that I would never do, given what I was bringing to the show in lieu of being able to bring in my uncle Sam's stamp book. I had to scramble, and it was only the day before that I finally decided on bringing my precious volume of The King in Yellow and that old 8mm camera. The point for me wasn't to learn anything much at all. The point was that each ticketholder is told from the onset they must bring two items to the event. Assuredly, I have a great many things that could have been easily brought for appraisal. My problem is that I know what most of them are worth... or not worth. I have an Avengers #1 from 1963 that my pal Tony gave me as a present. I have 1950s Topps baseball cards once owned by my father with the likes of Mantle, Aaron, Williams, Clemente, Mays, Snider and Maris in their ranks. In fact, I have a million baseball cards and 12,000 comics, many of them a certain value, and that is exactly why I couldn't bring them to the show. Because I already have a fair idea of their worth.

The stamp book was different, but now I couldn't bring it. And so my focus for the show was just on enjoying the experience, studying how they film the show, and taking part in a unique cultural event. I already had a fair idea of what my Chambers book went for in the market, and I knew the camera was merely to carry about something old and interesting, as it was of little worth. And compared to the jewelry line, which seemed long until one looked at the painting line, which itself could wrap around the entire jewelry line about a dozen times over, my waits amounted to nothing. The Science and Technology line, for the camera, held but a single person. The Books table, with three appraisers chewing through the inferior texts like the bookworms they really were, only held four visitors when I strode up to it. If I had gone to the show by myself, once I made it inside the place, I would have been done in ten minutes.

With the camera taken care of already and my brief wait in the Books line ending, I could learn what I really wanted to know: how to take care of The King in Yellow. With a home full of old "Oz" books and so many other collections, the drive since I gathered all of my belongings once more in a single central location has been on finally taking care of everything properly. That means new boxes and bags for the entire comic collection, a thorough listing of every single baseball card, and the cataloging and proper storing of my full library. Much of this has already been put into play to varying degrees, but I have never known what to do with my old books, especially since the change in climate when I moved from Alaska to the far hotter and drier Southern California air.

It's hard to ignore the slightly Dahmer-esque vibe of the appraiser with whom I became, through sheer luck of the draw, acquainted. Admittedly, the guy sort of put me on edge from the beginning, and I instantly went on the defensive. (More on this in a second.) But he's a smart one, and he had me sized up from the very second that I handed him The King in Yellow. He surmised immediately that only someone reasonably familiar with this book would have taken the time to bring it, outside of a couple of boxes or a giant stack of other antique books, to this show. Instead of hitting me with a "What you have here is..." type of statement, he looked into my eyes and said, "Tell me what you know." Which I did: the Sam lead in, the Lovecraft discovery, the eventual readings, the obsession, and my knowledge of what it was trading for over the net. Upon telling him that very good copies of the same vintage were currently being offered for between $1000-1250 on some out-of-print book sites, he sniffed and said, "Oh, I was under the impression that these usually went for around $300 or so."

It's only natural that I wanted to hear him say, as most people at these events wish, that my particular copy was a true treasure that would bring me unfathomable riches and would allow me to retire and purchase a yacht. This was the furthest thing from my mind, but there was that moment as I unreeled my tale of legendary discovery, probably much like a thousand other tales he has heard from eager book holders, when I fervently hoped he would find something unique about my copy, like a hidden mark that revealed it as the very first copy in the run or something else equally ridiculous.

Instead, he chose to do his job and pick apart my copy, pointing out the wear along the top edge which he declared would mark it down considerably, and also the trio of wormholes along the spine edge of the back cover (which I had initially pointed to him). He did state that my copy was in good to very good condition, but didn't close with a dollar amount. I didn't want him to anyway, and he probably sensed this. And then I asked him about caring for the book, and he looked at what I had done -- wrapping it in a mylar comic bag -- and said I probably couldn't do much more for it than taking one of these bags and cutting a cover for it in which to encase it, and keeping it as cool as possible. Easy to do where once I lived; impossible to do now. Maybe I just need to re-rent my old apartment on Tudor Road and keep my library up in Anchorage.

And that was it. He barely glanced at the Oz book I brought, and for good reason. It was tattered beyond belief, but I only wanted him to put a date on it. And here's where I was struck with this notion: that the bulk of people here are expecting a price. And most of them are also expecting that price to be a miracle. And that these guys, these appraisers, who don't get paid to be at the Roadshow, but merely get publicity for their own businesses, must -- they must! -- get tired of these expectations. But they also probably get tired of the back-pedalers too: those people who hear what their junk is really worth, and then insist that all they really wanted to know what it was worth, and then pretend they had no intentions at all of selling their items if they had turned out to be incredibly high in value.

Myself, I also announced this very ideal to my friendly appraiser. But in my case, the statement was undeniably true. Maybe I would sell the stamp book, and maybe I would, were it worth more than a dime, sell the Oz book too. But there is no way I will ever sell my copy of The King in Yellow, and not just because it is inscribed to a remote member of my family in the 19th century. It almost seems as if I was meant to have that book, and also meant to include it in the string of events that led me to even gain the awareness that I owned such a book.

Back at the Roadshow, the ladies made sport of mocking me as a know-it-all, because not only did I have to show off what I knew -- "He asked me to tell him!" I insisted, to a slew of girlie giggles -- but because I bristled at his even more knowledgeable response, arguing his every point. Oh well... I can't help that. It's the way I am built.

And after my slightly depressing encounter, a stand in line for the Prints table (which lasted for about an hour) allowed me the time to reflect and center myself. Since the line ran past the back of the filming area, I took in the television production itself, watching the director and seeing how they used the cameras in concert with one another, and seeing how they prepared to film the next setup on one of the three stage areas. We were also amazed at how people cutting through our line also seemed to do so exactly where we were standing, no matter where we were. The hour elapsed (in retrospect) far quicker than I would have liked for my purpose of studying the filming, but soon enough, all of us slightly demoted in our feelings about our respective treasures, we departed the Antiques Roadshow for good.

Of course, I would do the whole thing again, but next time, I am going to play the bumpkin, and pretend not to know a goddamn thing about nuthin'.

Now, where can I find me one of them there glass fire extinguishers?


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