Ceramics specialist Lars Tharp lectured a full house of Waikato Decorative and Fine Arts Society Members at Southwell School last week. Titled “Tales from the Antiques Roadshow: One thousand ways to say I’m sorry”, his lecture gave an up-close and personal view of some of the Antiques Roadshow celebrities. Around 16 of a team of 60 specialists are involved in any one show. The majority have been auctioneers and a couple are academics – though Lars pointed out that museum staff are expected to observe the protocol of not delivering valuations.
Antiques Roadshow visitors arrive with approximately 10 pieces each (often rattling around in a supermarket bag – we don’t break anything, but often the people bringing their objects do, said Lars). Around 3000 people queue to show their treasures to the experts, which means that the objects shown in an episode have been chosen from upwards of 25,000 items. Lars stressed that one of the critical factors driving the choice of an object for featuring on the show was the story behind it.
One story that made a big impression was that of a man who brought along two pots from Japan – quite simple, every day pots, with some unusual runs in the glaze. The man’s father had been sent ashore after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and souvenired the pots. Glaze melts at 1350 degrees. The runs in the glaze were brutal evidence of the temperatures reached that day at Hiroshima.
Another story was of a woman who brought along a teapot with an unusual glaze. The teapot had sat on top of the cupboard for many years in the house in which the woman was born. Lars suggested it might be worth £3000. The woman said that the value did not really matter, as she would never sell the item. “What if I told you £6000?” asked Lars. “Now you’re teasing me. But no, I will never sell the pot,” said the woman. Sometime later the teapot went to the auction, achieving £16,000. The woman used the money to put towards the purchase of the house in which she was born.”
Lars recommends that visitors to London spend some time at the Foundling Museum – the site of a building where mothers who could not afford to keep their babies left their little ones. They would attach a piece of fabric to their baby and take away a matching piece so that if their circumstances changed they could go and pick up their child. The people running the home would change the baby’s name, so that scrap of cloth was the only means of identifying their baby. It is a poignant history. Clearly, we need to put aside another day when we go to London to visit family.