‘Junk from the Trunk,’ a last look at ‘Antiques Roadshow’ in Idaho

Covering the pilgrimage of collectors in town for “Antiques Roadshow” Saturday was a career highlight for me and for retired Ada County sheriff’s deputy Ron Lake.

Lake was hired by producers to inspect firearms as guests arrived at the Western Idaho Fairground’s Expo Idaho event site. He had a blast.

“All my life I’ve been around guns,” said Lake, a Vietnam veteran whose father was an avid hunter. Lake enjoys rubbing elbows with collectors, but Roadshow gave him gatekeeper authority that made his long day special.

“One of the cool things about this is I get to touch every one of them,” Lake said.

Lake’s job was ensuring guns were unloaded. He turned away two cap-and-ball rifles because they couldn’t be safely disarmed in short order. Every firearm entering the show was clipped with a zip-tie around the trigger as a signal to appraisers and others that the gun had been checked.

Lake’s favorite? A Savage North .36-caliber pistol issued by the Union Navy during the Civil War.

At 7 p.m., shortly after I filed my story, I heard from Hannah Auerbach, an employee of WGBH in Boston assigned to make sure I didn’t cause any trouble. Auerbach, a New Yorker and graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is working her first season on Roadshow and was a delightful handler.

“I’m sure it’s too late, but we just got a $300,000 painting,” Auerbach texted. “Let me know if you want to know details.”

Of course I wanted to know! I interrupted a dinner party to learn that the painting by Sanford Robinson Gifford was appraised at $300,000.  A member of the Hudson River School, Gifford painted grand, luminous landscapes of the Hudson River Valley, Europe and the Middle East.

The piece wheeled into the fairground on Saturday was an Italian scene; had the subject been in the United States the painting might be worth $750,000, said New York appraiser Betty Krulik. We were able to get the find — the priciest of the day — in Sunday’s paper among the highlights.

The painting reinforced the point made to me by the show’s brilliant executive producer, Marsha Bemko, and wise-cracking host, Mark L. Walberg: Region doesn’t have as much to do with the range of goodies as one might expect.

“We’re such a big melting pot and stuff has feet,” Bemko told me. “There really are surprises to be had.”

Said Walberg: “Certainly in Connecticut there’s more Revolutionary War furniture, but things and people travel. When we were in Hawaii, we saw Revolutionary War furniture and when we were in Connecticut, we saw Hawaiian quilts.”

Sure enough, one of the more important pieces in the show was a 1790 Chippendale desk owned by a family in Whitebird.

Still, Bemko expected to see excellent guns and other regional strengths.

One LDS treasure won attention from producers, an album of 19th-century family portraits that included the photo and elegant signature of Brigham Young, along with a photo of his first counselor, Heber Chase Kimball, one of the church’s original 12 apostles.

The book belongs to a lifelong friend of mine, an Idaho native named Sue Ann, who received it from her grandmother, who died at age 98. I’d warned her she might be late for our dinner party — she had a 3 p.m. entry time on her ticket — and I was thrilled that my  guess proved right. She was taped for the show’s Web-only edition and learned the album is worth $10,000 – $12,000. She was encouraged by appraiser Ken Sanders of Salt Lake City to scan the images and touch bases with LDS archivists who may help identify more of the portraits.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the taping was how order was maintained amid the chaos of 5,000 people with 10,000 items milling about on a TV set. The Idaho Public TV volunteers were vital to directing traffic, and, in its 18th season, Roadshow knows the drill.

The guests were buoyant just to be there, including a young Idaho Falls family I met waiting in the toys or militaria line (I can’t recall which).

Teresa and Jared, scientists at the Idaho National Lab, had their 2-year-old son, Lane, with them, a perfect angel. After 90 minutes in lines, Lane patiently sucked on chocolates and played with a large Buddy L truck the couple figured might be worth $200. After mom wiped chocolate off his face, Lane carefully reused the baby wipe to clean the toy. The couple also had a Civil War sword and rifle.

I spoke with Teresa Monday. She said the best news came on the truck, appraised at $400. Still better, the family learned the toy originally had a seat, suitable for a 2-year-old. “We’re thinking of doing some restoration so he can ride it,” Teresa said.

Three hour-long episodes from the Idaho taping will run sometime between January and June of next year. Other material will appear in subsequent special episodes called, “Junk from the Trunk.” I can’t wait to see how everything looks after editing, but I know this much: Gem State collectors helped put on a really good show.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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