I was having a discussion today with a lady at the church where I play bass about Antiques Roadshow. I think someone needs to come up with the Anti-Antiques Roadshow, a show where people bring things in to be appraised, in hopes of being told they have some horrendously rare and valuable item, only to find out it’s utter crap, worth nothing.
Sometimes I’ll get sucked into watching the show, because I’ve always held an interest in old things, but it only makes me wonder what the big appeal of antiquities is. How can any desk be worth $100,000? It’s a desk, for pete’s sake. The exorbitant prices for old, rare things has only one source: rich people who can outbid everyone else.
When you get right down to it, antiques are only valuable because there’s a certain magic to any item that survives a series of decades (or centuries) intact. There’s an even greater magic if the item is rare and beautiful, but overall the magic of an antique is, at its heart, pure novelty. It’s a novelty that a particular item was lucky enough to withstand the ravages of time and remain in good condition. What that item gives us is the closest opportunity we’ll ever have to experience time travel. So perhaps the people who pay vast sums of money for antiques are really obssessed with time travel.
As someone who freely admits to being fascinated by time travel, I certainly understand the appeal of an antique from that perspective. I also enjoy pondering the stories that a particular item accrues over its lifetime, stories it will never tell. The movie The Red Violin is a great example of why an item gains value with age. I can’t imagine paying huge amounts of cash for that novelty magic, though. I guess it’s all relative. Fortunately for me I tend to collect small things like old postcards and matchbooks, and I can continue to do so, safe in the knowledge that no rich people care about those items (not enough to make them prohibitively expensive, anyway).
What’s unfortunate to me is that people will pay thousands of dollars for an 80 year old piece of furniture, but often won’t give an 80 year old human being the time of day. Here are stories that can be told. Which reminds me, I need to interview my grandmother more. She has so many stories I’ve never heard. She grew up in Houston in the same neighborhood with Howard Hughes. I only found that out this year.
OK I’m rambling now. Go listen to old people and don’t pay too much for something just because it’s old!