Friday, October 10, 2008
[Thanks to Chubbs for this link] Posted by Christopher Kent On Oct 06, 2008 Editor’s Note: Worthologists are asked to appraise lots of art, antiques and collectibles, some with strange provenance. But Christopher Kent may have run across the strangest when a psychic wanted him to take a look at a couple of items picked up at a yard sale. Several years ago, I received a call from the director of the TV network I was working for asking about my availability to travel to Ocala, Fla. Where the heck is Ocala, Fla.? I asked. I was told. And why would we be traveling to Ocala? “Well, there is a new affiliate that has signed onto the network, and we want you to promote them and the network by doing a three-day appraisal event” was the answer. “Okay,” I said. “There will be the usual local morning shows and radio spots we want you to do, as well. Oh and by the way, you will be at a large flea market beside the dog tracks, so there’s no telling what you’re going to be looking at to appraise.” Never to look at a challenge with a jaundiced eye, I agreed. Well Ocala is not Palm Beach where I have done antique shows before, where my many Jewish mothers, grandmothers and aunts all wanted to take me home and make me dinner and, oh, by the way, appraise their wedding china, silver and crystal. Thank goodness for producers who stand in the way to protect me from myself and from taking the ladies up on their offers. I thought, Ocala in February, how bad could it be? How bad? Sweltering bad I arrive on site, production’s already set up, and I get some sunscreen, no makeup, because with the miles of tented coverage, I’m the only one standing in the sun. What’s that about? Better lighting for the camera is the answer. People have been lining up for hours. They are in the shade. They’re more than testy because the average age of the group is 80, way retired, and they’re not going to miss the early-bird lunch or dinner special, and the closest restroom is about a mile's hike across the field. I have an angel of a production person. She is able to mollify disgruntled people, who, in the end, want her to meet the doctor, lawyer, accountant, their son. That’s another story. Once again, I look at all the usual suspects. The Samsonite luggage purportedly used as a flotation device as the Titanic sank, hum. Or the Russian silverware that was a gift from the last czar, clearly made by an American firm and silver plated and possibly one of the first “pass along” gifts. There are a smattering of interesting pieces, unique 19th-century kitchen utensils with no patent marks, a couple of nice dolls, a good collection of coins, some interesting textiles and then an onslaught of Asian porcelain, some good, some dubious. I’ve been on my feet for the past five hours smelling like a coconut that has been slow baked in the sun when I Iook, beseechingly, at my director and beg for a break. I’m granted 15 minutes and am escorted the mile to the restroom lest someone who has been waiting on the sidelines wants a quickie appraisal on something that they have just so happened to have brought with them. Psychic sighting The break over, I’m back at the booth and who shows up but none other than probably the most recognized psychic of her day, whose psychic thoughts and predictions covered the front pages of the National Enquirer, the Star and any other tabloid that is syndicated coast to coast with coverage focusing on who is doing what to whom, how often, presidential predictions and was the shroud of Turin seen in the most recent Christo exhibition. She introduces herself. No intro necessary, I would recognize her and her trademark platinum-blonde hair anywhere. She is with a friend, who looks remarkably familiar, and asks if I will take a look at the items she has brought. Sure, fine, the camera starts to roll. The friend proceeds to pull out two items from her capacious handbag. One is a small, framed painting depicting a sad-looking clown. The other is a dark-burgundy leather box about 5 inches by 5 inches with an impressive-looking gold seal stamped into the face of it. There’s a gut wrench when I hold the box, unopened in my hand. Maybe the famous psychic is transmitting some energy here, and I’m getting a dose of it. The line of people has dwindled, they’re off to lunch, and so I take more time than usual to look at the two items. “Tell me about this painting,” I say. The typical TV host opener. Yard sale find—$15 for both “Well, I found it at a yard sale along with that other piece, and I thought it was kind of pretty, and I didn’t pay much for it, maybe $15.” “For the painting or both?” I ask. “Both,” she replies. “Did I do okay or what?” Or what what? I’m thinking. “Well, you did better than okay with this little painting. Have you really looked at it?” “What do you mean really look at it?” “Studied it at all?” “Not really.” I’ve drawn this out way too long and respond, “You have an original, signed, Red Skelton clown painting [at the time, the comedian/TV personality’s paintings were going for about $5,000 to $10,000 at auction]. It is worth considerably more than what you paid for it.” “Wow,” she says, the psychic and friend both flipping their hair simultaneously. “Now let’s look at this box.” I’m holding it as yet unopened. It is obviously a presentation box, and the seal is that of 18th-century France. My finger is on the small gold clasp itching to open the box. “So, you got this along with the painting at a yard sale, and you paid $15 for both pieces?” “Yes,” she answers. Too bad, the box is empty The box is in unbelievably good shape for the age that I am giving it. There is a small scuff mark on the back but no construction issues. I open it. It is lined in plum-colored silk, there’s a three-inch oval impression in the middle and nothing in the box. I repeat, nothing in the box. I am more than crestfallen. I am beyond disappointed. “Ah, well,” I say mastering my disappointment and showing the empty box to the camera. “What you have is a nice, presentation box, and it’s probably 18th century, based on the seal on the front.” I point out the seal. “These often contained a gift that was bestowed on guests in a royal assembly. It does have value to a collector of maybe a couple of hundred dollars, but without the contents, which was possibly a broach or maybe an official emblem or miniature painting, that’s about what it’s worth.” “Ah,” says the psychic’s friend, “this was inside of it.” She rummaged down the front of her considerable bosom and extracted an oval-painted miniature attached to a chain that hung around her neck. The painting was in a simple gold frame on which was etched a design of oak leaves. It had a small loop meant for inserting a chain. The subject was unmistakably Marie Antoinette; the painting style that of, I could not remember his name, clear and precise; the condition of the portrait, painted on ivory and protected by glass, was perfect. I study the frame for hallmarks and find one. I flip the framed miniature over, and there I see Marie Antoinette’s initials, not unusual in a gift. The friend of the psychic takes off the miniature, and I hold it out to the camera, which zooms over it taking in all the details. I’m rattling off salient features and marks and initials and covering for the fact that I cannot remember this artist’s name by suggesting other artists of the period that specialized in miniature portraits. And the name of the artist is . . . ask the psychic I’m still pulling a blank when I turn to the famous psychic and ask, putting the miniature into her hands, for her assistance with the artist’s name. She seems to be nonplussed by this request and immediately goes into what I would call a professional, meditative mode, that of holding the object and looking off into the middle distance. After a moment or two of silence, which is death in television—thank goodness for editors—she says hesitantly, then with more conviction, “I am getting a sense of the name. There are initials J, B, J, and maybe an A. And this was a gift to someone whose first name was François. I can see the room in which this gift was given. It was in the Petit Trianon.” I’m pretty mesmerized by all this, and I allow her to continue. “It is a warm summer’s day, and this is not an official occasion but rather a casual, familiar group of people. This was given as a token of affection, and why, Christopher, this is so familiar to you is that you have seen the original. This is a copy painted by a student of the man with the initials, J, B, J, A.” The famous psychic puts her hand on my arm and applies pressure. There was no bolt of lightning at her touch but a warmth that increased to heat. The name of the artist who painted the original appeared like neon in my brain, Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin, one of the most famous miniaturists in his day. Turning to the camera, I make this pronouncement. I thank the psychic for her help and give an estimate on the value of the piece of $4,000 to $6,000 at auction. And he-e-e-re's Tony “I’d like to introduce my friend,” the psychic says removing her hand from my arm. “Tony, meet Christopher.” We shake hands. I am clearly no longer in control of this interview, but I let that go. “And,” the psychic continues, “Tony is the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette.” I really look for the first time into this woman’s face and see the possible similarities to the benighted queen and also a thin line on her neck. I’m not believing this, and I ask Tony to lift her hair to see if the line goes all the way around. Yup, sure enough, there it is. The miniature was later sold at auction with the most eloquent, speculative provenance in auction history. I’m not sure which made the better story—the find of these two pieces for fifteen bucks or the fact that I was possibly talking to Marie Antoinette. – Christopher Kent is a member of the WorthPoint board of advisers and director of evaluations for WorthPoint. He is also an antiques and collectibles generalist, fine-arts broker and president of CTK Design.
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