There’s something truly humbling about finding out that a priceless family heirloom is … well, worthless instead. I had that experience myself courtesy of “Antiques Roadshow,” the public television program that goes across America inviting everyday people to have appraisers assess their wagons full of old magazines, a broken Charlie McCarthy doll, an autographed, customized poster from “The Simpsons,” and even a statue of a naked woman made out of papier-mâché.

The “Roadshow,” as fans call it, filmed Tuesday in Baltimore at the Maryland Zoo, with appraisers gathering near the Victorian-era cages from the historic section to size up people’s family belongings. More than 10,000 people applied for 2,000 pairs of tickets — all of them hoping that old cigar box was really unearthed treasure.

10,000 people entered into a ticket lottery for the event. Only 2,000 got in. (Kaitlin Newman)
An appraiser checks out a broken Charlie McCarthy doll. (Kaitlin Newman)
A statue of a naked woman made out of papier-mâché was one attendee’s offer. (Kaitlin Newman)

Everyone went through “triage” first, where volunteers told them which category of antique their objects belonged in. Then it was off to wait in another line for the appraisal.

Perks of being a journalist: We skipped the line. Producers had invited The Banner to come, and we were each allowed to bring two items of our own. Having grown up watching the “Roadshow” with my parents, I couldn’t resist — and asked my dad if I could borrow some antiques to take. He presented me with two family heirlooms, wrapping them in layers of bubble wrap and foam before putting them in an enormous suitcase. I prepared myself to wow the appraisers. Of course I would be on TV.

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You can see where this is going.

“These are not uncommon,” announced appraiser Robert Waterhouse, scanning the commemorative silver plaque that my dad inherited from his great-aunt, who had married a famed pilot who flew around the world exactly 100 years ago this month. “In general, these only have value to the family.”


Appraiser Robert Waterhouse takes a look at Banner reporter Christina Tkacik’s commemorative silver plaque that her dad inherited from his great-aunt. (Kaitlin Newman)
Appraiser Kerry Shrivers checks out Banner reporter Krishna Sharma’s antique cups from his family in India. (Kaitlin Newman)

Such deflation is really the most common experience of the masses who visit “Antiques Roadshow.” With thousands of people at every location each bearing two items, “Most of them will not be good things. Most of them will not be worth sharing with the nation,” said Executive Producer Marsha Bemko.

But the odds are good: Among thousands of items that come in, a few will be special. “We’ll see enough to make three hours of television, plus ‘Junk in the Trunk,’ which is the leftovers,” Bemko said. (I laughed when she said this, not realizing at first that public television actually has a show called “Junk in the Trunk.”)

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“Antiques Roadshow” Executive Producer Marsha Bemko discusses her most memorable finds. (Kaitlin Newman)

Bemko, a Boston native, complained of schvitzing in the Maryland heat as she reviewed a tablet with pitches from appraisers. The antique experts who appear on the show don’t get a paycheck for their services, but going on television is great for business, and all of them are always on the lookout for an item that will be good for the cameras.

“Things that are really worth a lot of money have one thing in common, always. They’re rare,” Bemko said. “Most of us are not lucky enough to own something that rare.”

Baltimoreans hoping to hit the jackpot brought not just stuff, though, but the stories behind them.

Of course, there was lots of sports memorabilia. We met Joel (producers asked us to only use the first name of civilians), who brought a framed photo of Oriole Rick Dempsey, MVP of the 1983 World Series, that was autographed by the team. He picked it up for $200 at a yard sale from a woman who had been a photographer with The Baltimore Sun. “I always just wondered if I paid too much money for it,” he said.

The answer appeared to be no; Tom Williams, the senior managing director of communications for Maryland Public Television, which supports the production of “Antiques Roadshow,” said the item was appraised for $600 to $800.

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A woman named Chrissy and her husband brought an enormous poster depicting the cast of “The Simpsons.” Sold for $200 at an auction benefitting Baltimore Center Stage, it had been autographed by the animators who worked on the show; they added funny cartoons to their signatures, including Marge Simpson as a blue crab. Calling it “very unique,” appraiser Simeon Lipman approvingly expected that it would fetch $3,000 to $5,000 at auction.

Meanwhile, appraiser Michael Bertoia was hoping to see some trains — specifically, toy ones made by a short-lived Baltimore company called Voltamp. They’re “the bee’s knees in the early American-made trains” and can go for tens of thousands of dollars. When we spoke to him about an hour and a half after the gates had opened, he was still waiting.

As the world is changing, so are antiques. When Bemko began working with “Antiques Roadshow” 20 years ago, Victorian furniture was the thing everyone wanted, sometimes fetching $5,000. Now, “it’s worth $500.″

Though everyone hopes their family heirloom is worth something, most people who go on the show don’t intend to sell the objects, Bemko said.

One of the priciest items to ever appear on “Antiques Roadshow” was a pair of rhinoceros horn cups valued at $1.5 million. By the time the episode aired, Bemko said, laws had been passed to bar the sale of such items.

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Travis Landry is the youngest appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow.” (Kaitlin Newman)

If the past of “Antiques Roadshow” is Victorian furniture, Travis Landry represents the show’s future. At 28, he’s the youngest appraiser on the show, wearing a flamboyant blue button-down shirt and a bejeweled gold necklace. “My new job here, which I love, is just to make millennials feel old all the time,” he said. Some of his specialties: assessing the worth of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards.

Don’t expect to see another ’90s trend on the show anytime soon, though. “Beanie Babies are just a totally fictitious market,” he said.

It turns out that most of the time, the family treasures we’ve inherited, or the collectibles we’ve hoarded, truly have value just to us.

And isn’t there something nice about that?

A couple purchased a signed “The Simpsons” poster from Baltimore Center Stage for $200 a few years ago. Appraisals valued it Tuesday between $3,000 and $5,000. (Kaitlin Newman)
Animators created little drawings on the poster, including a crabby Marge Simpson to represent Maryland. (Kaitlin Newman)
People bring their most prized possessions to the “Antiques Roadshow.” (Kaitlin Newman)

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the train company Voltamp and Marsha Bemko's surname.