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“Buy what you enjoy” is the advice from Bruce Shackelford, consultant, curator, and appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow. The popular appraiser will speak Friday evening at the Pioneer Museum’s “What’$ It Worth?” event.

The Gillespie County Historical Society’s popular “What’$ It Worth?” event returns to the Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg on April 15 & 16, 2011. Nine independent antique appraisers will be available from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm on Saturday to look at items. $10 per item. Barbecue and refreshments. Details at www.pioneermuseum.net or call 830-997-2835.

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Treasure, Trash, and Trivia

by Phil Houseal
Apr 6, 2011

What’s the best reason to buy antiques now?

If you like them.

That is advice from one of the nation’s most popular antique appraisers, Bruce Shackelford. The San Antonio resident has been a regular guest on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow television series for 14 seasons.

The consultant - whose day job is Brown Foundation Curator at the Witte Museum in San Antonio - considers his specialty American Indians and the American West. The fifth-generation Texan comes by his interest honestly. One great grandfather was a rancher and cowboy up around Post; another relative was neighbor to one of Quanah Parker’s sons.

“I grew up on his ranch,” Shackelford said of his great grandfather. “He was 96 when he died. He lived in a time when the 19th century wasn’t so far away.”

Shackelford will speak Friday, April 15 at the Pioneer Museum’s “What’$ It Worth” event. Much of his topic will be a behind-the-scenes peek at the Antiques Roadshow. He reels off trivia that is surprising: they film three shows at each locale, more than 6500 people pass through and each has two items, 70 appraisers judge about 15,000 items per show.

“People think we see hordes of treasure,” he said. “We don’t. We pretty much see a moving garage sale. Only the great things get on the air.”

Having reviewed thousands of great and “not so great” items, Shackelford has clear advice on what to collect.

“You buy what you want to live with and enjoy,” he said. “The best way to make a good deal is to learn about what you are interested in, then buy from someone reputable. Some of what I bought that appreciated most were what I bought for full retail, not things I bought at a garage sale. They were what I enjoyed, they were quality, and went up most in value.”

Shackelford can’t escape an interview without answering the question: what was his most surprising find?

“Three seasons ago a lady came in with three baskets passed down from her great grandfather. She wondered if they were worth anything.” Turns out they were highly-prized baskets hand woven by a member of the Washoe tribe, and worth $25,000 each. They would be worth more, he told her, if she could find out who made them.

Months later the lady sent Shackelford an old photo she had found of a Washoe woman holding her very same basket. It was a recognized crafter who had presented a similar basket to President Woodrow Wilson. “Suddenly that basket was worth three times what I told her,” Shackelford said. That shows that it is not just the money, but the history of an item that determines the value. “A historic item that is important is worth a whole lot more than an important item with no history.”

Nor does age alone translate into money. Every show he sees multiple items well over 1000 years old that are “worth five bucks.” One of the most valuable items he appraised were turquoise bracelets made in 1978. But the owner had original receipts and could trace them to the jeweler who crafted them.

Antiques are always a good investment, but especially now. “Buying antique furniture is a lot cheaper than going to a furniture store,” he said, “plus it will last a lot longer.”