'Antiques Roadshow'

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Hit PBS series leaves a lasting impression on pair of siblings

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

In television terms, it’s viewed as “part adventure, part history lesson, and part treasure hunt.”

For attorney Joe Papelian and his sister Renee, the popular PBS series the “Antiques Roadshow” encompassed much more than that when it made a stop at magnificent Meadow Brook Hall in mid-June.

The show, now in its 22nd season, is proud to boast that it “puts the reality in reality television.” To that assessment, brother-and-sister Papelian would wholeheartedly
agree some two months after gaining a first-hand view of the meticulous operation.

“I’m a stickler for organization, but I must admit that I was truly amazed at their level of efficiency,” said Joe of the Emmy Award-winning TV show that is watched by an average of 8.3 million viewers each week. “They have every step down to a science.”

Yet, even science can be inexact, a fact that the Papelian siblings would discover on that sun-drenched June 14th day at Meadow Brook, the former home of auto heiress Matilda Dodge Wilson and her second husband Alfred.

The Papelians were among an estimated 2,500 antique-lovers who journeyed to the  Rochester estate on Flag Day, hoping to pin down the true value of a prized backgammon table that belonged to their late father Edward, a decorated B-26 bomber pilot during World War II.

Their dad – who flew some 25 bombing missions over France, Italy, and North Africa – bought the table for a bargain price while in Algeria during the tail end of the war, shipping it back to his family in the States for safekeeping.

“Knowing my dad, I’m sure he didn’t pay much for the piece,” said Joe with a laugh. “But he knew a good deal when he saw one and that table obviously caught his fancy.”

The table was made in the 1930s of olive wood, a light-colored lumber valued by high-end furniture makers. It features beautiful wood inlay patterns that give it a certain “wow” factor for antique collectors.

But before there could be a “wow,” there was a certain bow-wow that nearly brought an unceremonious end to the table, according to Joe, a past president of the Oakland County Bar Foundation.
“Over the years, the table took a bit of a beating, principally from our family dog, who had a habit of gnawing away at it. In ’78, I took it to a friend at church who specialized in wood inlay work, hoping he could restore it.”

He did, eventually becoming so enamored with the piece that he offered to buy it, thereby boosting its projected value even further in the minds of the Papelians.

Such was their mindset when they made the trek to Meadow Brook, where specialists from some of the country’s leading auction houses were poised to offer free appraisals of various antiques and collectibles. According to reports, approximately 6,000 items were appraised that day by 65 antique experts.

“On the bus ride over to Meadow Brook, I’m chattering away to anyone who would listen about our treasure and that I was certain that we would be picked for the show,” said Renee Papelian, a Mount Pleasant resident who spent the bulk of her educational career as an administrator within the College of Education and Human Service at Central Michigan University, her alma mater.

“I’m thinking that it’s going to be worth a bazillion dollars, and that we both will really be able to retire in style,” she said of her visions for a one-way ticket to Easy Street. “I would have bet money on that.”

But before there could be untold riches, there had to be a reckoning with an independent appraiser, a man named “Sebastian” from San Diego. In effect, he held the key to a national TV appearance and the expected financial windfall.

“He was pleasant and a very good listener, seemingly eating up every word that Joe was telling him about the history of the table, how it was purchased by our dad during the war years in Algiers, the beautiful inlay, the dog, etcetera, etcetera,” recalled Renee. “I’m sitting there all smiles, thinking this man really gets it and understands the real worth of our table. I’m all pumped, thinking I probably should have gotten my hair cut for this TV occasion.”

Then comes time for the proverbial “$64,000 question,” the age-old query that will decide their TV fate.

“Is it show worthy?” the Papelians ask in unison.

“It’s a nice piece,” the appraiser replied.

In other words, “better luck next time,” the oft-spoken phrase for those who rightly or wrongly come up short.

“Needless to say, I was dashed,” said Renee. “It was a real downer.”

But it came with a consolation prize – or two.

First, they were informed by “Sebastian” that the table would probably fetch at least $2,500 on the antiques’ market, a tidy sum considering that the family heirloom nearly was relegated to the dog pound years ago.

And secondly, sister and brother were offered the opportunity for a TV cameo appearance to share their “Roadshow” experience, giving them a chance at a cathartic postmortem on the table’s bid at television stardom.

“Let’s just say that the experience was ‘priceless,’” Renee said with a wink.

 

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