If you’re interested in classic furnishings and decorative design, you’re probably familiar with Wendell D. Garrett as the professorial, erudite appraiser who was one of the stars of the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. As the longtime editor of The Magazine Antiques and a senior vice-president at Sotheby’s, the famous auction house, Garrett had impeccable credentials for perusing the personal treasures that guests retrieved from their attics and offered for his examination in towns across the nation. But the well-dressed gentleman with the courtly manner had a knack for letting the hopeful down gently, by explaining the historical importance of objects, even if they didn’t have much monetary value. He clearly delighted in surprising those who didn’t realize the value of what they had.
Garrett, who died on Nov. 18 in Williston, Vt., at age 83, appeared on every season of Antiques Roadshow since its inception in 1997 — including the season, filmed last summer, that will premiere on Jan. 7. Here are five of his most interesting appraisals.
- Late 19th-Century Victorian Pump Organ (2003). Garrett explained to the organ’s owners in Oklahoma City that their family heirloom was worth approximately $300 to $500 but nevertheless was a treasure, not just because of its Aesthetic Movement-style beveled glass but because such organs “were symbols of ritual and ceremony in the American home. The Victorian period was a very serious period, when hymn singing and Bible reading was important.”
- Victorian Bird Display Cabinet (2002). Garrett informed the Albuquerque owner, whose grandfather had built the cabinet, that it actually was just a modified piece of a bedroom set and worth no more than $1,000. But he noted that the mounted birds inside the case — some of whom are endangered species today — probably were worth seven to nine times as much. “It’s interesting that natural history and decorative arts and fine arts history was mixed up a good bit,” he commented.
- New England Highboy, Circa 1780 (2011). Garrett had to break it gently to the Pittsburgh owners that only the bottom of their piece actually was late 18th century, while the top looked as if it had been replaced during the Victorian era. That made it worth only about $1,000 to $1,500. “I can tell you it is old,” he offered in consolation.
- 1974 Pennsylvania-German “John Seltzer” Dowry Chest (2006). Garrett gave the Philadelphia owners a fascinating biography of Seltzer, the Lancaster cabinetmaker who had created the piece, and pointed out the German-influenced urns and flowers he had painted on it. Then he broke the news to them that the chest’s valuation of $10,000 to $15,000 would have been 10 to 20 times higher if it were in better condition and had unicorns on the panels.
- 19th Century Apple Butter Copper Kettle (1997). Garrett, in top form, gave an elegantly nuanced explanation of how copper cooking implements were used to create apple butter, “one of the staples of the Pennsylvania German diet.” Then he shocked the Pittsburgh owners, who had purchased the kettle for $30 and used it to store firewood, by informing them that it was worth around $2,000, because it was a piece marked by the maker, J.P. Schaum. “Appreciate you bringing it in today, and be careful of those logs in it,” he teased.
You can watch Garrett appraising the copper kettle here.