H’mmm How Much Is That Gym Bag Worth?

When people realize I was one of the regular antiques experts on CTV’s “Canadian Antiques Roadshow,” one of the first things they inevitably ask is, “What was the most valuable item that you saw on the show?”

Even after many years with the show this question still stuns me a little.

Perhaps I am somewhat naive, but I am always at a loss to understand why I am not asked something more interesting, such as “what was most beautiful or unusual object?”

Nor am I ever asked about the item that was worth the least.

While it’s always great to see outrageously valuable things, the real interest for most of the experts lies not so much in the financial worth of an item, but in the inherent beauty and its accompanying story.

For many of us, antiques have something of an intangible appeal. To see and hold something from the past, and to research its origin, its maker and its place in a society’s culture, are things which continuously fascinate us.

The recording of what eventually becomes a single half hour Roadshow can take upwards of nine hours of viewing and taping. During those nine hours we collectively see something like 4,000 clients; each bearing between three and five items.

So, within a one-day session, there is a team of about 20 of us experts taking a look at something in the region of 12,000-20,000 assorted objects.

Naturally, with so many items passing through we can only take a cursory look at the things brought in; on average we get about two or three minutes to do a quick assessment.

Of those items that we do see, perhaps 50 will be selected for a “table shot” where the object, owner and expert are video-taped for potential inclusion in a show. Of those, as few as five may be selected for the final edit.

To get to that point, the expert consults with both the floor manager and the producer about each item, but invariably it is the producer and the editor who make the final decision as to what will be broadcast. Often we are just as surprised as you when we see what was selected for broadcast.

When making their choice, the producer and editor are looking for items that have something special.

They are looking for items not only of potentially high-dollar value, but also for things that have a fascinating story, a significant place in history or just plain interesting or unusual.

Objects have to have an appeal that will satisfy the inquiring mind; the dollar value is perhaps the least most important factor. If it were only about money they would probably just show a suitcase stuffed with cash or a close-up of gold bars.

So what was the most valuable item I saw and which was the least valuable? Well, all I can say there is that when doing my first show in Saskatoon, I encountered what was possibly the most trying appraisal I had ever done.

A very nice lady had patiently waited in the line-up for over three hours and when she eventually got to my table she produced an old vinyl gym bag.

I seem to remember that it was a red bag and on each side in faded lettering it read “Adidas.” I waited a moment or two for her to unpack the bag and produce some valuable family heirloom, but she said there was nothing in it – she just wanted to know its value.

Well, the bag was a little on the scruffy side and the zipper was broken. Did it, I asked, belong to anyone famous? No.

Was it signed by a sports or entertainment personality or even a politician? No.

Did it have any significant history behind it? No, nothing at all, it was just an old bag that she found lying around in her garage and she wanted to know how much it was worth.

Well, what could I say? She had been in line for a long time and the bag was the only thing she had brought in.

Now I knew the average price of a new gym bag, and I knew that the lady had come in with high expectations that she had “something special.”

Although it was getting near to the end of the day for me I felt I had to let this lady go away with some sense of dignity; there is no way I could tell her that she had basically wasted an afternoon.

All I could do is give her some insight into the world of antiques and collectibles which goes something like this…

When doing research on an item, one becomes something of a detective. As we delve into the past and discover the origins of an object we learn of the cultural and social norms of times gone by. We begin to understand how form and function can merge into a piece that is not just practical but also atheistically satisfying. Through research we discover how previous generations made the most of the world that surrounded them and we see just how talented and innovative humans can be when they apply their inherent talents and abilities. Not only that, but as we do in-depth research we learn of the socio-economic history of cultures and nations. In short, the study of antiques can help us to understand and make sense of our world as it exists today. Bearing all this in mind we could say that while the bag may not have any significant monetary value, its place in our society demonstrates to future generations how we once transported sports gear to the gym. To place a value on such an item would just diminish its inherent qualities.