The woman was convinced that she had found an honest-to-goodness 19th-century vampire killing kit. It even came with a pistol, silver bullets, a wooden stake, and easy-to-follow instructions.
"I could tell the stake was pretty new, and when I consulted with our book expert, he confirmed that the instructions had been done on a photocopying machine," Ken Farmer says. "She was so excited I almost hated to tell her that there's probably no such thing as a vampire killing kit―even an antique one."
Separating actual from almost antiques has kept Virginia native Ken and his Maryland colleague Mike Flanigan on the road―and on the tube―for more than a decade.
Two of the original appraisers for the popular Antiques Roadshow program, the veteran dealers have eyeballed armoires and inspected sideboards across the U.S. As Ken puts it, "We see some great stuff, but we also kiss a lot of frogs."
A Baltimore native who has been in the antiques business for 31 years, Mike signed on with the Public Broadcasting System show when it began in 1996. Ken, a former real estate executive who runs an antiques gallery and auction house near Roanoke, Virginia, joined the program a year later. "My specialty is Southern furniture and musical instruments, but I'm more of a generalist like Mike," Ken explains. "We can work just about any table at the show."
With 5,000 or so eager antiques enthusiasts showing up for an average Roadshow taping, Mike and Ken have learned to be fast but friendly in their appraisals. It helps if folks show up with open minds and ears.
Both men spend about six weeks a year on the road doing the show. "We usually film June through August, so it basically destroys my summer," Mike says with a laugh. "The good thing is, I've gotten to see America, go to places I'd never gone, and meet people I wouldn't have met."
Ken remembers facing an especially lucky lady during a show in Alabama. "She had a piece of folk pottery," he says. "It ended up being appraised for about $25,000 to $35,000 and sold for $80,000, one of the most expensive things we've ever had brought in."
"I always tell people, 'Don't confuse luck with talent,' " Mike says. "A lot of people think they're going to find something in a garage sale that's worth $10,000. When you do, that's luck. When you know the history behind what you're looking for and where to look, that's talent."
"On the Road With Ken and Mike" is from the December 2007 issue of Mid-Atlantic Living, a special section in Southern Living for our subscribers who live in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C.