Nobody in the crowd could blame the owner of the brooch for being a bit nervous. What were the chances that her prized possession would actually live up to her wildest dreams? Then again, Antiques Roadshow has proven over and over that an object’s looks are rarely a reflection of its true value. But while the show has always succeeded at being entertaining, this was the rare instance where a guest truly was at a loss for words. However, her eventual response did catch the audience by surprise.
When one woman decided to approach Antiques Roadshow expert John Benjamin for an examination of her sapphire brooch, she arrived with very low expectations. Previously, she had tried to get it valued by an array of jewelers, all of whom either gave conflicting reports on the brooch’s true value or were simply unsure. Fortunately for her, John had the expertise she desperately needed.
In a soul-crushing series of valuations, numerous jewelers told the woman that her brooch was nothing more than an “inconsequential piece of costume jewelry mounted on a piece of blue glass worth nothing.” Little did they know how wrong they truly were.
At the center of the lady’s brooch was an enormous cushion-shaped sapphire. While a heavy stone, it was still entirely possible that the sapphire could be a well-made imitation that was nowhere near as valuable as the real thing. Either way, it was John’s turn to give his take on the piece.
Having left school at just 17 years old, John Benjamin served a four-year apprenticeship at an antique jewelry shop. From there, his career soared, ultimately becoming the International Director of Jewelry at Phillips Fine Art Auctioneers. If anyone could give this woman the accurate valuation, it was John.
As she approached the podium where John waited, the lady looked visibly nervous, as anyone in her position understandably would. But it was not the actual value of the brooch that was driving her anxiety, but the emotional backstory that came with it.
The woman didn’t need a jewelry expert to tell her how old her brooch truly was. After all, she knew the brooch’s story firsthand. While she may have humorously referred to it as “the big blue blob,” the precious piece was actually an heirloom from her grandmother. But the treasure’s story didn’t end there.
As her grandmother’s prized possession, the brooch had become special to this young woman as well. After all, her father gave it to her to wear on her wedding day. As a result, the possibility that the brooch was just a hunk of junk would be soul-destroying.
Upon first glance, John explained that the brooch’s style was actually quite ordinary. In addition to its cushion shape, the big blue stone in the middle was surrounded by white stones — a fairly conventional pattern. But, as John explained, appearances can be deceiving…
Before approaching John, the woman had been dragged through the mud when trying to get her brooch valued. “They were quite rude to me and my husband,” the lady said of the jewelers she had previously consulted. Some alleged that the diamonds were fake, while others claimed they were real, though not of high quality. So what was the truth?
As he began examining the brooch, John was immediately drawn to how large the sapphire in the center truly was. “The stone in the middle is an absolutely enormous sapphire,” he stated to the anxious woman. The lady remained speechless as John proceeded to reveal his findings.
Plenty of people own brooches that feature precious jewels such as sapphires, but not many people own a brooch with a sapphire that is so enormous. In his expert opinion, John believed the sapphire to weigh between 25 and 30 carats. “In the world of gemstones that’s quite big actually,” a flabbergasted John explained. But the suspense didn’t end there.
As soon as John examined the sapphire more closely, he offered up a pretty good idea of where it came from. “It comes from Ceylon which is, of course, Sri Lanka today. Ceylon sapphires are typically this very bright cornflower blue color.” But while the stone might have been valuable, what about the rest of the brooch?
“The white stones — you were told blithely by a jeweler that these were paste,” John confirmed with the Antiques Roadshow guest. He proceeded to tell the lady that these were, in fact, real diamonds, mounted in gold and set in silver. Suddenly, the lady’s mind was filled with dollar signs.
While the brooch was certainly regal-looking, the woman had no idea how old it actually was. Sure, she knew that her grandmother owned it, so it had some history behind it, but even that knowledge didn’t prepare her for what John was going to say next.
“Well the brooch itself was made about the mid to the end of the 19th century so it is about 130, 140 years old,” John revealed to the woman in front of a stunned crowd. That meant it went back even further than her grandmother! Finally, the time had come to reveal the brooch’s true value.
“So if I were to say whoever these jewelers were they were talking absolute rubbish, would you be happy to hear that?” John asked the guest. Laughing nervously, the woman said yes as John told her the true value of her precious family heirloom.
“If I were to take such an item of jewelry and consign it to an auction, I would expect it to make between £40,000 to 50,000,” John admitted. Understandably, the lady was lost for words! How do you react when your appraisal turns out to be a stand-out moment in the history of Antiques Roadshow? Well, she braced for even better news.
The owner of the brooch was absolutely shellshocked upon hearing John’s revelation. “Oh my word, I don’t want to swear. Blooming heck!” she exclaimed. “Blooming heck indeed, it’s an absolute beauty. What else can I say about it? It’s fabulous,” John agreed. But the brooch’s beauty wasn’t the only thing that surprised him.
“Now I have to be honest with you,” the expert continued, “I’ve done this show for so long I’ve never seen a sapphire of this size ever bought onto the Antiques Roadshow, this is a real first time for me.” Considering that John had worked with the show since 1991, that was really saying something!
But another jaw-dropping family heirloom stands out among the treasures of Antiques Roadshow — a painting one woman brought in that used to belong to her grandmother. Rose, the granddaughter, had always assumed it wasn’t anything special. But after bringing the art to the Roadshow — she learned just how wrong she’d been.
Though some families pass down coveted objects, Rose’s grandmother passed down this artwork that nobody had ever paid much attention to. According to Rose, the print of a Native American tribe leisurely walking down a mountainside “always hung right above [my grandmother’s] bed.” For years, it went largely unnoticed.
So, why did Rose’s grandmother attach such sentimental value to what seemed to be a reproduction of an ordinary painting? Even Rose wasn’t sure where the piece came from, or why her grandmother loved it so much, but she was able to come up with a theory — albeit an unusual one.
“Her dad, I’m guessing, would’ve given it to her after she spent the summer at a dude ranch when she was 19,” Rose suggested. Based on family history, she guessed that her grandma got the print sometime in the 1940s. There was a date on the painting as well, but Rose was hesitant to investigate.
She wasn’t even sure if the work was indeed a painting or merely a reproduction. Rose couldn’t have known it then, but the difference in value of a painting compared to a print could have been thousands of dollars — perhaps more. Rose had always assumed it wasn’t an original, but a nerve-racking incident planted a seed of doubt in her mind.
“When I got [the print] there was a mosquito underneath the glass,” Rose told Meredith Hilferty, an Antiques Roadshow master appraiser. “So I took it out to the front yard and I opened it up.” Face to face with the print for the first time, Rose couldn’t help but notice something odd about the piece of art.
In order to honor her grandmother’s wishes, Rose had intended on bringing the print with her to college. But as soon as she brushed away the mosquito, something else caught her eye. “It scared me a little,” she told Hilferty. “I closed it back up immediately.”
She noticed small, deliberate brushstrokes — and they looked genuine. With a jolt, Rose realized that the print wasn’t going with her to college. Instead, it had to go to an Antiques Roadshow appraiser. She needed to know once and for all whether what she’d seen was authentic or not. In the meantime, Rose did some research on her own.
“It looked like it might be real,” Rose told Hilferty of the print/painting. With this in mind, Rose remembered a key piece of information: her family had actually gotten the artwork appraised before — twice, in fact. But each time, they had walked away with a decidedly disappointing number.
“In 1998 it was appraised as a print at $200,” Rose recalled. “In 2004, it was appraised at $250.” All her life, Rose had assumed that her grandmother’s favorite work of art was equal to the price of a cheap suit. But after she saw the print — or painting? — up close, she knew she had to do some googling.
It helped that the artist had written the date and his own name on the back of the painting: “1892, H.F. Farny.” When she researched the name and date, Rose was greeted by a pleasant surprise. Farny had been met with quite a bit of acclaim in the latter half of the 1800s, and his admirers included the likes of Theodore Roosevelt.
“Farny, the nation owes you a great debt,” Roosevelt once said to the painter. “It does not realize it now but it will someday. You are preserving for future generations phases of American history that are rapidly passing away.” As she continued her research, Rose couldn’t help but wonder if she was a part of that “future generation.”
The piece had already been valuable to Rose for sentimental reasons, but now she had potentially thousands of reasons to get the painting appraised. She couldn’t get the artwork’s rich history out of her mind, either. Farny, on a quest for inspiration, had found it in the American Midwest.
The French-born artist once said, “The plains, the buttes, the whole country, and its people are fuller of material for the artist than any country in Europe.” Farny was fascinated by Native Americans, so much so that he followed them in their travels. “He has associations with the Sioux tribe,” Rose excitedly told Hilferty.
And that wasn’t all Rose discovered about Farny’s passion for Native American life. “They actually ‘adopted’ him,” she said. Rose pointed out the symbol, a small dot, under Farny’s name. “They gave him a cipher, ‘Longboots.’” That was the end of Rose’s knowledge, but thankfully, Hilferty was able to fill in some of the blanks.
First off, Hilferty confirmed Rose’s suspicion that the piece was, in fact, an original painting. “This piece is really interesting,” she began. “It’s a dense group of figures, which is very desirable in [Farny’s] work.” Already, things were looking good for Rose and her grandmother’s prized possession, but Hilferty wasn’t done listing the piece’s winning qualities.
“1890 is around when we start seeing some of his very best paintings,” she said. The fact that this artwork was inscribed with the date “1892” meant that Rose had a special piece of history in her hands. The best part of the art, according to Hilferty, was the unique way in which Farny depicted Native American life.
“He represented the Native Americans in a very peaceful, tranquil way,” Hilferty noted. “He didn’t ever really bring conflict into his work as some of the other artists from that time did.” This fact alone gives the painting a newfound layer of meaning. It was a symbol of peace, not of hostility, which was rare for that time period.
History aside, of course, Rose still had her ultimate question: how much was the painting worth? “If we were going to put this in an auction today, I would suggest an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.” The shock on Rose’s face when she heard the staggering estimate was priceless!
Rose and her family had believed that the painting — which they originally thought was a mere replica! — was worth no more than $250. The revelation that it was in fact worth a small fortune left Rose speechless. Fighting tears, she asked Hilferty, “So I can’t hang it up?”
Anyone in such an unusual situation would have had similar concerns. Surely such a valuable piece of art shouldn’t go back to hanging on the wall above Rose’s bed, right? “So, I’ll keep it away from my dog,” Rose joked. But she was also weighing a big decision.
With hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging in the balance, Rose had a choice to make: keep the painting in the family as her grandmother intended, or sell it for a potentially life-changing sum of money? Nobody could figure out the right answer but her.
Rose said she needed more time to consider what to do with her precious heirloom, but we’d be surprised if she didn’t at least look into selling the valuable painting. The Antiques Roadshow team are usually experts at spotting diamonds in the rough, and they certainly didn’t miss the mark with Rose. However, they don’t always have a perfect track record.