Antique roadshow: Residents’ possessions appraised at library

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Antique appraiser Lori Scotnicki examines a diamond pin during an event at the Burnham Memorial Library last Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

The Burnham Memorial Library looked strikingly similar to the set of “Antiques Roadshow” last Saturday afternoon, as dozens of residents presented their family heirlooms and estate sale finds to a duo of appraisers.

Seated at the head of the room, Brian Bittner and Lori Scotnicki evaluated everything from baby doll carriages to sketched drawings in short time slots. A group of onlookers often strained to hear their assessments as they waited for their own turn.

Based in Shelburne, Scotnicki said she donates her time at appraisal events like this three times a year and specializes in silver. Otherwise, she’s a generalist and said owners often know more about their “kooky” items than she does at the start of the appointment.

Bittner and Scotnicki examined the angles of each piece carefully, often sourcing the other for a second opinion. Almost always, the pair resorted to a quick online search to nail down a more accurate value.

Brian Bittner assesses an old toy brought in by the Correll family. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Halfway through the day, Scotnicki’s eyes lit up as Phyllis Maley, a Colchester resident, unloaded a box full of watches, pins and earrings onto the table.

“You have beautiful Victorian jewelry here!” Scotnicki exclaimed, squinting closely at an Etruscan earring for any signs of a marking.

The lot was then passed on to Bittner, who pressed Maley for more information about the jewelry’s origin (largely from her maternal grandmother, she said) as he set up a gem-testing tool.

“It might just be really very pretty costume jewelry, I don’t know,” Maley said.

“No, I think that this is real,” Bittner answered. “And it is very pretty.”

The pen-like device confirmed that prediction when pressed to the diamonds encrusted on a white gold pin, the dial shooting to a distinct new category.

In total, the pin held around 54 small diamonds, the largest about a quarter-carat, and one-third of an ounce of gold. Likely made around 1900, Bittner valued the entire piece at about $600.

“I hate to tell you that I used it as a Halloween costume to hold my witch’s cloak closed one year,” Maley said with a laugh.

“I wouldn’t be afraid to wear it if I were you,” Bittner said, noting the relative sturdiness of the piece. “But maybe not as a costume.”

Firing through the remaining accessories as Maley’s 10-minute window expired, Bittner identified watches as platinum and gold-filled, worth $200 and $150 respectively, and placed a pair of earrings at $75.

Last in the box was a mourning pin, a round figure encapsulating a distinct woven material made of human hair, Bittner confirmed. Though the practice seems unorthodox now, he said there’s still a good market for such jewelry and valued the item at $150.

Scotnicki looks for a signature on the back of a watercolor painting. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

“I wasn’t expecting any major thing, but it’s just nice to know there’s a little value,” Maley said as she packed up her treasures. “You can keep kicking it around, but at some point, you know, a few hundred bucks here or there will pay for something.”

Librarian Penny Cunningham ran the show with a clipboard, gently moving patrons along as their designated appraisal time expired. The event was a rousing success, she said, and would like to see it again in subsequent years.

Most of all, Cunningham said she loved seeing the camaraderie of the day. She pointed to the half-dozen women circled around the fireplace, chatting about their antique artifacts.

“We’re all on the waitlist here!” one resident exclaimed, laughing.

Just one, Pamela Jacobs, had a secured her time with the appraisers in advance. A serene watercolor painting rested against her chair. The framed artwork was in her childhood home, she said, hanging above a table that held the rotary phone.

When her parents died, Jacobs selected it for herself and came to the library to learn more about the familial item of which she was so fond.

One woman in the group, Sharon Corcoran, brought a painting of French kings. Patience Ambrose showed off a Texas-made ceramic tile, her peers “oohing” and “aahing” as she unwrapped the protective paper.

Up for her turn at the appraisal table, Jacobs’ watercolor painting was especially exciting to Scotnicki.

“Oh my gosh, this is incredible!” she cried, identifying the artist as Walton Blodgett. She scrambled to take a picture for herself. A quick search found a similar painting that sold for $3,200.

Though pleasantly surprised, Jacobs said she had no plans to part with the sentimental piece. Still, she said she’d loved the entire event.

“It’s so exciting to see all the other people that have come,” Jacobs said. “We’ve just been sharing our little stories.”