Prized Possessions

I loved show-and-tell in kindergarten, but I was pretty sure my teacher, Mrs. Brown, hated it. "Nice story," she would say, "now sit down." I thought about that recently when I took my metal print of M. C. Escher's Drawing Hands to a downtown hotel where PBS was taping a segment of Antiques Roadshow. This is the program that features people eagerly trotting out things in front of a TV camera that they're reluctant to put on display in their own homes.

I stood in line, hugging my treasure, along with thousands of others who were hugging theirs. We had been lured to the event by the prospect of free appraisals. Inside a fancy ballroom, professionals from Christie's, Sotheby's and other auction houses and galleries were presiding at various "specialty" tables. "Tell me about your piece," they said as, one by one, we presented our prized possessions. After a while it occurred to me that what this was really all about was show-and-tell for big people.

A twitchy man next to me lifted a tarp, revealing a six-foot-tall grotesquerie strapped to a golf cart. It looked like a serpent that had swallowed a string of buoys. "I think it's a lamp base," he explained. "My great-aunt left it to me."

"She must have loved you very much," I said.

A woman struggled to push a huge spinning wheel. "I hope this is worth a lot of money," she told me. "I have to get rid of it so my husband can have the space for a big-screen TV."

To my left, a burly guy cradled an ornate wood carving of a sultan resting on a divan, eating grapes with one hand and grasping a slave's decapitated head with the other. The slave's roll-around doll eyes looked right at me. Help!

When I entered the production room, I saw a camera crew filming a short, stout woman and her short, stout ginger jar. Nearby, a lady in a hand-knit sweater quivering with three-dimensional flowers held a porcelain tureen that was embellished with molded dragonflies.

The expert at the "drawings and prints" table examined my print. She pursed her lips. "I've never seen Escher's work reproduced quite like that," she said suspiciously.

"But look at the handwriting on the mat," I protested.

"Yes," she replied, "someone has tried to make it look authentic."

"But I bought it at that famous flea market in New York City," I said. The woman was looking over my head at the line behind me. I could feel her searching the crowd for someone with something that would get her a spot on TV. "So what I have," I pressed on, forcing her attention back to me, "is a limited-edition forgery, right?"

She nodded. Oh, well. In the back of my mind I could hear Mrs. Brown's voice saying: "Nice story, now sit down."

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