I bloody hate Antiques Roadshow. I made this declaration after sitting down and watching – because it was on – the valuation of a particularly esoteric old toy.
Old toys – apart from ancient, abandoned teddy bears who carry an ineffably sad poignancy – can be very dull. A one-eyed grubby plastic doll, for example, is only a treasure to her owner. This old toy was more interesting than most – a stool made by Stieff, the German manufacturers of collectable and very expensive teddy bears.
The stool was made in the shape of a moderately cuddly giant starfish. It was a starfish who looked as though he’d been well worn.
It also – I am refraining from sexing the starfish as they might well be ambiguous – bore the scars of an owner or visitor who fancied themselves with a pair of scissors. I was one of those children; obsessed with giving their toys a good trim, not really realising that the fur wasn’t actually growing.
On the tip of the starfish tentacles, the sewing had come adrift to reveal a bit of stuffing. The well-groomed, well-spoken expert lady was terribly pleased to point out that while it looked like stuffing, this was no ordinary stuffing. No, it was thinly shaved lime wood, which was why the starfishy stool had kept it’s robust shape for so long. She reckoned it was early 1950’s.
The owners, two sisters (I think) said it was a gift from mummy, who was a career woman before career women existed and a chocolate engineer toboot. She’d bought it in Germany when the exchange rate was good.
I wonder what, as little girls, they thought of it? I could imagine their faces lighting up at the unwrapping of a Stief teddy bear, but an Echinoderm? Really? Let’s face it, a stool – even one with five legs – is a bit of a shit gift.
It wasn’t a very authentic starfish, although it did have a a red circular mouth part, just where bottoms would have been seated. I wondered if mummy explained this was the mouth filled with lots and lots of razor-sharp rasping teeth. Did she ever mention the neat starfish trick of expelling its stomach out through its mouth in order to surround and digest prey before hauling it all back in again? Probably not at tea time.
So hoo-bloody-ray. Jolly good show all around. How much was the worn stuffed starfish worth? I can’t remember to be honest but the value didn’t stir the hearts of all the slack-jawed gawpers who gather round such discussions looking blank.
Takes something like an old medal to animate them. Jaws were dropped, eyes were widened and there was a collective gasp of surprise and pleasure when the medal expert revealed that the WW1 medal was worth £10,000. But what kind of family would sell a medal? And what sort of people would buy one?
So often The Precious, which is paraded in the public domain to be valued is a family heirloom which surely no-one in their right mind would want to part with?
So what is the point? To inform and advise us about antiques and the craftsmanship of old? To appeal to our prurient interest in Other People’s Stuff? Or is it a platform on which the unbearably smug can show off their old and rare bits and bobs so that the curious plebs can gather around and watch?
Antiques Roadshow. I bloody hate it.
Not the same starfish stool but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.