Tall Tales

Promiscuous George Washington slept around. A lot.

Or at least so we are to believe by listening to the many stories passed down from one person to the next. Improbable though most stories sound.

And that’s one problem with undocumented provenance: that it takes on a life of its own.

“Antiques Roadshow” (AR) has long been Public Broadcasting’s breakout hit TV program. With the exception of Sesame Street, PBS rarely generates such large-sized audiences.

Contrary to such stereotypical (and purely invented) shows as “Trout Fishing in Quebec” or “Growing Ferns in Greenhouses,” Roadshow draws a reliably large, heavily invested and loyal viewership.

A recent AR episode taped in Jacksonville, FL illustrates well just how out-of-whack the provenance on an antique can become. The episode featured someone who self-identifies as being a former dean of the College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The man brought for appraisal a sterling silver bowl created by master silversmith Hans Christensen.

Here’s a link to the Roadshow segment: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/archive/201302A12.html

Note the gentleman claims to have helped design the bowl executed by Christensen, the former head of design at Georg Jensen.

Uh huh. Deans can do oh-so-many things. Business deans, in particular. And you’ve wonder where the expression “creative accounting” came from.

Here’s a link to the RIT College of Business website detailing the College’s chronology, including who was dean when: https://www.rit.edu/overview/history-scb

The story’s accuracy problem is the gentleman claims to have assisted with the bowl’s design in 1979. Yet there exist known and dated bowls in the identical form from 1978. One is currently on display at the “Shop One: Then and Now” exhibition at RIT’s Bevier Gallery.

At best, such wholly unnecessary self-aggrandizing claims are innocuous truth inflators; at worst, they distort the historical record, seek credit where none is due, diminish the significance of the creator and serve only to mislead and misdirect the genuinely curious for selfishly transient claims to fame.

The AR appraiser, by the way, appraised the bowl at $2-4,000.

Coincidentally, at almost the same time as when the AR episode aired (October 20), an auction in Geneseo, NY sold (September 26) an identical Christensen bowl.

It brought $3,000 to a floor bidder.

At least one person got it right.

The other should get a ruler.