PBS appraiser comes for special fair

Published 9:59 am Thursday, August 6, 2009

HUNTINGTON, W. Va. — There’s won’t be any lights or television cameras, but those wanting to find out if their prized possessions are actually a prize, can do so when famed appraiser and auctioneer Wes Cowan comes to the area.

Cowan and his staff from his auction house in Cincinnati will participate in an appraisal fair weekend at the Huntington Museum of Art Saturday. Cowan is a familiar face to viewers of the PBS shows, “Antiques Roadshow” and the more recent, “History Detectives.”

“We see people bring all sorts of things to these appraisal events,” Cowan said in a phone interview from his office. “I would encourage people to bring anything that they think they would want someone to look at.”

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Cowan will mainly appraise political and military memorabilia, early photography, documents and manuscripts. Diane Wachs will look at furniture, lighting, porcelain, glass, silver and folk art. Grayson Sikes will appraise fine art items, paintings, sculpture and works on paper.

“We can cover the waterfront, whatever they want to bring in,” Cowan said.

Cowan, a native of Louisville, Ky., got into collecting as a graduate student when he developed an interest in 19th century photography.

“Every collector becomes a dealer in order to support their habit,” he said. “I began buying photographs and I found other people interested in the same things and began selling them and buying. Before long I knew I was a dealer.”

Candidly, he admits he is constantly asked what is the most unusual or unique object that has crossed his path.

“I don’t have any one favorite thing. I guess I have been on “Antiques Roadshow” for 13 years, in the auction business for 15 years and a dealer for 25. I have seen lots of amazing things,” he said.

One thing that did come to mind during the interview was a photograph of famed abolitionist John Brown, a daguerreotype that belonged to a direct descendent of Brown. The photograph sold at auction for $100,000.

“There are only half-dozen portraits of Brown,” Cowan said.

The path to success as a collector, or even dealer, is through education.

“To learn everything you can about what you want to collect. Reading books, going to museums, and talking to other collectors and dealers. The Internet is a powerful tool,” Cowan said. “The educated collector is the smart collector. You never learn everything.”

Cowan will speak at a cocktail reception Friday at the museum from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets for that event are $35, which includes a $10 ticket good for one verbal appraisal on Saturday. Appraisals will be conducted from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are required for each item and should be purchased for $10 each in advance. You must be able to carry each item and no firearms or jewelry will be appraised.

For tickets or more information contact the museum at (304) 529-2701.