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Friday Slide Show: A Porcelain Music Box Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

4 September 2020

Now and then we play what we call the home version of Antiques Roadshow. We put our hands behind out head, lean back in our chair and look around the room for something we might bring to the show.

Then we imagine talking to an appraiser and getting the story about our mysterious object. Sometimes we even do it with a British accent, like the original show. Depends.

We never discover our treasure is worth anything with a comma in it. That isn't what the point of this game. Everything would be worth a quarter million.

The fun is creating a history for the object. And the more far-fetched the better.

So you don't need a lot of objects laying around to play this game because you can make up a different story for the same object every time you play.

"Tell me a little about your music box," Joe the appraiser begins.

"Well, I think it's porcelain and it plays a little tune I can never make out."

"I believe it plays Unchained Melody by Alex North made famous by the Righteous Brothers. Do you mind if I try it?" Joe asks politely.

"Oh, not at all, go ahead."

['Unchained Melody' plays softly]

"And may I ask how you acquired it?"

"My wife saw it in Goodwill one day on our way to lunch and on the way back, she just had to have it. She thought about it all during lunch, trying to convince herself not to buy it. But she really wanted it."

"I can see why," Joe admires the piece. "It's a lovely piece. Can I ask what you paid for it?"

"Oh, not much," we brush off the thought. "Less than lunch, certainly. Maybe $10. Not more."

"And have you ever had it appraised?"

"Appraised? No. It was from Goodwill. And my wife likes it. That's all I really know about it."

"Well, you're right about the porcelain. It was imported from Japan by the Otagiri Mercantile Company, which operated in San Francisco for about 46 years from 1954 to 1994 when they were bought out. In addition to porcelain, it imported Japanese stoneware and giftware.

"This particular piece was sold by the San Francisco Music Box, which at one time had outlets in nearly every mall in America. They would buy the porcelain from OMC and slip little music boxes made in China into the base."

"So I guess it's pretty common," we hazard.

"Porcelain hummingbird music boxes are common, yes," Joe says, "and, of course, were cast in molds for mass production. But your particular piece is quite unusual. It's more elaborate than most with a number of highly detailed flowers and both birds in full flight."

"I'm all ears."

"It was obviously designed by a master craftsman," Joe continues, "who put a lot more into this than he had to. Usually they have one bird and two flowers or two birds and one flower and not much else. But this has quite a lot going on."

He pauses while we try to lift our eyebrows as high as they can go.

"I didn't clean it," we brag, "because I've seen on the show how that can ruin a piece's value."

"Well, yes, it can if we're talking about removing a centuries old patina," he replies. "But no harm will come to the piece if you occasionally dust it, you know."

"Oh, I didn't know that," we sheepishly cover our tracks.

"Would you like to know what it's worth?" he generously changes the subject.

"Oh, I'm not selling," we laugh. "My wife would kill me. She just loves the thing."

Cut to Mark Walberg and something worth a quarter million dollars.

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