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Chesapeake Collectibles: MPT Opens the Treasure Chest for a Seventh Season

Dec 27, 2016 03:17PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

So what’s in your attic? About 700 collectors recently clutched or carried their personal treasures to the Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City, where Maryland Public Television recorded material for13 episodes of Chesapeake Collectibles for its 2017 season. The popular series’ seventh season premieres this coming January.

I was there for a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when more than 1,000 collectors and their companions show up for a weekend of intense filming of one of MPT’s most popular shows with a cultish following concentrated in the Delmarva area.

Who are these people? And what are their treasures?

I stopped a stranger on the steps to the entrance of the building where the appraisals and tapings were already in full swing. Ruth of Carroll County, carried a pre-Prohibition Baltimore Jug whose value had just been estimated at $200–400 by a Chesapeake Collectibles appraiser. Her husband showed me a painting by French artist Horace Vernet (1789–1863) that had hung in their music room for years. “It scared our daughter when she practiced the piano, so we covered it up with rose-printed fabric,” he said, adding that its value had just been estimated at $1,500. “Do you plan to sell them?” I asked. “Oh, no. We will keep them in the family,” was the reply.
I passed by a long line of entrants waiting patiently in the hallway for their turn at the registration table, where they would be given color-coded tickets matching them to the 13 categories of items. As we entered the main holding area, I spied a riser where a woman was being made-up by a cosmetologist using Chanel-brand products, according to a sign on the shelf.

Tom Williams, an MPT staffer who was my escort for the day, explained that the woman had been chosen to go on camera based on the potential value of the jewelry she had brought for appraisal. She would later be surprised upon learning their worth. A Marquis-cut diamond ring that had belonged to an ancestor had an estimated value of $40,000 while her own favorite pinky ring clocked in at $7,000 or more. Would she sell either one? “Heck, no. I plan on wearing them myself,” she said with a Cheshire-cat smile.

It was easy to talk to other hopefuls as we made our way through the holding area, where about 100 people at a time waited to have their four minutes with one of the team of 13 professional appraisers. There was a feeling of shared excitement in the room, as strangers shared their stories with their neighbors. Bill and Gail of Anne Arundel County lifted a protective covering over a large painting by mid-19th-century artist Alfredo Buenaventura they had brought in for evaluation. “We got this for $40 in a thrift store and are curious about its value,” said Bill. His wife showed me a gouache on-board painting they thought might be by artist Elizabeth Shippen Green. As it turned out, the gouache was indeed the work of Green but not worth much because its colors had faded. But the Buenaverntura had an estimated value of $500. Will they sell either? Bill nixed that notion, saying the Buenaventura would go back on the wall of his office and the other will return to their daughter, who had received it as a christening gift.

I wanted to linger among the “waiters” to learn the stories behind every one, but Tom guided me into the main studio area, where four main cameras were set up in front of the Chesapeake Collectibles set so familiar to regular viewers of the program. Tables where appraisers would sit to talk with each contestant were located around the perimeter of the set, dressed to recreate an old-fashioned antique shop.

Four cameras captured the “on stage” action as well as glimpses of people passing by in back of the set, peering through the glass to get a closer look. We stood well out of camera range while interviewing a handsome African American woman who had just been filmed with appraiser Philip J. Merrill. Hollie, who was the first recipient of a Ph.D. from Morgan State University, had learned from Merrill that a Class of 1908 diploma from Spellman College in Atlanta, class photos, and a special class locket that belonged to one of her ancestors had an estimated value of $6,000–7,000. She plans to donate the valuable items to the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Accompanied by her brother Brett Tyler, she said they are avid fans of Chesapeake Collectibles. “It’s always lots of fun—and we’ll be back next year,” she said, fingering the venerable locket with new appreciation of its value. Merrill, a specialist in Black Americana who has served as an appraiser on Chesapeake Collectibles for six years, was equally delighted. “This is history in the making.”
Wendy, waiting in line with a circa 1850 Gothic prayer chair, thought she might have another historic find. She had inherited it from a family member related to the owner of a haberdashery in the shadow of the Annapolis State House. I left her waiting in line with high hopes only to learn in a follow-up phone call that the chair was oak and not ebony and that its estimated value was $40. A loyal MPT viewer, she was nonetheless happy to be part of an event she would watch during the show’s 2017 season.

One of the most intriguing treasures to be featured in Chesapeake Collectibles’ new season is an intricately woven coat of many colors that Chris and her daughter Sophia brought for appraisal. One of her husband’s ancestors had been employed in the home of Ernest Hemingway’s father and cared for his son when the famous author was a baby. The garment, a court robe from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), dated back to the early 1900s and was in mint condition.

Its beauty and originality caught the eye of a producer, who sent Chris to the make-up station to prepare for her TV appearance. Chris was kept in the dark about the coat’s estimated value, learning on-camera from appraiser Dennis Harter that it was an authentic ceremonial robe worn by royalty and worth about $1,000 today.

Harter, a collector of Asian art with 36 years of experience as an appraiser, pointed out that interest in Chinese textiles is cyclical. Knowing that the robe was a cherished family heirloom, he suggested to Chris that it be displayed on a wooden frame in her home for future generations to enjoy. The verdict: keep it out of the light and in the family. Chris plans to do just that, eventually leaving it to her daughter Sophia, 22, who accompanied her mom to the event.

Away from the official Chesapeake Collectibles set, short lines formed at sections where appraisers specializing in Asian art, Black Americana, books and manuscripts, drawings and paintings, firearms and swords, furniture and decoratives, generalists, jewelry and watches, memorabilia and ephemera, porcelain/pottery/glass, rugs and textiles, sculpture and folk art, and toys and amusements, conducted one-on-one evaluation sessions with attendees.

Everywhere, volunteers wearing burgundy knit shirts facilitated traffic, keeping order where there could have been chaos. These volunteers, most of whom were MPT employees, had given up their weekends to be part of an important event. “Every one of these volunteers is important,” said Susanne Stahley, producer of MPT’s Chesapeake Collectibles and Artworks series. “This weekend is the basis for 90 percent of the material we will use for the 13 episodes in the show’s 2017 season.”

Stahley’s challenge is to edit the footage into individual episodes—a task she likens to “fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.”

Four cameras record the main set evaluations while in a closet-sized remote control room, the series directors, Dwight Phillips and Bill Clarke, perform a live edit called a “line switch.” A second crew also records about half of the sequences at a smaller, two camera setup behind the main set.

In addition to the on-site episodes, Stahley and MPT crews visit collections throughout the Maryland area too large or precious to be moved. “Our goal is to put together a good range of stories that are fun for our audience,” says Stahley. Two of her favorite finds for the upcoming season are a collection of Hall of Famers baseball cards a gentleman found in an old trunk of his uncle’s, which were given an estimated value of $50,000, and a tiger gun that had belonged to a famous hunter, with an estimated value of $300,000.

“The Mid-Atlantic region is rich in history, with many residents who have traveled the world and can shed light on historic events and personal family histories,” Stahley says. “The majority of family pieces that are brought in are not for sale, although there is a category of people who go to estate or yard sales looking for treasures and bring them to us for an expert opinion,” she says, citing as an example a woman who brought in a collection of antique jewelry for which she had paid about $20 and was delighted to discover it was worth substantially more.

Stahley finds working with series executive producer Ken Day a rewarding experience. Day, a tall gentleman with a relaxed demeanor, has been with MPT for several decades. It was he who negotiated with public television station WGBH in Boston, whose Antiques Roadshow series has national recognition, for permission to launch Chesapeake Collectibles in Maryland with a similar format. Agreement was reached and seven seasons later, the Maryland version is one of MPT’s most-watched series.

Media celebrity Rhea Feikin has hosted the show since its early years and loves the job. I watched with awe as she blended herself into the action, changing her outfit several times to record segments for episodes of the series. Feikin is the person who ties the show together; her upbeat personality adding to the appeal of the program.
“Chesapeake Collectibles is one of the most fun things I do at MPT. It’s a full weekend of really hard work—but it’s joyous!” Feikin says. “The hardest part for me is assembling 13 outfits with jewelry, scarves, and other accessories and then making quick wardrobe changes as we film all of these episodes during the course of our two days of shooting.”

MPT’s Chesapeake Collectibles has proven its worth as a popular source of entertainment for TV viewers, who learn the history of family heirlooms and experience the surprise of the owners when expert appraisers reveal the estimated monetary value of their treasures. It’s a winning formula—as opposed to today’s many fabricated reality shows.


Chesapeake Collectibles generally airs on Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. on MPT-HD.

Each episode repeats overnight on MPT-HD and also airs on MPT2 on Saturdays at 7 p.m. 

Watch for the new season 7 premiere Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017: 8:00pm

For information on the new season and more information about the program, visit