Whatever you do, be sure not to refinish that desk of yours!

First impressions

There are very few of you out there (although you might not admit it) who don’t enjoy a nice bit o’ Antiques Roadshow.

We first encountered this programme in the United Kingdom, where an absolutely charming expert would bang on about a 1672 silver ladle for half an hour as the owner visibly brightened with every passing word, only to announce with shining eyes that it would be worth “at LEAST 200 pounds” in a good auction. At this point, the owner would deflate and cancel all early retirement plans.

When we realised that there was a United States version we were sceptical at first, but then became fans over time. We now tune in to PBS religiously every Monday night to see this favourite show, so when we saw there was an app for that, we couldn’t help but download it.

The familiar music was there, the treasure chest, the locations throughout the US … We donned our antiques expert hat and prepared to start appraising.

How it works

You load it up, and after the intro and good ol’ Mark Walberg (not to be confused with Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg) welcomes you to the game, you get right into the thick of it. Basically, you go round to different locations in the country and are challenged to purchase a selection of items on a budget.

They are all priced so you know what you can buy with the money you’ve got. Once you’ve done your shopping, you go on to the next stage – the real value reveal. You know what you paid for that Rookwood vase, but can you guess what it’s actually worth? The app gives you three choices for each item you purchased, and if you get any of them right you win bonus points.

You start off in California with one piece to get under $5,000, then head to Denver, Chicago, Miami and finally Boston. Your budget changes for each city.

When you’re in a city and choose a venue, you’ll get a room full of antiques. As you tap on each one another window opens with an enlarged picture, the antique’s background story from the person who owns it and its price.

The background story is anything from “My great-grandfather bought it when he was in China” to “I got it at an estate sale and we keep our toilet rolls in it.” When you go to the final reveal, the app tells you exactly what the piece is. Turns out that the loo roll holder is actually an Egyptian bowl from 230BC and it is worth more than your house, let alone a super-saver bag of Charmin.

When we played

We started off in California at Malibu Antiques, and were given the first task with a budget of $5,000. We looked at the Kewpie Doll first, but it was $1,400 and frankly kinda gave us the creeps. We dismissed it and went on to some posters. Hmmm … we quite liked the look of these and they were priced at $2,380 for the pair.

Not wishing to appear hasty, we put them on the back burner and looked at a saddle, an African ritual sword and a celestial globe made by the Blunt Company. As this was $4,430 and close to the limit of our budget, we decided to purchase it. When we were taken to the guess-the-proper-appraisal page, we had a choice between $3,000 to $5,000, $6,000 to $8,000 and $9,000 to $11,000. It was in great condition and from the year 1864 … OK, we would go $6,000 to $8,000. Hot dog! We were right!! Just take us on to the next city and call us Vicki Keno!

From then on our skills wavered considerably. Even when we chose items we had seen on TV and so were sure we knew the value of them, we turned out to be wrong. The app, ever cheery and supportive still put “Well Done!” underneath our score, even though we hadn’t won a bonus in ages. We don’t yet know what the next level up from “Novice” is as we haven’t made it there.

Although we spent a lot of the time playing this game on our own, basically cementing our reputation of being a nerd, others couldn’t help joining in from time to time to offer their appraisals. There’s just something about the Antiques Roadshow.

Final thoughts

This is a fun app in the short term, although it’s probably better on an iPad. The iPhone version will make you wish you bought those antique reading glasses after a while.

There’s no substitute for the REAL Antiques Roadshow, and I do still miss the UK version but there are so many really old things in Blighty that something has to be extra extraordinary to be worth a great deal.

If you’re suffering from withdrawal symptoms when the show isn’t on TV, this may be just the thing to keep you from going mad and allow you to hone your appraising skills to a razor’s edge.

Antiques Roadshow
Cost: $2.99
Seller: Public Broadcasting Service
Devices: iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone
Rating: E for Everyone