Missoulians flocked to the Missoula Art Museum by the dozens Saturday with some of their oldest, rarest and — they hoped — most valuable artifacts.
Appraisers Timothy Gordon and Grant Zahajko, who have both appeared on Antiques Roadshow, donated four hours of their time as a fundraiser for MAM and to help people understand the history of their possessions and how much they’re worth in today’s market.
A Civil War sword with a sharkskin handle that someone bought at an estate sale was appraised for around $1,700.
A maple violin made in Germany in the 19th century in imitation of an Italian style from 1649 belonged to someone’s husband’s grandfather’s uncle. The bow, Gordon said, is often worth more than the violin itself. With a little more research he could determine its value, but he said it could be anywhere from $500 to $20,000.
Many people brought paintings and prints without the artist’s signature, which required Gordon and Zahajko to determine the era, style and technique and estimate its value from there.
Sometimes appraisers will lick their finger and rub the lower corner of a painting to see if the signature appears, Gordon said.
“It sounds unsavory, but it’s an industry standard.”
To get their possessions appraised, each person paid $20, all of which went to the museum. The money will be used for education programming, public programming, exhibitions, and to continue keeping the museum free to the public. By 12:20 p.m., nearly 100 tickets had been sold, raising around $2,000.
“This has been very successful, so we hope to do it again,” said Lily Scott, events and public programs coordinator.
Gordon and Zahajko sat at tables with microscopes and lights for examining the details of different artifacts. To jog his memory about the history of different pieces, Gordon carries rosemary oil in his pocket and smells it every now and then.
Bridget McMillion brought in two pieces, a print by an African artist, and a 1937 painting of Glacier National Park from St. Mary’s Lake. She said she was curious about their value after finding them at a garage sale and and an auction.
Gordon recognized the Glacier piece immediately, saying it was done by a Missoula artist named Leah Dewey. With a little restoration, it would be worth between $2,000 and $3,000, he said.
McMillion was surprised to learn of its value.
“You find a piece that resonates with you,” McMillion said. “For me, I just love Glacier Park, so I recognized this scene of Glacier and I assumed it was from when painters would come out by railroad in the '30s to St. Mary’s chalets, which aren’t there anymore, and then they would take them out by boat and let them paint. So I didn’t know it was a local artist, that was exciting, that he knew the gal.”
McMillion said it’s harder to find information about Montana artists because the value has more to do with this area, “and it’s sometimes more sentimental.”
Gordon and Zahajko stressed that the appraisals were “for entertainment,” and because they were done so quickly were not official. Even with so little time and so many items to examine, their knowledge was “phenomenal” McMillion said.
“I love the history of things,” Gordon said, while examining an item. “Everything has a story.”