The Appraiser’s Diary – Day at the Museum

Rachel G. HoffmanBy Rachel Hoffman

Several times a year, I donate my time and expertise to local museums as part of an “Antiques Roadshow” type of event for fundraisers. Recently, I did one for the Aurora History Museum.

One of my favorite appointments was a sweet elder man named Carl. He was my second of the day. He gently came up to my table and sat down. The first thing I do with everyone is make eye contact and smile and ask them their name. This is an emotional process for a lot of people and being warm and welcome right off makes them feel a lot more at ease. I asked Carl what he had today. It was a Selb painted German bowl – common – but I asked as I always do before I give any insight into the piece what he could tell me about it. When I asked him this, there were a couple beats and he finally said, “This belonged to Carol.” His eyes welled up with tears and I put my hand on his arm and asked him to share about Carol if he wanted to. Carol and Carl had been married for 55 years and she was the love of his life. He said that when he met her in high school, he said, “I’m gonna marry you!” and he did. I could feel the pure love and emotion as he spoke. It rocked me and as I sat there and took this in, I quickly realized that this whole experience meant more to Carl than finding out about that little painted bowl. That bowl sitting in front of us was a simple representation of a beautiful life shared between two people.

This was a good reminder for me and I was glad that it happened so early in the day. Often times in my store, people come in, one after another with boxes and boxes of stuff with no monetary value and I have to stop my work on the computer to sift through it – sometimes it’s hard to do that. I always try and stay very present but I know there have been some times when I wasn’t as gentle as I could have been.

The rest of the day, I spoke and looked at everyone and their pieces with integrity and purpose. I listened to what they had to say. People actually switched their appointments from some of the other appraisers to myself because I gained a reputation in the room for “being nice.” It was amazing that they didn’t really care about the monetary value of their treasures. Most things came with a provenance and deep sentimental attachment.

As many people know, I love making money, sealing a deal, talking about the bottom line but in life and love, there is no bottom line. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring. One of the things I have to remember in my industry and what I continually remind myself is to really try to be kind to everyone that comes in the store – because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. Everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something. Remembering this is easier said than done sometimes.

As I grow in my craft, I will carry this day with me forever and I am thankful for the experience. I am never going to forget Carl and his wife Carol and her German painted dish and the sentiment that it held. This whole experience makes me remember one of my favorite quotes about life:

“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” ~ George Washington Carver

My most fulfilling experiences are ones I do just to do for me and nobody else. It’s that stuff that sticks with us the rest of our lives – the fabric that binds us together as a humanity. Our experiences shape who we are and who we want to become. We are always evolving.

I never expect these moments but I love them because they remind me what life is about: life is about love. It’s about who you love but more importantly, it’s about how you love.

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