High School Project Accidentally Valued at $50,000 on Antiques Roadshow

Grotesque Face Jug.

Image: The “Grotesque Face Jug” | NPR

If you have elderly parents or basic cable, you know the show: people bring in family items or garage sale finds to have them appraised by experts, and with any luck, their finds are worth maybe a few hundred bucks. For one Antiques Roadshow participant, the number awarded his item was much higher: a whopping $50,000—only the item was made by a high schooler in 1973, and wasn’t really an antique.

The item in question, a creative-looking “Grotesque Face Jug,” received some high praise and a high number from its evaluator, Stephen Fletcher: “[This piece] is bizarre and wonderful. You even see a little bit of Pablo Picasso going on here. It’s a little difficult to identify precisely when it was made, but I think it’s probably late 19th or early 20th century,” Fletcher said. “Estimating its value is a little difficult. I think in a retail setting, somebody might well ask in the area of between $30,000 and $50,000 for this.”

The owner of the piece, Alvin Barr, exclaimed, “What! No!” Rightly so, it seems.

The original creator of the work, Betsy Soule, now 60, received a phone call from an old friend who had seen the show and recognized the pot. Somehow, her artwork had traveled about 60 miles from Churchill High School, where it was made, to an estate sale, where it was purchased by its current owner, Alvin Barr.

Soule and her friend contacted Antiques Roadshow to tell their side of the story and to prove that she really was the original creator.

Following the new information. Fletcher reconsidered his evaluation of the “Grotesque Face Jug.” He insists that the jug was “modeled or sculpted with considerable imagination, virtuosity, and technical competence,” he said. “This mysterious piece was reportedly found at an estate sale, covered with dust, straw, and chicken droppings, and purchased for $300. As far as its age is concerned, I was fooled, as were some of my colleages.”

“Obviously, I was mistaken as to its age by 60 to 80 years. I feel the value at auction, based on its quality and artistic merit, is in the $3,000-$5,000 range. Still not bad for a high schooler in Oregon,” he said.

For his part, Alvin Barr is glad the item wasn’t worth tens of thousands of dollars. After the initial appraisal, he had packed it away safely, but now that he knows its true worth, he keeps it on his table so he can enjoy it.

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