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Whoops! 'Antiques Roadshow' backs down after estimating school project at $50,000

A creepy many-faced jug was appraised at $50,000 until it was discovered it was a 1970s high-school project.

This high-school art project was originally valued at $50,000 on "Antiques Roadshow."


Still have those art projects you made for Mr. Larson's class in high school? The pottery project that cracked in the kiln, or that sketch of Madonna that ended up looking more like Mel Gibson? Dig them out. They might be worth something after all.

"Antiques Roadshow" appraisers have tough jobs, and it's inevitable that they won't always get their educated guesses right.

On an episode taped last June in Spokane, Washington, a man named Alvin Barr brought in a rustic clay pot with six creepy faces on it. It had been found covered with chicken droppings in an Oregon barn, and he'd spent $300 on it at an estate sale.

Appraiser Stephen L. Fletcher, a folk-expert, raved about it.

"It's bizarre and wonderful," Fletcher said on the episode that aired in January. He dated the pot to the late 1800s or early 1900s. "You even see a little bit of, like, Pablo Picasso going on here." And then the big news: Fletcher estimated the pot as being worth between $30,000 and $50,000. Not bad for a $300 estate sale purchase!

But after the show, a viewer recognized the distinctive pot as the work of not a Picasso-level artist, but a friend named Betsy Soule, who made it at her Oregon high school in the 1970s. (Yes, back in the '70s our high schools taught macrame, ceramics and pottery with the same fervor today's schools do computer programming and video game design.)

Even before Soule came forward as the artist, Fletcher said he had been reconsidering his soaring appraisal. In a statement earlier this year on the PBS show's website, he noted that he had seen similar pots that did fit his appraisal.

"As far as its age is concerned, I was fooled, as were some of my colleagues," Fletcher said. "The techniques of making pottery, in many ways, haven't changed for centuries. 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."

(Via Neatorama.)