Daniel Buck Soules poses in his store in Lisbon last week holding some of the tickets given to participants on the PBS television show “Antiques Roadshow.” Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

LISBON – It’s 2002, in Kansas City. Auctioneer Daniel Buck Soules is standing at a table on the set of the PBS television show “Antiques Roadshow,” his hair neatly combed, his suit impeccable.

Before him is an old and battered Coca-Cola sign that a woman had pulled out of a ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere. The sign isn’t much to look at. It’s riddled with bullet holes, and in one area it looks like someone might have run it through with a sword.

It’s pocked and dirty and rusty around the edges, and many of us would toss it into the trash can as junk.

Yet Buck, who once plucked a $3,000 painting out of a trash bin, is quite excited by the piece.

“Coca-Cola collectibles are probably the hottest collectibles that are available,” he tells the woman. “This sign is probably one of the earliest and rarest Coca-Cola signs that ever was produced. . . . Even in this condition, I would not be afraid to give you an auction estimate of five to seven thousand dollars, and at a good auction, if you had two Coca-Cola collectors who wanted this bad, it wouldn’t surprise me if it even went higher.”

A year later, on a different “Antiques Roadshow” set in Reno, Nevada, there’s Buck again, appraising a John Wayne production saddle at between $2,500 and $3,500. In Wichita, Kansas, it’s an early 20th-century papier-mache circus lion’s head Buck surmises will fetch up to $3,000 at auction.

And then on to Toronto, San Jose, Boston and a dozen other towns where Buck used his keen eye for value to appraise a weird variety of items for a television show said to draw millions of viewers per episode.

 ‘I’M SORRY, BUT THIS IS A COPY . . .’

Buck, an auctioneer from Lisbon Falls who usually drops his last name, Soules, spent 11 years touring with “Antiques Roadshow.” That’s no small thing. The PBS show, produced by WGBH Boston, has been nominated no less than 15 times for Emmy Awards and is still considered a major force in the PBS lineup.

Daniel Buck Soules, right, appraises a viewer’s collectible on the set of the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow.” Jeff Dunn, WGBH

For the show, Buck did what he’s been doing since the early 1970s – examining antiques, art, books and various items that defy description so he can educate the owners about their pieces history and value.

It wasn’t easy work. A day on the set of a reality television show was a long day.

“Eight to 12 hours of controlled chaos and seeing more items than anyone could even imagine,” Buck says. “The ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ if you really look at it, was probably one of the first, if not THE first reality television shows. It’s all filmed live. Nothing is staged, there’s no script. It’s all as it happens.”

Buck stopped working with “Roadshow” in 1999, yet he still gets recognized all the time by people who spotted him on the show.

“All of a sudden,” Buck says, “I’ll get people calling saying ‘I saw you on TV!’ It brings you to a different level in people’s eyes.”

Buck himself is not so awestruck. In his shop on Lisbon Street, there is no stack of discs or VCR tapes of his appearances on the show. If you want to find any mention of it on his website, you’ll have to search a bit. He doesn’t scour the TV Guide in anticipation of the reruns.

“I can honestly tell you, I’ve seen the “Antiques Roadshow” twice on television,” he says. “I watched it the very first time that I was aired on television. Honestly, I really don’t get excited about it. My ego isn’t so great that I’ve got to watch myself on television. There’s a lot of people on the “Antiques Roadshow” that like to watch themselves and I understand that.”

Which is not to say that Buck doesn’t have cool memories about his experiences with the show. He was there when the show was still finding its footing, after all. When Buck started touring with the crew in 1999, “Antiques Roadshow” was still letting people into its events on a first-come-first-serve basis. Which, in retrospect, wasn’t a great idea.

“Typically they let in around 6,500 people, but there were times when 8, 10 or 12,000 people showed up,” Buck recalls. “I remember in Tampa they literally had to call in the police. So many people were showing up, they had to cut it off and turn people away.”

During Buck’s tour with the show, he saw a little bit of everything. There were people who came in with low expectations only to hear jaw-dropping figures uttered by the appraisers.

It occasionally went the other way, as well.

Daniel Buck Soules talks with a viewer on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” about her French fan made of silk and bone. Courtesy of PBS.org

“You do see people come walking with an item,” Buck says, “and they’re like, ‘This is going to be great! We saw one in a museum and this is just like it.’ And then we have to tell them that, ‘I’m sorry, but this is a copy of one of those. It’s a reproduction. A piece of silver that looks like a Paul Revere piece of silver, it was actually made by somebody in the early part of the 20th century.’

“But then there are times when you’re able to sit down with somebody and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a piece here that’s worth a great deal of money.’ It’s always great when it’s a surprise.

“I will tell you,” Buck says, “that 80 to 90% of the people that come to the ‘Roadshow’ aren’t really looking to find out what the value of their item is. That’s an add on. A lot of them are there just for the education – what the piece is, where it came from, who the artist was, where he was working and why he’s well known.”

APPRAISING PORTRAITS FOR $2.25 MILLION

If Buck seems underwhelmed by his own work on an internationally acclaimed TV show, maybe it’s because none of the work was new to him. This is a man who started working auctions with his family when he was 8 years old and who started actively calling auctions in 1975, years before his work on the show.

This is a man who, for his entire life, has dealt with very old items and very large dollar figures – he once appraised a pair of early American portraits for $2.25 million. Fame is always just around the corner, after all, for a person who makes a career out of going on treasure hunts.

“It’s never the same two days in a row,” Buck says. “No house has the same stuff in it as the one next door. You just never know.”

In 2016, Buck attained more fame when he assessed the value of a pair of very old, yet very ordinary Levis jeans at $100,000. The jeans, originally purchased for $1.25 in 1897, had been stuffed in a trunk and forgotten for 119 years. When Buck recognized the value of the jeans, he took great pains to get them home for auction.

Sort of.

“I got them from a client in Arizona,” Buck says. “I put them in my briefcase and carried it on the plane with me.”

Lisbon’s Daniel Buck Soules talks about the history of a Coca-Cola sign from the late 19th century on the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow.” Courtesy PBS.org

The jeans eventually sold for $100,000 and, once again, Buck was surrounded by cameras. First came a crew from “Strange Inheritance,” a reality show from Fox Business, who wanted to get Buck on air.

“I was on with those jeans,” Buck says. “As soon as I did that, literally a day later, ‘Inside Edition’ was here filming me with the jeans. That was as strange as anything. I did watch those because I wanted to see how it came out.”

Buck has also appeared on programs like the “Weekend Home Show” and the “Tucson Morning Show,” both out of Arizona. Still, he’s not overly impressed with the stage lights and camera crews. He’d rather be closer to home, giving talks and performing auctions for seniors groups and various organizations.

Two weeks ago, Buck was at the Durham Historical Society to talk about his long career in auctions and, yes, about his work on “Antiques Roadshow” as well. Buck certainly doesn’t complain about the bit of fame he has achieved through the show.

“It does open up doors for you, I have to be honest,” he says. “What you find is that because of being on the ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ your level of expertise is recognized more than it would be if you were just some local auctioneer. I’ve been called internationally as an expert witness on fine art. We won the case. It’s opened up doors for me doing appraisal events. I did the Smithsonian Institution’s . . . Anacostia Museum. These are some of the doors that opened up because of that.”

TREASURE HUNTER AND PEOPLE HELPER

If Buck gets excited, it’s when he’s talking about the hunt – about the day-to-day chance that a true treasure might be waiting in the next attic, basement or dumpster to which he is summoned. It’s the pieces themselves – the cracked and faded painting, the dusty old chair or the exceedingly rare book that gets Buck’s heart racing. It’s the history of them and the story each item has to tell.

“I guess I’m kind of a romantic,” he says. “When I see an antique piece, like the Windsor chair, which was made around 1790, I think about when it was brand-spanking new. Who first sat in it? That was new to somebody 225 years ago. I’ve always been that way. I love 18th- and 19th-century American furniture and American history. That’s what really first drew me to this.”

Daniel Buck Soules stands with a viewer and her collectibles during a taping of an episode for the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow” earlier in Buck’s career.  Jeff Dunn, WGBH

But let’s not forget those dollar figures, which can sometimes grow very large indeed. Money is important in the auction game and sometimes the money is big enough that it’s life-changing for the person in possession of a valuable item.

“When I walk into somebody’s house and they don’t know what they have, I’m able to help them,” Buck says. “There have been times when I’ve been able to sell things for a lot of money and it’s changed people’s lives. That to me is huge.”

Such was the case at an appraisal in Rhode Island where Buck was asked to appraise several pieces of furniture. The family, which had been in possession of the pieces for decades, were hoping the furniture was worth as much as $10,000. But as it turned out, Buck told them, their furniture was from a cabinetmaker known as the Goddard Townsend School from the 18th century, and those pieces are rare, indeed. Instead of $10,000, the furniture was appraised at something more like $700,000.

Life-changing money, in other words.

“When you end up appraising something for somebody at that level, and they didn’t know it, it actually scares them,” Buck says. “All of a sudden they think, uh oh. Insurance. Locks on the doors and drapes on the windows. You can scare people, but you can also make them happy when you help them that way.”

Not long ago, a woman came into Buck’s store looking to sell some silver. Buck was happy to oblige, but as he was poking through the silver items, he came across a couple Tiffany pieces in the mix.

“I said, ‘Nah, you don’t want to sell these to us,'” Buck says. “Let’s put them in the auction.”

The Tiffany pieces ended up fetching roughly three times as much as they would have if she’d simply sold them for the silver.

In Connecticut, he was advising a man who was cleaning out a barn. The man had come across a ratty, old contraption and was just about to chuck it into a dumpster.

“I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. Just hold on.'”

When Buck uses that tone of voice, you know exciting things are at hand. In the case of the Connecticut man, Buck saved him from tossing out a rare squirrel cage, constructed in the 1830s and made to resemble a lavish house from that era. The cage later sold for thousands of dollars.

“I had a lot of cleaning up to do before I could sell it,” Buck says.

This is some of Daniel Buck Soules’ collection of memorabilia from his time as an appraiser on the PBS television show “Antiques Roadshow.” Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Buck has presided over charity auctions for nonprofit organizations such as the Providence, Rhode Island, Make-A-Wish Foundation – where he was the celebrity auctioneer along with the Hollywood movie producer Michael Corrente – and the USS Saratoga Foundation, which was held at the Rhode Island governor’s private home. He also conducted a charity auction for the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation along with the Red Sox Legends in support of the establishment of a branch of the Ted Williams Museum in Rhode Island. This event was attended by several Red Sox legends.

“Somewhere,” Buck says, “I’ve got a great picture of me and Luis Tiant.”

When you get right down to it, Buck didn’t need “Antiques Roadshow” to make him famous. When you’re a man who routinely sells seemingly ordinary items for six figures, fame is always at the door waiting to see what is revealed on your next treasure hunt.

“It’s always interesting,” Buck says, “because you just don’t know what you’re going to run into tomorrow.”


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