ATLANTIC CITY - The tiger maple desk was a fake.
Leigh Keno, one of the blond and bespectacled twins of Antiques Roadshow appraiser fame, knew it immediately, pointing out under his breath how pieces of 18th-century wood had been put together in an act of - yes, you may gasp - deception.
Also in on his conclusion were John Hays, the erudite appraiser from Christie's; Keno brother Leslie; and the debonair Wendell Garrett, another Roadshow rock star, smiling conspiratorially in his wheelchair. All were stationed Saturday inside the Atlantic City Convention Center, where the popular PBS show had set up camp for the first stop on its 2009 tour.
(The furniture appraisers were across from the paintings people, who spit out six-figure appraisals until the furniture guys were rolling their eyes. "I didn't think anything from Canada had that kind of value," Hays quipped after a $200,000-to-$300,000 appraisal of a winter scene by genre painter C. Krieghoff.)
Heck, pretty much everyone on the concentrically circled set knew that the desk brought in by Wendy DeSilva of Mahwah, N.J., was worthless except for poor DeSilva herself, who began the day with great hope for the worth of the 18th-century-ish tiger maple slant-top desk family heirloom (one friend estimated $75,000).
Once the cameras were rolling, at 4:18 p.m., Leigh Keno put that to rest with a devastatingly pointed and precise, numerically anchored deconstruction of the fakery that led to a very satisfying moment of bubble-bursting: "You waited a few hours. You're a nice lady. It's a fake."
"Oh my gosh!" said DeSilva, 56, a very good sport as it turned out. "Oh! That's terrible!"
"You totally nailed it," the producer told Keno.
This moment, one of dozens filmed during a marathon day of appraisals and staging, seems destined for broadcast in January, when the 14th season of PBS's most popular prime-time show, with 10 million weekly viewers, begins.
Thousands of people from near and far descended on this seaside resort - where, it should be noted, dollar values are always in flux - with their Fender Stratocasters and iron pizzelle makers, Civil War swords and Isadora Duncan dresses, paintings and doll collections, Aunt Jemima cookie jars and wooden horses of all manner, including one attached to an antique barber pole from a shop in Pitman, Gloucester County ($1,500).
Though the only Mr. Peanut costume was not an original, and the sports memorabilia that got the big appraisals were Yankees and Red Sox stuff - yo, Philly, what's up with that? - there were definite finds Saturday that should stand up nicely to the classics of Antiques Roadshow lore (though most of the thousands of items brought in for appraisal would not):
A grotesque Medusa-like wooden folk art sculpture of twisted branches and serpents' heads and birds from 1890, found in the eaves of his Delran home by Dennis Matkowski - and kept in the basement with a sheet over it - was valued at $30,000 to $50,000. "I think now it could possibly live in a different house," he said.
A Walt Whitman book, self-published, with a personal inscription - valued at $10,000 to $12,000: "For the Firemen at the house, corner of Fifth and Arch Sts Camden. With best respects, W.W." Owner Martha Toomey said the book might be an example of Whitman's penchant for giving books to men he fancied (which her fireman relative may or may not have been).
A silk-screened Janis Joplin poster from a concert in Schenectady, N.Y., that Fred Musco, 58, of Southampton, Burlington County, personally pulled down in 1968. Appraiser Gary Sohmers, the Hawaiian-shirt-and-orange-Converse-high-tops-wearing self-tagged king of pop culture, gave it a cool value of $8,000 to $10,000. "Now I really would never sell it," said a stunned Musco.
A pair of early-19th-century cut-out pastel silhouettes in frames purchased for $150 at a shop in Lancaster by Marjorie Prendergast were appraised at between $30,000 and $50,000! Enough said!
A baseball signed by members of the 1934 New York Yankees, including Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. This collectible, valued at $15,000, had a charming back story: The owner's mom worked as an elevator operator at a hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla., when she was 18. The Yankees stayed there for spring training, and each time one got on an elevator, he signed the ball.
There was lots of disappointment, like for Tom McGonigle's one-sided Enrico Caruso records, which he hoped would hasten his retirement as Atlantic City plumbing inspector. "They told me the weight of them was more than it was worth," he said.
And the chandelier carted in by Julie Karns of Pennington, N.J., which people in line oohed over. "Modern is the simplest thing to say," said appraiser Nick Davies, which just is not what you want to hear at Antiques Roadshow.
Twins Jim and Bob Spahr, 40, Philly guys, brought a couple of classic Philly collectibles: a Philadelphia A's jersey from the '20s, worn by their uncle Quinn Yowell, a pitcher in spring training (he got cut before the season) and a blue-and-gray-striped three-piece suit worn by Mario Lanza in an MGM movie. Neither got its turn on camera.
While Roadshow's day at the Shore did not appear to yield any true standout seashore memorabilia, the show did manage a neat trick by bringing some bathing beauties to the Boardwalk.
Not Miss America contestants - who left for Vegas three years ago - but a collection of lovely - a few in naughty poses, it must be said - bisque German bathing beauty figurines, which were sold on the Boardwalk for pennies around 1900.
Now, said Adamstown, Pa., doll appraiser Andy Ourant, who filmed the segment with host Mark Walberg on the Boardwalk, they can be worth as much as $1,500 each. "What's with this lady in the turtle shell?" Walberg said. (Never you mind. The bare-bottomed doll was deemed too naughty for PBS.)