Crowdsourcing a time machine
By Rachel Reed
Appraising items from around the world and through the ages, Lori Verderame tells the stories of history through the objects that were left behind—and helps people make a little dough in the process.
Lori Verderame (A.B. ’87) has always loved history. As a young child, her father, a World War II veteran, would captivate her with his stories, often using antiques and other objects to help paint a rich picture of the past. Her love for history followed her through her time at U-M (as a history major, naturally) and then through graduate school, where she eventually earned her Ph.D. in art history at Penn State University.
After her studies and a university teaching career at SUNY and Penn State, Verderame took a job as a museum curator, but she wasn’t content to just sit behind a desk. Wanting to engage the public, she began to hold open sessions for people to bring in their heirlooms and antiques for appraisal. One day, a woman came in asking about an object she’d recently sold for $50 to a person who had claimed that was all it was worth. It turned out that the woman had actually sold an original Revolutionary War document that Verderame knew could fetch closer to $50,000. Verderame felt heartbroken for the woman and decided that she wanted to dedicate her career to helping people learn the true value of their family heirlooms.
Today, Verderame evaluates objects for both individuals and major institutions. She is the star appraiser on Discovery’s Auction Kings, and she has appeared on the FOX Business Network and Inside Edition. She also travels across the globe to present at over 150 events each year. She appraises antiques in front of live audiences, hoping not only to give them an idea of what their things are worth, but also to teach them how to identify valuable items themselves.
“I try not to hide anything so that I can show the audience exactly what I am looking for as I appraise,” says Verderame. “I teach; I laugh. I’ve even been known to tell a joke or two at the expense of the Ohio State Buckeyes—even in Columbus.”
Throughout her career, Verderame has seen a treasure trove of fascinating and sometimes priceless objects. During one event, a woman brought a $100,000 Edgar Degas pastel drawing that she’d found hidden in an upholstered chair she’d nabbed at a garage sale. She’s also seen an authentic Picasso rummaged from an estate sale for a mere $2.
As an appraiser for the television show Auction Kings, Verderame shines in her role identifying items, describing their history, and helping to determine their value. On season four of the show, she even had the chance to scope out Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk.
Verderame has appraised objects that have spanned the globe—and the ages. She’s valued a NASA moon boot from the Apollo 13 mission and assessed George Washington’s wallet. She’s seen an ancient Egyptian mascara jar from the year 80 B.C. and a gemstone-encrusted good luck charm that belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.
Of course, there are also things that wind up relegated to the junk pile, and Verderame has seen those, too. (Beanie Babies, anyone?)
“Sometimes buyers get a bargain,” she says with a laugh. “Sometimes they pay way too much!”
One rule of thumb for not getting taken as a sucker? Avoid things specifically marketed as “collectibles,” says Verderame. “They usually aren’t as valuable as you might think. If someone has to tell you it’s collectible, it probably isn’t.”
In recent years, Verderame has seen a spike in the public’s interest in antiques and valuables, which means her career will keep booming. She’s even got a new television gig in the works. But most importantly, it means more people want to share her love and appreciation for the objects history has left behind. And that’s why she got into the business in the first place.