In years past, a George Sotter painting was appraised for $150,000, while at the other extreme, a Pittsburg-brand toilet "wasn't worth [thematically appropriate bad word]," its owner would proclaim.
This year, there were plenty of treasures that people lugged into the Heinz History Center and waited in line sometimes for hours to have them appraised. But there were less dramatic totals than the Sotter painting and tamer reactions than the toilet appraisal drew.
The sixth annual Pittsburgh's Hidden Treasures Appraisal Event on Sunday was a frenzy of hopes and disappointments, with most people saying they enjoyed learning some history, interacting with people and participating in all the what-ifs and might-have-beens.
The top appraisals involved an 18th century clock valued at $15,000 and a mid-1800s revolver appraised at $12,000.
Ned Schano, Heinz History Center spokesman, said it was "the most successful event yet."
"It's amazing the quantity and quality of objects brought into the history center," he said. "While many visitors walked away with impressive appraisals, nearly every visitor learned important historical information about their priceless family heirlooms."
Interesting objects throughout the day including a trunk owned by Henry Clay Frick, Steelers uniforms from the 1950s, numerous Civil War swords and guns, baseballs signed by the 1960 Pirates, several antique quilts, and a letter written by Frederick Douglass during his first visit to Pittsburgh, he said.
But the parade of treasures also included a walrus-skull scrimshaw, a meteorite and a piece of clay containing what the owner claimed to be the first-ever written prescription. Two quilts he mentioned were valued at $2,200 and $1,800 with a rare African-American crazy quilt from the late 19th century judged to be worth $500 to $800.
Traditional jewelry, antiques and glassware mixed in with the weirder stuff.
A large race-car tire with a smooth tread would seem destined for the junkyard had it not contained some valuable provenance: The tire came from the race car of NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt, who also signed the tire.
Rob Shultz, 33, of Center, Beaver County, was 14 in 1994 when he attended a NASCAR event at Pocono Raceway, where he maneuvered to purchase a Goodyear Eagle tire for $20 that had been discarded by Earnhardt's pit crew. In coming weeks, Earnhardt made an appearance at an area Chevy dealership, where he agreed to sign the tire only because he recognized it to be one of his own.
Mr. Shultz's tire was appraised at $600 to $1,200 -- a good return on his $20 investment. The conversation piece is destined to hang on the Shultz living room wall, once his house is big enough to accommodate it. "I'll just have to convince my wife, [Lisa]," he said.
History center officials estimated that 1,500 people, with a long line curling around the building when the event began at 10 a.m., had items appraised by about 40 appraisers, include experts from Christie's, the world's largest fine art auction house.
KDKA officials rounded up notable finds museumwide to feature during special 30-minute programs to be broadcast later this year.
Interesting appraisals involved a 1903 Tiffany sterling silver spike in a Tiffany wooden box owned by Jane Sawyer, 82, of Hampton. It was the ceremonial first spike used in construction of the New York City subway system a century ago. New York City Mayor Seth Low pounded it into the track before it was pulled back out and presented to him. After the mayor passed away, his wife presented the spike to Frederick W. Myers, the mayor's business secretary and confidante and also the grandfather of Ms. Sawyer's husband. The spike drew an appraisal of $1,500 to $2,000, but Ms. Sawyer said the appraiser said it could bring 10 times that amount if marketed in New York, where its historic value would be significant.
Loretta Fallon, 79, of Cranberry bought a handmade but soot-covered wedding gown in 1969 for $5 that was made about 1850 in current-day Czech Republic. The original bride who wore the gown made of hand-woven fabric with detailed cross-stitching and applique was Ms. Fallon's ancestor.
The dress is valued at $2,000. "I'm very happy, but it's not for sale," Ms. Fallon said. "It's nice to know someone recognizes the value of it."
Monsignor Francis A. Glenn, once archivist of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, gave church maintenance man Joe Rauterkus, 62, of the West End a packet of sports memorabilia from the Pittsburgh Stove League, which is thought to be the forerunner of Dapper Dan. The 1913 to 1915 collection includes memorabilia and photographs from testimonial dinners for Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Pirates manager Fred Clarke. Mr. Rauterkus said the appraiser told him it's the first memorabilia he's ever seen from the Stove League, and he valued it at $3,000, largely due to the fact that Clarke autographed his photograph and another testimonial document.
"Oh my gosh, that's beautiful," Mr. Rauterkus said. "I heard $3,000 and said, 'Holy heck.' "
There's interest, he said, in loaning the memorabilia to the history center for display, but in time, he said, the Stove League packet will go to his son.
James Brown, 70, of Hampton had the front page from the Pittsburgh Commercial newspaper from two days after Abraham Lincoln's assassination. It declared Lincoln to be alive and John Wilkes Booth to be captured. Neither was true. Inaccuracies in a newspaper, valuable? Indeed, the front page and a sword and other Civil War items were valued at $2,000.
Then there was Daniel McGowan, 59, of Meadville with his 1959 Gibson guitar, featuring f-notes and sunburst finish. The ES-330TD Gibson had previously been appraised at $3,000, but this time, the appraisal doubled to $6,000.
"I don't think I'd sell it for that, but it's good to know what it's worth for insurance purposes," said Mr. McGowan, who plays guitar in the group High and Tight. "If the price were right, I would sell it."
His father bought the guitar, but his uncle played it before Mr. McGowan continued playing it until it was retired in 2000, even thought it remains in playing condition.
Among the successes were the more common busts, one literally.
An older gentleman, trying to maneuver a marble-topped table through the doors, chipped the marble.
Then a gentleman departing from the appraisal met an acquaintance who asked him what the appraiser said about his pastel painting and pottery.
"He said there's a Dumpster at the side of the building," he said.
David Templeton: email@example.com or 412-263-1578. First Published August 25, 2013 12:45 PM