In search of hidden treasures

Published 9:50 pm Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nancy Cocco knew the framed print stashed in her garage must have some value.

Twice in recent years, she’d taken it to different frame shops and asked them to remove the print – an 1839 lithograph called Melton’s Breakfast – so she could use the frame for another piece of artwork. And twice, the frame shops have refused the job.

“So I just stuck it back in the shed with plans to bring it here,” said Cocco, walking out of the Riddick’s Folly annual Hidden Treasurers Appraisal Show Saturday afternoon.

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Cocco inherited the print from her grandmother, the late Annabelle Melton, who may have believed some of her ancestors were shown in the print.

Turns out, the print is probably worth about $1,200 to $1,400, based on the 1999 sale of an identical print by Sotheby’s Auction House in New York.

“I hope my grandmother is happy. I’m so excited I can’t stand it,” Cocco said. “This is not going back in the shed.”

Dozens of people dropped by the event, which was similar to the beloved PBS hit “Antiques Roadshow” at the National Guard Armory. A panel of experts with knowledge in a plethora of areas – books and publications, Civil War artifacts and firearms, clocks, coins and currency, dolls, furniture, glass, jewelry, linens, paintings and prints, primitives and folk art, porcelain and glass, silver, sports memorabilia, and toys and games – were on hand to check out people’s antiques and memorabilia.

Lee King, exhibit director for Riddick’s Folly, and his wife started the Hidden Treasures fundraiser 10 years ago, one year after they traveled to Richmond with hopes of making it onto an episode of “Antiques Roadshow.” Aside from the obvious goal of raising money for Riddick’s Folly, King said, he started the event as a way to give the people in Suffolk’s history-loving community a chance to have a similar experience.

Shannon Pritchard, an appraiser who specializes in Civil War antiques, carefully took apart a framed tintype of a Union solder.

“Condition is everything,” he told owner Kelley Simonds, a Civil War buff from Portsmouth. He estimated the small tinted image to be worth about $200, adding it would be worth substantially more if it was a Confederate soldier in the tintype.

“There weren’t nearly as many images taken of Confederate soldiers,” he said.

Across the room, James Ford of Smithfield had several appraisers clustered around his yard sale finds – two large framed photographs of black golfers, one of which showed a group of women, that were taken during the mid-1940s.

King and appraiser Ray Felton knelt down with magnifying glasses, struggling to make out a word on one woman’s shirt. (Turned out to be a first name, Gladys)

Looking at the background in the photos helped the appraisers with their detective work. The Spanish moss draped in the trees indicated a tropical location. But based on U.S. history of that era, the images were more likely to have been taken in Bermuda or Cuba than in the American South.

Felton said he wasn’t sure how much the pictures would fetch at auction.

“But I think you’ve got a real treasure there,” he told Ford.

Eventually, Ford said, he will hang them in his home. But first, he wants to continue trying to find out more about the history of the photographs and the people in them.