This woman being filmed had a rare, tiny guitar thing to show off.
  • The Stranger
  • This woman being filmed had a rare, tiny guitar thing to show off.
Like Dave, I spent Saturday morning fulfilling every aspiring spinster's dream by getting a family heirloom appraised on Antiques Roadshow. Unfortunately, the bulk of my family heirlooms—the antique meat cleaver collection and an infantry's worth of guns—are buried appreciating in value in a bunker in Idaho.

So I brought along my antique, nickel-plated rape whistle* for appraisal. It was bequeathed unto me by my grandmother when I left home for college. Grandma explained that it had been her spinster aunt's** rape whistle in San Francisco in the 1920s—she wore it always—but she'd never had an excuse to use it because she waltzed with ugly all her life. But Grandma said I might need it.

"Aw, are you calling me pretty, Grandma?" I asked.

"Somebody might think so," she said in what passes for a compliment in my family.

I figured the whistle couldn't be worth much but I love its shrill, wheezy call, and I wanted to know more about it.

As Dave mentioned, thousands of people converged on the Convention Center Saturday morning for a chance to meet with one of 70 appraisers working in 22 different specialty fields. However, only about 80 people are interviewed on camera with their finds—be it because they have a genuinely priceless item, a good story, a fantastic forgery, or some other reason that makes for good television.

After snaking through lines of grandmotherly and grandfatherly types who seemed to all be clutching knick-knacks and furniture I'd gladly hoard in my home, I met James the Collections appraiser who, bless him, seemed just as enthusiastic about discussing my whistle as he had appraising the incredibly rare and expensive set of antique watchmaking tools that had preceded me.

"Well, the chain's worth something," he began, launching into a brief history of the chain, its design, and the region in Italy where it had been crafted. All fascinating! "It's probably worth $100," he said.

The whistle: "Not so much."

Turns out my whistle was the U.S. made Frankfort variety, which was a cut-rate whistle for its day. "The whistle to have was a brass ACME Thunderer," James said. "It's twice as loud and shrill as your whistle, and it's what all the police officers in the day carried."

My whistle's worth today? "Maybe $30," he said apologetically.

Which is fine with me. Its value wasn't important—I'll never sell it—but knowing that someday, I'll be passing on an inferior rape whistle to my own questionably attractive grandchild is, frankly, priceless.

*Worth noting: There is no discernible difference between a rape whistle and a regular whistle.
**My mother now swears it was my great-great grandmother's rape whistle, and that great-great Aunt Sylvia was actually quite lovely. I still swear it was an aunt but short of digging my grandmother up and asking her, I suppose we'll never know for sure.