The owner of the big blue brooch lets out an almighty gasp. She’s standing opposite the valuer on Antiques Roadshow, and he’s just relayed the shocking truth about her precious family heirloom. Before coming on the show, the lady had been told by various jewelers that her glistening accessory was worthless. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Understandably, when the lady presented her brooch to Antiques Roadshow expert John Benjamin, she had very low expectations. Other jewelers had told her that the accessory, known as the "big, blue blob," was nothing more than a piece of costume jewelry and that the big stone in the middle was, in fact, stained glass..
Her traumatic experience
The lady even went as far as to say that these jewelers had been quite rude to her and her partner. Some alleged that the diamonds were fake, while others claimed they were real — though not of high quality.
So, what exactly was the truth?
Getting a first look
Well, you can see why the brooch became known as the "big, blue blob." At the center of it is a large cushion-shaped blue jewel. And if you didn’t have the proper knowledge, it would perhaps be easy to assume the eye-catching gem was merely a well-made imitation — no way near as valuable as the real thing.
But that’s where John came in.
The man of the hour
Oh, yes, if anyone could give this woman the accurate valuation, it was John. Having left school at just 17 years old, he’d served a four-year apprenticeship at an antique jewelry shop.
From there, his career soared. And he ultimately became the International Director of Jewelry at Phillips Fine Art Auctioneers. The man certainly knows his stuff — and this brooch would be no exception.
A touching backstory
It meant a lot to the woman that someone was finally taking her and the brooch seriously. To the owner, the accessory was a precious family heirloom handed down from her grandmother.
And it had played an important role in her own life, too.
The brooch's importance
The lady’s father gave her the brooch to wear on her wedding day — as her something blue. And so the possibility that it was merely a hunk of junk would no doubt be soul-destroying.
As it turned out, though, she was right to get a second opinion.
After taking a look, John explained that the brooch's style was actually quite “ordinary.” The shiny blue cushion-like stone in the middle was surrounded by smaller white ones — a fairly conventional pattern. But, as John explained, appearances can be deceiving....
As John began examining the brooch, he just couldn’t get over the size of the main gem. "The stone in the middle is an absolutely enormous sapphire," he told the anxious woman.
And she remained speechless as the expert valuer proceeded to reveal his findings.
A most unique find
Plenty of people own brooches that feature precious jewels such as sapphires, but it’s unlikely theirs is as big as this one. In his expert opinion, John believed the sapphire weighed between 25 and 30 carats.
"In the world of gemstones, that’s quite big actually," a flabbergasted John explained. But then he took a closer look.
Unlocking a rich history
By doing this, he was able to offer up a pretty good idea of where it came from. "It comes from Ceylon, which is, of course, Sri Lanka today.
Ceylon sapphires are typically this very bright cornflower-blue color." But what about the rest of the brooch?
Flipping the script
While some of the other jewelers had told this lady that the white stones around the outside were made from paste, John confirmed that they were real diamonds. Not only that, but all the gemstones were, he explained, mounted in gold and set in silver.
"It's an absolute screamer," said John. The lady let out a nervous laugh, clearly stunned and perhaps a little smug. And then there were the other details to take in, too.
Putting the "antique" in Antiques Roadshow
The brooch may have been in the lady’s family for a few generations, but she had no idea how old it actually was. “Well the brooch itself was made about the mid to the end of the 19th century so it is about 130 to 140 years old," John revealed to the woman in front of a stunned crowd.
That meant it was around long before her grandmother! Finally, the time had come to reveal the brooch's value.
Silencing the haters
“So, if I were to say that whoever these jewelers were, they were talking absolute rubbish, would you be happy to hear that?" John asked. Laughing, the woman said, "I would." And then John went ahead and told her the true value of her precious family heirloom..
“If I were to take such an item of jewelry and consign it to an auction, I would expect it to make between £40,000 to £50,000,” John admitted. Understandably, the lady was lost for words! But after a moment, she managed to sputter out a response..
An emotional reaction
The owner of the brooch seemed to be absolutely shellshocked upon hearing John's revelation. "Oh my word, I don’t want to swear.
Blooming heck!" she exclaimed. "Blooming heck indeed, it’s an absolute beauty. What else can I say about it? It's fabulous," John agreed. But the brooch's beauty wasn't the only thing that stood out about the precious heirloom.
Then the expert dropped another truth bomb on the stunned brooch owner. "I’ve never seen a sapphire of this size ever brought onto the Antiques Roadshow," he said, "this is a real first time for me." And considering that John had worked with the show since 1991, that was saying something.
Still, there was another heirloom that would prove to be even more valuable — and the granddaughter who brought it in had spent years thinking it was completely worthless.
A lesson learned
The jaw-dropping piece stands out among the treasures of Antiques Roadshow history for a special reason. Rose’s grandmother passed down the artwork, and nobody ever paid much attention to it.
But, as she remembered, the print of a Native American tribe leisurely walking down a mountainside “always hung right above [my grandmother’s] bed.” So for years, it went largely unnoticed — until Rose brought it to the Roadshow, where it left the appraiser at a loss for words.
So, why did Rose’s grandmother attach such sentimental value to what seemed to be a reproduction of an ordinary painting? Even Rose wasn’t sure where the piece came from, or why her grandmother loved it so much, but she was able to come up with a theory — albeit an unusual one..
Hesitant to investigate
“Her dad, I’m guessing, would’ve given it to her after she spent the summer at a dude ranch when she was 19,” Rose suggested. Based on family history, she guessed that her grandma got the print sometime in the 1940s.
There was a date on the painting as well, but Rose was hesitant to investigate.
A nerve-wracking incident
She wasn’t even sure if the work was indeed a painting or merely a reproduction. Rose couldn’t have known it then, but the difference in value of a painting compared to a print could have been thousands of dollars — perhaps more.
Rose had always assumed it wasn't an original, but a nerve-racking incident planted a seed of doubt in her mind.
“When I got [the print] there was a mosquito underneath the glass,” Rose told Meredith Hilferty, an Antiques Roadshow master appraiser. “So I took it out to the front yard and I opened it up.” Face to face with the print for the first time, Rose couldn’t help but notice something odd about the piece of art..
"It scared me a little"
In order to honor her grandmother’s wishes, Rose had intended on bringing the print with her to college. But as soon as she brushed away the mosquito, something else caught her eye.
“It scared me a little,” she told Hilferty. “I closed it back up immediately.”
Is it genuine?
She noticed small, deliberate brushstrokes — and they looked genuine. With a jolt, Rose realized that the print wasn’t going with her to college.
Instead, it had to go to an Antiques Roadshow appraiser. She needed to know once and for all whether what she’d seen was authentic or not. In the meantime, Rose did some research on her own.
The previous appraisals
“It looked like it might be real,” Rose told Hilferty of the print/painting. With this in mind, Rose remembered a key piece of information: her family had actually gotten the artwork appraised before — twice, in fact.
But each time, they had walked away with a decidedly disappointing number.
Print or painting?
“In 1998 it was appraised as a print at $200,” Rose recalled. “In 2004, it was appraised at $250.” All her life, Rose had assumed that her grandmother’s favorite work of art was equal to the price of a cheap suit.
But after she saw the print — or painting? — up close, she knew she had to do some googling.
The painter's past
It helped that the artist had written the date and his own name on the back of the painting: “1892, H.F. Farny.” When she researched the name and date, Rose was greeted by a pleasant surprise.
Farny had been met with quite a bit of acclaim in the latter half of the 1800s, and his admirers included the likes of Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt's glowing praise
“Farny, the nation owes you a great debt,” Roosevelt once said to the painter. “It does not realize it now but it will someday.
You are preserving for future generations phases of American history that are rapidly passing away.” As she continued her research, Rose couldn’t help but wonder if she was a part of that “future generation."
Farny was inspired
The piece had already been valuable to Rose for sentimental reasons, but now she had potentially thousands of reasons to get the painting appraised. She couldn’t get the artwork’s rich history out of her mind, either.
Farny, on a quest for inspiration, had found it in the American Midwest.
Meeting Native Americans
The French-born artist once said, “The plains, the buttes, the whole country, and its people are fuller of material for the artist than any country in Europe.” Farny was fascinated by Native Americans, so much so that he followed them in their travels. “He has associations with the Sioux tribe,” Rose excitedly told Hilferty..
Farny became known as "Longboots"
And that wasn’t all Rose discovered about Farny’s passion for Native American life. “They actually ‘adopted’ him,” she said.
Rose pointed out the symbol, a small dot, under Farny’s name. “They gave him a cipher, ‘Longboots.'” That was the end of Rose's knowledge, but thankfully, Hilferty was able to fill in some of the blanks.
A confirmed painting!
First off, Hilferty confirmed Rose’s suspicion that the piece was, in fact, an original painting. “This piece is really interesting,” she began.
“It’s a dense group of figures, which is very desirable in [Farny’s] work.” Already, things were looking good for Rose and her grandmother’s prized possession, but Hilferty wasn’t done listing the piece’s winning qualities.
Farny's unique depictions
“1890 is around when we start seeing some of his very best paintings,” she said. The fact that this artwork was inscribed with the date “1892” meant that Rose had a special piece of history in her hands.
The best part of the art, according to Hilferty, was the unique way in which Farny depicted Native American life.
A symbol of peace
“He represented the Native Americans in a very peaceful, tranquil way,” Hilferty noted. “He didn’t ever really bring conflict into his work as some of the other artists from that time did.” This fact alone gives the painting a newfound layer of meaning.
It was a symbol of peace, not of hostility, which was rare for that time period.
And the total is...
History aside, of course, Rose still had her ultimate question: how much was the painting worth? “If we were going to put this in an auction today, I would suggest an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.” The shock on Rose’s face when she heard the staggering estimate was priceless!.
Worth a small fortune
Rose and her family had believed that the painting — which they originally thought was a mere replica! — was worth no more than $250. The revelation that it was in fact worth a small fortune left Rose speechless.
Fighting tears, she asked Hilferty, “So I can’t hang it up?”
Anyone in such an unusual situation would have had similar concerns. Surely such a valuable piece of art shouldn’t go back to hanging on the wall above Rose's bed, right? “So, I’ll keep it away from my dog,” Rose joked.
But she was also weighing a big decision.
Keep or sell?
With hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging in the balance, Rose had a choice to make: keep the painting in the family as her grandmother intended, or sell it for a potentially life-changing sum of money? Nobody could figure out the right answer but her..
In hot water
Rose said she needed more time to consider what to do with her precious heirloom, but we'd be surprised if she didn't at least look into selling the valuable painting. The Antiques Roadshow team are usually experts at spotting diamonds in the rough, and they certainly didn't miss the mark with Rose.
However, they don't always have a perfect track record.