From September 2010 GunNews Magazine (c) Guns Save Life Used with permission. SCANDALOUS Caveat Emptor at Antique Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow by John Boch Urbana, IL (Guns Save Life) - Antique Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow sounds a lot like the PBS Television program Antique Roadshow doesn’t it? Well, that’s what one of our Guns Save Life members thought when he saw the full-page advertisements that looked like news articles on top of more conventional advertisements in the local Champaign-Urbana newspaper touting the event coming to the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Urbana, IL in August 2010. Our member, who is an avid antique Colt firearm collector, wanted to get an appraisal on a couple of his pieces that he had purchased a few years ago to check on any appreciation in value he might have enjoyed. He took a Colt 3rd Model Dragoon, valued a few years ago at easily $7000 and a Model 1851 Navy valued at $3000 to the “Roadshow Experts” at the Antique Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow for that examination and appraisal. I thought this was going to be just like the TV show ‘Antique Roadshow’. I just wanted someone to look at them and give me an appraisal,” our member said. He gave them the guns to evaluate without revealing his own knowledge of them, hoping to learn more about the very rare and collectible firearms. Each of these guns was previously researched by Colt’s Historical Research Department and issued a letter detailing its date of manufacture and when and to whom it was initially sold. Colt’s website explains, “we have the unique ability to trace your firearm to its origins and not only to verify its authenticity but also to certify when and to whom it was originally sold.” The man examining the guns, described in multiple full-page advertisements in the local paper as a “Roadshow Expert”, carefully looked over both handguns, each over 120 years old. He then took them to another man our member believed might have been the “head honcho”. When the “expert” returned, he explained that the two guns weren’t worth very much based upon their condition and “one he thought was a reproduction.” We can give you $225 for the both of them,” the initial “expert” said. Our member chuckled and said, “You’re not even close.” Trademark infringement It seems like our member wasn’t the only one who thought “Antique Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow” sounded a lot like the TV show. According to an article in the Springfield, IL State-Journal Register earlier this year, PBS’s representatives are suing Jeffrey Parsons and his company in U.S. District court in Springfield. They are claiming trademark infringement and seeking to bar Parsons’ Illinois-based company, THR & Associates, from using the word “Roadshow” in its name and trademarks related to its events. The story also reported that, “The suit also calls Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow no more than ‘a scrap metal dealer’ and says Treasure Hunter’s pays its customers ‘pennies on the dollar’ for valuable antiques.” The suit, filed by WGBH Educational Foundation, also says, “At these events, defendants’ employees purportedly appraise the customers’ valuables and will purchase them on the spot… Generally, the appraisal is based on nothing more than the weight of the metal.” Further research reveals that this isn’t the first time the creators of the PBS program have sued Jeffrey Parsons. In 1999, they sued him and the International Toy Collectors Association for their “Roadshows” and reached a settlement which included ITCA agreeing to no longer use the term “Roadshow” in their course of business. ITCA was dissolved in 2007 and THR & Associates was then incorporated. Gold buyers or gold diggers? THR representatives and their advertisements have bragged about paying “Grey Sheet Prices” on numismatic coins and are “paying top dollar” for coins, gold & silver, jewelry, watches, toys, military items and advertising items. In Memphis, a THR representative bragged to local news media that they typically pay 30-50% higher than local jewelers and other buyers. Action News 5 in Memphis put them to the test in their story, “The Investigators: Gold Diggers”. The result? THR offered 37% less than a local jeweler for scrap gold. Even a local pawn shop offered 10% more than THR. The Examiner, a newspaper in Beaumont, Texas, looked into THR’s Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow as part of a 30-day investigation as THR traveled around that state. Their reporters found the company offered 50-72% less than the numismatic value in a series of offers for different batches of coins. They aren’t even offering scrap value for some of these coins,” one legitimate local precious metals and coin dealer expert was quoted as saying. Another article in the Ukiah (CA) Daily noted THR offered 80% under melt value for 1964 half-dollars. So much for paying “top dollar”. BBB Problems THR also ran afoul of the Better Business Bureau for using their Accredited” logo on their website without permission or license. They were also criticized by the BBB for running faux-newspaper articles without noting they were “paid advertisements”. Both issues have been resolved with the Better Business Bureau, according to the Beaumont Examiner. Bounced checks It also seems that predatory low-ball offers aren’t the only danger to consumers patronizing THR’s Antique Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow. Bounced checks seem to have sprouted in many cities where they’ve set up shop in the last couple of years. The president of THR admitted that 45 checks from a Michigan show bounced in a story WREG in Memphis completed in September 2009, but that’s the only time it’s happened he says. Not so, Mr. President. News reports in the twelve months prior to that, according to WREG, have shown lots of THR checks have bounced in seven cities. Company representatives have had a handful of excuses, usually claiming accounting mix-ups. Good riddance, for now We’re happy to say that the Roadshow has departed our city, but their travelling circus undoubtedly continues to make the rounds throughout the nation and will return to our area later this year or next. You now will better know their claims of paying “top dollar” are as faulty as their examinations to determine the value of your collectibles. Questionable business practices, bad checks and trademark infringement seem to be but a few problems that follow THR’s Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow. However, big advertisements masquerading as news reports, coupled with reporters eager to write gushing features on an itinerate merchant spending big dollars on advertising in these lean times keep a stream of consumers walking into their shows. We provided a copy of this report to the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette’s publisher, John Foreman, and asked for a comment as to whether he considers the business practices of THR’s Treasure Hunter’s Roadshow of interest to his readers and he declined to respond. If you are a savvy consumer, this is one “roadshow” you and your friends might well be advised to avoid.