Steven Porterfield’s newspaper dress is worth a lot, but just don’t ask him how much.
Porterfield, an appraiser who has gained national recognition for his appearances on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow” and his semi-annual Antique Elegance
Show in Dallas, brought his garment collection to Lubbock’s Vintage Etc. Antique Mall on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
Perhaps the most unusual of the 11 pieces on display was a full bustle gown adorned with what resembles pages of the May 11, 1888, edition of the San Antonio Daily Times.
Created by placing thin cotton through the newspaper building’s printing press, the dress is considered extremely rare. Porterfield has seen only three
of them in his 26 years of working with antique clothing, and all date back to the same decade. That lack of comparable for-sale items makes their market value
“This was a very short fad,” he said. “There are so few of them that there is no price reference for them.”
The dress might have been worn to a costume ball, parade or political party, he added, and adorned with election-campaign pins.
Porterfield greeted fans at the antique mall, located at 2127 50th St., while sharing the stories behind the display.
“It’s such an honor to have Steven Porterfield in Lubbock and to exhibit part of his collection,” said store owner Jeri Mandrell.
The hand-sewn gowns’ creation dates range from 1858 to the 1920s. Each represents its own piece of history.
“It’s fantastic, and that green dress is Scarlett O’Hara,” said store customer Jinnie Bell, pointing to a gown she felt epitomized the “Gone With the Wind” heroine.
Roy Cravin, another customer and a fan of TV shows about the antique trade, said he was excited to watch the expert at work.
“It’s amazing to see something like this,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of this on TV, but now I’m seeing it in real life.”
Porterfield can trace his antique-hunting skills to when he worked his way through a music education degree from Plainview’s Wayland Baptist University as
a “picker.” Purchasing odds and ends from garage sales, estate sales and flea markets, he resold them to antique dealers for a higher price.
He taught for a while after college, but decided to make his hobby a career. He furthered his appraisal skills gradually by speaking with other collectors
and studying books, but still attributes part of his ability to something akin to a sixth sense.
“I have a gift for discerning what is good,” he said. “There’s not a school for this — you learn a lot of it by getting out and seeing things and talking to people.”
And when it comes to separating worthy items from not-so-worthy, everything from appearance to popularity — not just age — can play into the appraisal process.
“Just because something’s old doesn’t make it valuable,” he said. “It’s about the quality of the craftsmanship, the rarity of an item and the current market of an item.”
The “current market” Porterfield describes is whatever happens to be in fashion at the moment, and can change without warning or reason. For example, he pointed out, certain types of Beanie Babies were going for up to $700 a few years ago, but have now dropped to about $4.
“When the craze goes down it becomes a realistic price,” he said.
Porterfield’s appraising specializes in dresser sets, textiles and “anything fashion-oriented,” he said.
While encountering priceless heirlooms over the years, he has also had his share of sales attempts from misinformed or dishonest customers.
In one instance, a woman brought him a pair of shoes with the claim that family members generations earlier had worn them while dancing with George Washington. He traced the footwear’s origins to the 1860s — about 70 years after the former president’s death — and debunked her story.
“I said, ‘Unless she danced with his ghost, it didn’t happen,’ ” he said.
Porterfield owns The Cat’s Meow, a vintage store in Midland. His next Antique Elegance show — set for September in Dallas — will feature 66 dealers from 14
states and two from England.