The Price Mechanism, Subjective Value and The Antiques Road Show

Justin Cress, University of Kentucky
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: September 22, 2011


Antiques Roadshow provides laypersons an opportunity to have their (potentially) valuable objects inspected and appraised by field experts. A television show by the same name, originally airing in the United Kingdom, features some of these objects and their appraisals.

Luckily, many clips from Antiques Roadshow are freely available, providing a unique engagement trigger instructors may use to initiate an interactive lecture segment with a short, economic-intuition packed video. A set of short response questions paired with class discussion allows students to interact with one another and their instructor, helping students interrogate the price mechanism, subjective value and the broader market process.

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Learning Goals

Price mechanism, subjective valuation, willingness to pay, value in use versus value in exchange (diamond water paradox)

Context for Use

Given the variety of objects featured, the Roadshow lends itself to a number of contexts and situations. Students may relate best to a video tailored to their particular academic/cultural backgrounds. For example, students studying Political Science and/or History could relate to a clip from the Antique Roadshow's 12th season which appraises a chair issued to John Quincy Adams (in fact, the chair he died in) at four to six thousand dollars. Other examples include sports memorabilia (a pair of baseball cards appraised at ten to fifteen thousand dollars), cultural artifacts (animation cells from the original Snow White), and numerous works of art.

Clips vary in length, and instructors dedicate time to discussion as necessary. This exercise provides intuition at an introductory level to students at any skill level.

Description and Teaching Materials

If conducted in class, this activity requires appropriate audio-visual equipment and an internet connection. After watching the selected video, students should prepare responses to discussion questions (either in groups or individually), providing an opportunity for a think-pair-share. Alternatively, students could view the video and prepare for discussion prior to class, or respond to questions in an online setting (Blackboard discussion group).

Teaching Notes and Tips

Experts on Antiques Roadshow describe attributes and properties of items which influence the price for which the item may be sold at auction, exemplifying the influence subjective valuation exerts on market market forces. Instructors should encourage students to "put themselves in the shoes of the appraiser." Encourage students to appraise the item themselves, perhaps by pausing the video after the appraiser has provided background but before providing an estimated value, students may be surprised by the inaccuracy (or accuracy!) of their own subjective valuation. Although discussion questions may be tailored, examples (based upon the appraisal of a rare sword issued by the U.S. Congress) include:

Would you pay $200,000 for the sword? Why or why not? (assume you have the cash)
If you owned a store and possessed the sword, how much would you charge? What information would you need?
Imagine Charlie Q. Collector paid $500,000 for the sword at an auction. What does this tell us about Charlie? Is his decision ``wrong"?


Instructors should assess the ability of students to apply economic concepts to real world examples via class discussion and/or written responses to a concept quiz. Pay particular attention to whether students illustrate an ability to manipulate and internalize concepts, or rely on rote memorization and mechanical application of technical skill.

References and Resources

The Antiques Roadshow website (in the U.S. via PBS) includes an archive of appraisals and a variety of teaching materials.