Taking Show On New Road: Leigh Keno Amassing Works For Auction Venture
A Hartford-area antiques collector, left, looks at historical photographs with Leigh Keno, antiques expert known for hosting the television show Antiques Roadshow with his twin brother Leslie, and Ron Johnson, right, owner of Time Past historical furniture and clocks in South Windsor. Leigh's company Keno Auctions will be holding it's inaugural auction in Stamford in May. (BETTINA HANSEN, HARTFORD COURANT / February 5, 2010)
He pulled out some small drawers to see what kind of wood had been used inside the piece. It was hard yellow pine, a wood that he said pretty much had been cut down in New England by about the 1730s. He figured the piece was from Philadelphia, possibly from 1770 to 1790.
"That's a great survivor," he said.
It was the seventh time in about a half-hour that Leigh Keno had hit the floor in the antiques-filled house in West Hartford.
The lean, wiry antiques expert and dealer - well-known with his twin brother, Leslie Keno, for their appearances on 14 seasons of "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS - visited West Hartford and Bloomfield last week. He said he typically visits eight to 10 homes a month; sometimes he is contacted by collectors who have something to sell, sometimes by family members who want to liquidate an estate. And occasionally, as at this home in West Hartford, it was simply a chance to meet someone with an exceptional collection.
Recently, Leigh Keno also has been looking for objects for his newest venture - the inaugural auction of Keno Auctions, to be held at the Marriott Stamford on May 1 and 2.
Keno, whose antiques business is based in Manhattan, launched his auction company a few months ago, and ever since, he said, he has been making visits through New England, Pennsylvania and the Eastern Seaboard, lining up pieces for his first event.
"Every day is like a big treasure hunt for me. . . . You never know what's going to be through that next door or the next set of steps that maybe go up to the attic," he said. "You never know what's going to be just beyond that."
At the first West Hartford home he visited last week, he said, he was "like a kid in a candy shop." When he saw a small William and Mary spice cabinet with its original legs - "an extremely important" piece dated 1737 - Keno joked that we'd better call the paramedics.
"There are so many treasures here - a treasure around every corner."
When he spotted a copy of the book he wrote with his brother in 2002, "Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture," in the West Hartford collector's bookshelf, he offered to sign it.
"You're a true treasure hunter," Keno wrote, in part. "You have . . . a wonderful collection. I am truly honored to be here."
Keno, 52, grew up on a farm near Mohawk, N.Y., and he and Leslie starting going to auctions with their parents, who were antiques dealers, as early as he can remember - "probably when we were in the womb."
By the time they were 9 or 10, they also were digging for things around the house - for old bullets and other finds. Once they discovered a swirl marble. "We were convinced it was something from outer space," Keno recalled. They also collected bumblebees.
"It's a primal thing. Collecting is not just gathering; . . . it's amassing and organizing."
Being a dealer," Keno added, "buying and selling at auction and working at auction houses, you're able to see the whole range of things. You see the mediocre; you see the fakes. You see the better examples, and occasionally you see the best and the masterpiece."
He said his first vivid memory of an auction was at a country auction in a barn, when their mother let the boys bid on an 18th-century broad ax, the kind that would have been used to cut beams.
The memory of buying the ax at auction, "whether it was $20 or $30, that experience of bidding on it" is still so vivid, Keno said. "It's funny that it was wrought iron, and I collect wrought iron today. It's funny - we love all the things we grew up doing."
Another early auction memory: The auctioneer just couldn't get the bidding going on an old kerosene lamp. He started at $20 - no bidders, so he dropped the price to $10. Still nothing. Exasperated at the lack of interest, the auctioneer suddenly threw the lamp against a wall; it smashed into pieces.