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Christopher Kent: A Man for All Styles

by Mark Jaffe (04/21/09).

1840 Japanese vase

1840 Japanese vase

Christopher Kent walked into the “Gray Goose,” a Charleston, S.C., junk shop piled with debris and dust. “There were flea-bitten, 1950s armchairs that should have been given a good burial,” Kent said. “It was the sort of place that makes you want to disinfect yourself when you leave, frankly, just my sort of place.”

But two small panels—no more than 3 inches by 10 inches—hanging on a back wall drew his attention. Kent took them to the rotund proprietor, who said, “Don’t you just love Japanese art?”

After a quick negotiation that brought the price for the pair down to $15 from $25, Kent walked out with two 17th-century Russian triptych panels worth about $1,000.

From the junk shop to international auction houses and major museums, Worthologist Christopher Kent has used that keen eye to spot value in everything from Japanese porcelain to Italian decorative arts and everything in between.

“I am a generalist,” Kent explained. “A generalist has the ability to walk into a room filled with items and be able to say something about every piece. There are really only a handful of people who can do that.”

Walking encyclopedia

How does one become a walking encyclopedia of antiques and fine arts?

For Kent, it started with his grandparents who were both ardent collectors—his paternal grandmother was a textile expert and his grandfather, her husband, a collector of American furniture. “These were serious collectors who would go without dinner or lunch to acquire a piece.” Kent said he inherited both their interest and their collecting “genetic flaw.”

At the age of 6, he started his own collection with an 18th-century Japanese porcelain bowl given to him by a family friend who was in her own right an avid collector. At 11, he made his professional appraisal debut with a collection of 18th-century English porcelain for America’s oldest auction house, Freeman’s in Philadelphia.

And so starting with American furniture, textiles and porcelain, Kent added layer upon layer of period and style to his repertoire. In college, where he studied art history and architectural history, Kent also acquired knowledge of 17th-century Italian furniture and decorative arts.

17th-century Italian armoire

17th-century Italian armoire

17th-century-italian-armoire-closeup

(For more information on the pictured items, click on the images.)

Coming out of college, Kent’s plan had been to do museum curatorial work, only to run into some real-world truths. “I loved the collections, but I hated museum politics,” he said.

Kent continued gathering expertise—from museum collections, auctions and research and by asking questions of dealers and collectors. “You begin to make associations,” Kent explained, “about why this piece is similar to that, and about changes in taste, and what influences dictate trends.”

Museums have sought Kent’s eye and knowledge to help evaluate a broad array of pieces.
Among the institutions he has advised are the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art—both in New York City—the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

17th-century Italian chairs

17th-century Italian chairs

chair-closeup

In the 40 years he has been collecting, much has changed, Kent said, including the definition of an antique. “It used to be anything after 1860 wasn’t an antique, it was Victorian, and that was usually said with distain,” Kent said. “Then it was moved up to 1880 and then completely abolished.”

Art Nouveau, Art Deco and other well-designed and well-crafted styles became targets for serious collectors, and more and more collectors entered the market. “There is a lot of newly minted money, hedge-fund money,” Kent said.

Art Nouveau brooch

Art Nouveau brooch

1920 Art Deco clown

1920 Art Deco clown

1920-art-deco-clown-closeup

Americana has gotten carried along on these waves, Kent said.

By the 1990s, a wrought-iron weather vane was selling in the millions, where a few years earlier the price tag would have been several thousand dollars.

1954 Hopalong Cassidy lunch box and thermos

1954 Hopalong Cassidy lunch box and thermos

In December 1992, Christie’s set a record for a lunch box with the sale of the Dudley Do-Right box and thermos for $2,200. It had cost $2.25 when it was new in 1962. But the kicker that changed the world, as far as establishing the world of collectibles, was the Matt Wyse sale in 1996 where the Superman lunch box circa 1954 sold for an unprecedented $11,500.

“That just changed the way people viewed the market,” Kent said. Once a major house auctioned something as modest as a school lunch box for big dollars, Kent explained, anything might be a valued collectible. “It was,” he said, “a transforming moment.”

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25 Responses to “Christopher Kent: A Man for All Styles”

  1. jack says:

    This brief summary of Christopher Kents career is a gem. The ability to identify a pivot point like this lunch box sale in the market and explain how such a sale was a catalyst for market transition to a new parameter is true wisdom. There are book-learned people being turned out of colleges like factory farming right now but here is an example of a man with a career who has genuine talent enhanced with common sense and a dose of ” book-learning’ which didnt’ ruin him. Thanks for this wonderful story.

  2. christopher kent says:

    Mark, thank you for a wonderful story. If I didn’t know this guy already I’d be on the phone inviting him to dinner. Best to you, Christopher Kent

  3. Tom Slick says:

    I love watching his show, and am only mad that it wasnt 1 hour long! Does CK have his own website? I cannot seem to find anything on the net. I wish the show also traveled to Southern California…I think we invented “collecting” out here! haha, there are thrift shops, antique malls, and flea markets and swaps everywhere! Godspeed to Christopher and thanks for the article!

  4. christopher kent says:

    Tom, thanks for your comments about the show, now, sadly in reruns. Bedst to you Christopher

  5. Linda Garrett says:

    Dear Christopher,
    How I love Embassy Chefs and Flea Market Mania! You are so very gracious and unbelievably knowledgeable. I know the shows are reruns. Do you have anything planned for the future? If so, I hope you’ll let folks know. I watch you twice a day and look forward to the dose “happy” that I get from the shows.

    Well done!

    Best regards,
    Linda Garrett

    • christopher kent says:

      Dear Linda, Thank you so much for your kind words . Yes the years I spent doing Flea market and Embassy Chefs were a treat. I loved meeting people and talking about their treasures and also looking at a countries history and food. You know, I had minutes to look at a specific piece on Flea market, before we shot the footage so a lot of it was flying by the seat of my pants. I’m glad that I had an eclectic background in antiques, it has served and continues to serve me well. I hope that I can convince another network to pick up the option of new episodes. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and also the power of persuasion. Thanks again, always wonderful to hear from a fan.Best regards, Christopher

      • Stella says:

        Christopher, I LOVE watching your shows! You are a true gentleman and a wonderful teacher. How can I contact you privately?

  6. Djamilah Alexander says:

    This article was a fantastic catch to my eye and ears also. How I do Love, the Worthologist, Mr. Kent as well. I love it all, ( generalist) as well. I love to learn about everrrry-thing. I one day, had dreamed of catching up to the amazing Mr. Kent, to get advice on a few things I have come to pick-up and collect myself. I do try to follow thru- listen, and look thru-these flea bitten places myself. I think they are the best target for a great find(s). I have been to Reading twice, and next time, hope to catch the market there. I wanted to know what Mr. Kent was doing these days,during the re-runs- collecting still no-doubt. Your the greatest, with a great eye,great knowledge and a fantastic personality. Thanks C.K. I too would like you to come back to the shows ! Hope I can meet you in person one day, along with me, not 1, but 2 & 3 favorite pieces for that great eye & knowledge of yours. Thanks also Mark for posting this piece.

  7. Djamilah Alexander says:

    P.S.
    A Question ?
    I know autographs are the thing also on items, but if I was to want the autograph of, ” Christopher Kent “, Just how would one go about getting that ? Yes, I am quiet serious, You are a very popular person I think. I know you have alot of Fans, and I am one of those Fans. Tnx.

  8. Djamilah Alexander says:

    Back again, with a question, Mr. Kent, I know there is always a way, a person out there to help, trick is to find them, but finding the right one for the job without getting scammed. I have come accross some items, my goodness, wished it could be you to give them a checkout, a few pieces re jewelry, jade, mother of pearl, and ivory, which I am confident they are authentic, there;s the thing, finding a very good person to authenticate a peice and worth. In jewelry, paintings, lithographs,( especially these) I have just sitting around safe as can be from hints of help from you off of the shows, but how to find the real peoples list that one can trust.

    I bought a pisnting here while back, took it apart, as one would to put on acid free paper, if it was 100 yr.s old as told, i thought different but wanted the painting, come to find inside the painting had been cut down both sides, to fit a very old frame, which was worth what I paid at least, but the rest- schnazzer- I live in an area where back when the old fort civil war men bunked down at the old rails or coach station as they travelled through from washington way to GA way, theres a history story here, but there is no one that can authenticate the history items, The auctioneer is a jokester, come take over this auction please…

    anyway, how would I go about finding some good appraisers, authenticators, people like and as almost as good as you? Know any ? wadesboro, nc.very important, I’m accumilating, AND ITS JUST ALL SITTING, waiting to be sold off. HELP! Or Do I need to just come to Reading PA?

  9. Shawn says:

    Mr. Kent, I recently discovered reruns of your show, Flea Market Mania, and am smitten!!! You are absolutely brilliant-just full of an array of detailed information about antiques and such. My husband and I love visiting Estate Sales, Thift store, Garage sales and the like, uncovering “treasurable trash” items. I personally think that I have a great eye for things and will continue to read up on, ask questions about and fine tune my knowledge of antiques. You are a great source of information, entertainment and inspiration. Thank you!!!

  10. Lisa Stong says:

    Mr. Kent, I watch reruns of your show, Flea Market Mania, everyday! I live 20 minutes away from Reading, PA so I pretty much have many items you review on the show which I inherited from my Great Grandmother, Grandmother, Mother and Godmother.
    I would love to know how much some of this items are worth.
    I have everything from jewelry, chocolate sets, clocks, trains, lamps, paintings and yes even the cast iron boston bull terrior you had on the show.
    I realize you are a busy man but I was wondering if you could recommend someone who could appraise these items.
    I live in Norristown, PA. Thank you so much. Lisa S.

  11. Ed Georgie says:

    Mr. Kent, thank you for sharing your talents with us through your television shows. If ever you find yourself in Missouri, consider yourself welcomed to a meal and a tour of our area’s rich history and numerous shops, wineries etc. Ed

  12. Teresa R says:

    I too have become a recent fan of Flea Market Mania and Christopher Kent. After a long day of IT work, I enjoy unwinding by watching your reruns. I sincerely do wish new episodes were coming. So many variations of this type of show exist today, but none compare to Christophers zeal, charm, and entertaining way of teaching us about the finer things in life from yesteryear!
    Bravo and Encore Please!!!

  13. gp says:

    Noticed the ring you wear during fleamarket mania. I have my grandfathers ring which has the exact stone as yours. what can you tell me about it. He was originally from Greece

  14. I have a piece of dinning furniture, It has six draws which stores your flat ware linens and two side doors that I think could stores some of the dishes, this is from the Kensington furniture hand made in the shops of new york city, 41 West 45th Street, it’s old I’m thinking, My father was a man that bought homes and repaired them for sale or rented them out. I was wondering if there is any information about this company and how can I research this. I did go on line and look up Kensington furniture but only recieved info about the up to date furniture of tody.

    Thank you

  15. Patty says:

    I watch Christopher Kent every day and love all the shows. What’s he doing now?

    • Gregory Watkins Gregory Watkins says:

      I am happy to report that Christopher, after a time away, will be writing for WorthPoint again! Watch for his return soon.

      • Sue Roberts says:

        I recently found Christopher Kent on Flea Market Mania and Embassy Chefs through my cable carrier, Cox Cable in Virginia Beach, VA. It is on channel 132-546. Are there any DVDs available of these? They are some of the best programming on. Will Christopher be doing live shows again? Does he has any books/dvds available? i can’t find much info on the net. Please use Facebook to promote him if possible. It is my everyday goto to find info. Thanks.

  16. Mike says:

    I enjoy watching the reruns of Flea Market Mania however being in ‘the antique’s and collectible’ business I have found that Christopher Kents’ appraisals are usually way off the mark. Granted theres areas he seems to be more versed in however the production staff should supply him with correct information and prices on pieces that are outside his realm. Recently I saw him appraise a rifle for 10-15k bucks when frankly the gun is worth less then 2k and thats in near perfect condition. This is just one example; others are his pricing on Limoges; I was floored at some of those appraisals. The bad part to this is that the people who own these pieces get so excited at the high prices only to be let down when they try to sell them. The show would greatly improved if the pricing was more realistic.

  17. Emmanuel Sarah says:

    I love watching FMM reruns and I wish the show was still on. Christopher’s wit and humor is the best part of the show for me, and his enthusiasm is contagious. I agree that some of the prices he quotes seem way of the mark (especially in the current economy, a decade after the show was filmed). Nevertheless, I don’t watch it for serious information but for the sheer pleasure of seeing all this old beautiful (ok, and not so beautiful!) things that people hold on too.

    Please Christopher, come back!

    ES.

  18. Monika says:

    Christopher: An elderly relative of ours has antique jewels and carved ivory. I’m wondering the best way to appraise and sell it to finance her long term care needs. Any advice?

  19. Judi Tenzer says:

    I “discovered” Christopher Kent on Flea Market Mania and Embassy Chefs only a few months ago. Sadly, my cable provider, Verizon removed the Family Net station from my package. Although these were reruns I looked forward to them every morning before work. I can only hope that Christopher Kent returns to television and that I have the pleasure of viewing his show. I am now searching the internet to see if wrote any books.

  20. Kathy Miller says:

    I so enjoy Embassy Chefs now that I am retired and have left DC where I had the opportunity to visit the embassies. I wonder if I am the only person who finds it irritating that Mr. Kent always talks in the plural as if he is doing anything. It is demeaning to the chefs and I recently saw one show where the chef showed his irritation. He also over talks people which is equally ittitating.

  21. Hello,
    I just recently discovered the show “Flea Market Mania” and I am sorry to hear that they are just reruns (though, still VERY interesting and helpful). I love the show.

    Mr. Kent, if you are still checking these comments all these years later, there are so many shows out now like “Thrifters” and “Flea Market Flip,” have you thought about having a go at getting your show resurrected or at least a similar type of show? I really think this type of show would be great now.

    It is because of shows like yours that I recently took the step to start selling vintage items on eBay, Etsy, and Bonanza. I am also getting into upcycling furniture and selling these pieces, as well. This is all due to shows like yours, Thrifters, Junk Gypsies, and others.

    I really think there is a market for your show and will all the cable/satellite channels now, I’m sure you can find someone to pick-up this type of series again.

    Thanks for your time,
    Theresa

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