If you watch “Antiques Roadshow” with any regularity, it’s likely that you’ve seen Chillicothe native Jason Preston on some of the episodes, appraising items that someone has brought to the show. As a young boy, Jason loved attending auctions around Chillicothe, Trenton and the surrounding areas with his mother, Betty Preston Steele, and his grandparents, the late Cliff and Inez Ricketts, of Trenton. “My favorite auctions were those conducted by Danner Miller Auctioneers,” Jason said. “Daryl and Eva Danner were so nice to me as a kid attending auctions and trying to bid on things I liked.” Jason now owns an art advisory and appraisal company in Los Angeles, Calif., and his resume includes appraising multi-million dollar pieces of artwork and handling sales and appraisals at of some of the world’s largest auction houses, including Sotheby’s, in both Chicago and New York, and Christie’s in New York. Jason, a 1994 Chillicothe High School graduate, is the son of Betty Preston and Paul Steele, and Joe Preston, all of Chillicothe. Throughout high school and college, Jason thought he’d pursue a career in finance or politics. He interned with State Rep. Dale Whiteside in Jefferson City, Mo., and Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond in Washington, D.C. While his academia was paving the way to a future in finance or politics, Jason’s childhood experiences kept nudging him back to auctions. Jason recalls being a kindergarten student and asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. His response was “junk dealer.” “I guess in some ways this has come true, though I now tend to spell it “j-u-n-q-u-e,” Jason muses. A trip to London with his mother following high school graduation deepened Jason’s appreciation of fine art, antiques, and the business of selling them at auction. When he and his mother walked past Sotheby’s London headquarters, they decided to go inside where an auction of “Important Mechanical Musical Instruments & Automata” was taking place. (Items in this category include cylinder and disc music boxes, player pianos, orchestrions, monkey grinder automatons, etc.) The duo purchased the auction catalogue, registered for a bid paddle, and sat down to observe the sale. “I was instantly hooked,” Jason recalls. “The combination of the quintessentially English auctioneer smoothly announcing the rising bid increments in Pounds Sterling, the bank of telephone bidders whispering in hushed tones with collectors from (I assumed) all over the world, and the fascinating items being offered in the sale, many of which were there in the salesroom and some of which they briefly demonstrated when they came up on the block – it was magical.” (Little did Jason know then, that within 10 years he’d be one of those Sotheby’s employees behind the phone bids desk speaking in hushed tones to bidders across the globe and raising his hand to bid on their behalf). Jason’s realization that the fine art auction world was something he should pursue came shortly after graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in economics, a field he had initially found interesting, but realized long before he graduated was not his passion. One day while channel surfing, Jason came across the HGTV show, ‘At the Auction’. Its host was Leslie Hindman who owned and operated her eponymous auction house in Chicago from 1982 until 1996 at what point it was purchased by Sotheby’s. “I was instantly entranced and couldn’t get enough of the show,” he said, noting that it had brought up fond memories of his experience in London attending the Sotheby's auction four years earlier. Before long, Jason was interviewing at Sotheby’s in Chicago. There were no openings at the time, but within a few months, Sotheby’s invited him back for a full round of interviews. The company made him the offer and, although it was a pittance of an hourly wage to be the receptionist at the front desk, Jason jumped at the chance. That acceptance led to him being cast in the role of the receptionist for the filming of “At the Auction.” During his time at Sotheby’s in Chicago, one of the most interesting groups of books he catalogued was an entire run of first editions of Charles Dickens’ works. What many people might not realize is that most of Dickens’ most famous novels (David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby to name just a couple) were actually released in about 20 paperbound monthly “parts” or installments, each containing a few chapters, Jason said. The final part would contain a title page so that the subscriber of the installments could then take their group of parts to a bookbinder and have it bound as one leatherbound volume. “It was just one of the coolest things I could have imagined at the time to be handling these first editions which ranged in date from about 1836-1865, in their original form of 20 parts,” Jason said. “This experience, among a couple others, whetted my appetite for fine and rare books and I began collecting them whenever I could afford them.” "After three years of learning a great deal about the type of items sold as well as the auction business itself, Sotheby's promoted Jason to a position in their New York headquarters. Over the next five years, Jason was promoted a number of times and given increasingly senior roles in a number of single-owner auctions including the estates of Katharine Hepburn and Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, as well as property from the Kennedy Family and a blockbuster auction of the contents of Cher's cliffside home in Malibu, California. It was the auction for Cher that put Jason on Christie's radar and they soon approached him with an offer to head up a department at their New York headquarters. While at Christie’s, Jason played a significant role in the estate tax appraisal as well as the sale of the estate of Leona Helmsley. Including investments, real estate, personal property, etc., the estate was estimated to be valued around $3 billion dollars at the time of her death. The personal property auctioned off at Christie’s was a small percentage of the total value of the estate. Jason, who at the time was head of 19th Century Furniture, Sculpture and Works of Art at Christie’s New York, dealt mostly with the furniture and decorative arts in her home in Dunnellen Hall, Greenwich, Conn. Christie’s Great Estates, the real estate arm of Christie’s, had the listing on Dunnellen Hall for $125 million. Among items Jason sold from Helmsley’s estate was “A Pair of Fine French Ormolu-Mounted Ebony and Lacquered Commodes a Vantaux, by Henry Dasson, formerly in the collection of King George V and Queen Mary”. They sold for $421,000. The appraisal that probably had the largest value as far as the total value of personal property claimed by the estate in their estate tax filing with the IRS was when Jason did an appraisal for the Estate of Elizabeth Taylor where he valued around 1,000 pieces of art and some furniture. The portion he worked on was just a small part of the estate, which had sold $137 million in jewelry alone at auction with Christie’s in 2011. The largest appraisal Jason did based on the number of items, was the estate tax appraisal for the estate of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. “When June and John both passed in 2003, Sotheby’s was hired to do the personal property appraisal to be included with the estate tax return,” Jason said. “We had to turn it around quite quickly which was no small feat as it was well over 3,000 items and was by far the largest appraisal by volume performed by Sotheby’s that year. John Carter Cash told us his dad was fond of saying 'June has a blackbelt in shopping!'" Some other noteworthy appraisals and/or auctions Jason had a hand in were:  • Selling the contents of Lands End, a house with 14 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms belonging to Virginia Kraft Payson, widow of Charles Shipman Payson. The home was widely considered to be the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s house in ‘The Great Gatsby’. • The largest compound by the sheer effort and cost of engineering the property for which Jason performed an appraisal was a double villa built on the side of the cliffs of Acapulco. The upper villa was connected to the lower villa by crossing a stone bridge over a road and the taking an elevator down to the lower villa. Both villas had pools, but the lower villa was on such a steep part of the cliff that the Olympic-sized pool was not dug into the ground, it was supported by a completely engineered understructure built into the side of the hill. Beyond the task of appraising and selling items, Jason’s profession leads him to new experiences. For example, Mrs. Payson (the first woman to ever take part in the Iditarod Dog Sled Race) has had Jason accompany her to the front row box at the race track in Saratoga Springs. Payson is legendary in the world of Thoroughbred racing. He also visited her horse farm Payson Stud in Lexington, Ky., and spent many fun afternoons and evenings in the “former owner’s box” watching the Mets play ball (Joan Whitney Payson, Mr. Payson’s first wife, owned the team, and boxes can be passed on through descent.) Jason’s profession isn’t all glamour, though. The largest project based on the amount of stuff that had to be removed before he could even start working was a house in San Marino, Calif., where a professional cleaning company had to work for almost three weeks removing papers and trash, etc., just to make a path for Jason to walk through the house. It took another month to remove enough refuse to where he could actually get to the paintings on the walls and the antique furniture. Surprisingly, there was some nice art, wonderful 18th century books on botanical subjects, and a large collection of pristine Lionel toy trains in that home. In his line of business, Jason has held in his hands documents signed by every U.S. President, Queen Elizabeth, John Hancock, Albert Einstein and many, many other famous people. He’s pulled a bow across the strings of a Stradivarius cello, and once appraised a taxidermy armadillo mounted as a table lamp given to Cher by Gene Simmons of Kiss. (It sold for $4,200.) Once, he was at a client’s house looking through her things to see what could be sold at auction and she pulled out a small handful of things from the safe for him to see. Jason left her house that day with a rare four-inch long bronze figure of a bull by Pablo Picasso (sold for $318,400), a 1 inch tall carved jasper figure of an owl by Fabergé (sold for $72,000), a Fabergé desk clock (sold for $186,000), a North Italian bronze figure of a bull that was made circa 1500 (sold for $352,000) and an original script from ‘Gone With the Wind’ (sold for $14,400) in a shopping bag. “To this day, I have to smile and shake my head when I think that I trotted out of the front door of her house that day with a brown paper grocery bag with about $950,000 worth of goods, all of which I would consider pretty rare and/or unusual.” Perhaps the most expensive rare item Jason ever held in his hand was a 14 carat D color Internally flawless Golconda diamond (the rarest and most pure diamonds on earth are from the Golconda mines). The insurance value on it was $4.3 million. The most expensive piece Jason has personally dealt with at auction is a painting by El Greco, the famous Spanish Renaissance painter, belonging to a client with whom he had a long-term close working relationship. The item did not reach the reserve price of $5 million at auction; however, the next day, an interested party called and offered around $4.5 million. “I countered at $5 million and held firm – they capitulated and agreed to pay $5 million. Needless to say, my client was delighted with that result!” Jason enjoys his profession and said he learns something new every day. He frequently works with well-known celebrities. Some of those he’s at liberty to discuss are the few who he’s had “use of name” permission in order to sell their property. Famous clients past and present where it was public that he was involved in some way with their collection/estate include: Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Katharine Hepburn, Cher, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Leona Helmsley, Richard Avedon, Maria Felix, Elizabeth Taylor, and Bob and Dolores Hope. A highlight of his career so far has been putting together the auction of the contents of Cher’s home in Malibu in 2006, and developing a friendship with John Carter Cash, the only child born to Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. As for paintings, Jason enjoys American paintings, especially works by Regionalist artists including Thomas Hart Benton (from Missouri), Grant Wood (from Iowa), John Steuart Curry (from Kansas) and Rockwell Kent, a New York artist best known for his depictions of Alaska and Greenland. He first became interested in paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and then by extension other American Regionalist artists during his two internships with Rep. Dale Whiteside at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City. One of Jason’s duties was to give constituents tours of the Capitol building. The highlight of the tour was the House Lounge featuring an important and famous mural by Thomas Hart Benton. “I was fascinated with the mural and began to explore Benton’s oeuvre,” Jason said. “The more I learned, the more interested I became in art, especially American Art.” Jason had little interest in art while in school and jokes that he can’t even draw a straight line even with a ruler. But, he said he enjoyed art class with Margaret Vance while in grade school. “I think I liked it because it was a chance to be creative and, as is true in the case of most artistic endeavors, there aren’t necessarily any wrong answers,” he said. Beyond grade school, though, Jason never took art appreciation or anything of the sort throughout high school or university. Since 2013, Jason has been involved with “Antiques Roadshow”, appearing as an on-camera appraiser. The show is broadcast on PBS stations and features antiques owners who bring in items to be appraised by experts. Jason explained that during the summer, “Antiques Roadshow” visits between six and eight cities throughout the United States. In each city, about 72 appraisers work at 23 tables, each devoted to a category (arms and militaria, dolls, furniture, silver, to name a few). During the Saturday of the appraisal event somewhere around 5,000 people bring in around 10,000 objects for those 72 appraisers to look at, Preston said. About 70-some objects will be chosen by the appraisers in conjunction with the producers of the show to be filmed with an additional smaller number of items filmed for exclusive web content. Out of that one day of filming, the producers will make three one-hour long episodes for broadcast on PBS and will have some extra segments to use in specialty shows they produce like “Antiques Roadshow, Junk in the Trunk”. Appraisers on “Antiques Roadshow” volunteer their time to help make quality programming for PBS. While appraisers from auction houses have their expenses covered by their companies, participating in the Antiques Roadshow is a financial commitment for independent appraisers such as Jason. Last year, he paid out of pocket for airfare, lodging, car rentals and meals to eight venues. “If you’re lucky, you find something worth filming that the producers agree is worth filming,” Jason said. Being selected adds another layer of work to prepare for the taping of the segment. “Often, we have little, if any time to do any in-depth research,” Preston said. “If we are lucky, we might get a 15-minute lunch break. Overall, it’s a pretty packed day.” “It’s expensive, hard work but a lot of fun,” Jason said. Jason will head to Omaha, Neb., next month for a taping of “Antiques Roadshow.” Previously aired full episodes can be viewed on the “Antiques Roadshow” website. Also, viewers can watch the previously aired appraisal segments of a particular expert by visiting that expert’s individual page on the “Antiques Roadshow” website. To view Preston’s appraisals, visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/appraisers/jason-preston Although at ease handling rare and expensive pieces of art on a regular basis and working with well-known people, Jason still fondly recalls his roots in Chillicothe where his love for auctions set the groundwork for his vocation. He returns frequently to visit family and friends and, maybe, take in an auction. “To this day, I still try to stop by a Mike Miller auction when I’m back home, and even if I don’t see anything I ‘have’ to buy, I enjoy saying hello to Mike, Marti and Mr. May.”