The lure of a treasure hunt comes in many manifestations.
The luck of finding a long lost treasure or forgotten gem in the attic or basement is a real and wonderful thing for many families. Shows like “Antiques Roadshow,” “Hollywood Treasure” and even “Storage Wars,” where average Joes bid on abandoned storage units, is big TV ratings business.
Enter the handsome twins Keno brothers, two well-schooled experts at the helm of their own reality series “Buried Treasure” (FOX).
Leigh and Leslie Keno (“Antiques Roadshow”) travel across the country to help ordinary people discover the unknown treasures in their homes. The Keno brothers are world-renowned antique experts and appraisers who have helped people all over the world sell more than $1 billion worth of collectibles.
From one-of-a-kind comics to a 300-year-old violin, these brothers travel the country to uncover age-old mysteries and change people’s lives forever.
In each episode, the Kenos will arrive at participants’ houses and immediately begin their hunt for hidden gems. Leigh and Leslie have their eyes set on a new type of prize—long-lost treasures literally buried inside people’s homes.
Not every hunt yields a pot of gold. Some people will have treasures, while others will have trash.
The brothers will investigate items of interest using cutting-edge technology to determine authenticity, condition and—ultimately—worth. The expert duo will reveal the estimated auction values and ask whether the family feels the price is right and if they’re ready to sell. In some instances, the Keno brothers will bring the treasures to the world’s top buyers in an attempt to get them top dollar.
The series premiere of “Buried Treasure” airs Wednesday, August 24 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Leigh Keno owns and operates Keno Auctions in New York City which had its premiere auction in May 2010. Prior to launching Keno Auctions, Leigh owned and operated Leigh Keno American Antiques where he sold an astounding variety of American furniture, folk art and paintings including several masterpieces, often setting world record prices.
He has written articles for “Art and Antiques,” “Antiques Magazine,” and has co-authored two groundbreaking articles on Boston seating furniture for the “Journal of American Furniture.”
Leslie Keno is Senior Vice President and Director of American Furniture and Decorative Arts at Sotheby’s in New York.
During his 33 years at Sotheby’s, Leslie has been directly responsible for numerous record-breaking sales of Americana. He has been published in the “American Ceramic Circle” and has contributed to the “Sotheby’s Guide to American Furniture and Sotheby’s Encyclopedia of Furniture.”
The Keno brothers also authored “Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture.” Since 2001, they have written monthly furniture and design columns for “House Beautiful” and “This Old House” magazines and are often featured in “Traditional Home.”
In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded both Leigh and Leslie with the National Humanities Medal. The brothers recently filmed a video at Mount Vernon for the current exhibition “Bringing Them Home: 150 Years of Restoring the Washington Collection.”
The Kenos spoke to journalists on a conferecne call the other day and shared what we can expect from this exciting new series on FOX:
On agreeing (or not) when it comes to sussing the value of items:
Leigh Keno Well, the great thing about the show is that it has given Leslie and me an opportunity to really work together and we sometimes do disagree. And most of the time, 90% of the time, we really agree on a piece, but I was wrong recently about a very rare Egyptian piece and Leslie said, “I know that’s right.” And I said, “Ah, I think it’s a nineteenth century copy.” And it turned out to be 300 B.C., but I was wrong once a Northwest coast piece that I thought was a fake and it was in fact very rare.
Leslie Keno: But the exciting thing about the show is that the viewer doesn’t know until the end, until the reveal, what the piece actually is…So, we do sometimes disagree and I think that we do have this twin talk—
Leigh Keno: But, when we go through on an adventure, this is unbelievable. Together, we’ll spot the same thing at the same time. Sometimes the thing that catches our eye, together. So, we’re totally in sync in that way.
On what spurred their interest in collecting:
Leslie Keno: Sure, since we were probably, I don’t know, about three feet, four feet high, we were treasure hunters in upstate New York, in digging for old bottles, in old foundations of buildings. We’d go to refuse sites and dig downs for nineteenth century glass, you know, hinges, barn hinges, and we had written a book, Hidden Treasures and a lot—some of that’s in the beginning of that book.
Leigh Keno: But, they are literally buried treasure.
Leslie Keno: Literally buried treasure. I mean we were digging up hinges, digging up bottles and then, the treasure hunt went, when we were able to travel, we weren’t able to drive, but we went with our parents to flea markets and antique shows, of course, and that opened up a whole new world, of course, because then every flea market—there was always that next booth, and we’d spend from six in the morning until at night searching for treasures. So, that’s what we’re doing today and our careers have been searching for treasures.
Leigh Keno: Our whole lives and that’s why this show is so perfect for us because it’s just a great—it’s what we do every day. It’s reality because it is a true reality show, because it is our lives. When we wake up in the morning, that’s what we think about, and when we fall asleep at night and we live and breathe it. And, in this case, we get to do it together.
On finds that were discovered during the filming of the show:
Leigh Keno: Sure, sometimes—just off the record, well not off the record, as you already stated, we can’t mention prices right now because obviously it sort of builds up.
Leslie Keno: You have to watch the show to see that, right? But we have found—what’s been amazing about this show is that we have found treasures from all over the world, valuable and rare objects ranging from 1000 B.C. a Minoan bronze bowl with inscriptions that was buried under a pile of magazines and had no idea to a rare Egyptian tomb figure with the figure of Osiris, polychrome painted, that was just sitting in a dresser in a house that had been sort of falling, cracked walls, plaster falling down, Leigh, too a—
Leigh Keno: …north of us coast Native American objects that turned out to be extremely valuable to –
Leslie Keno: ….it can also be rare American furniture…
Leigh Keno: It’s good to say to also bury gold in one house where we literally were finding buried gold that the previous owner had buried in the house and we couldn’t believe it. Just the most unbelievable discovery.
Leslie Keno: I mean, this is all done and the cameras are rolling along. We have to look in the registers. We used to hide love letters when we were little kids in the registers of the floors our old 1860 farmhouse. So we decided to look there, because there was a rumor that there was actually gold in this one house that the owner had hidden away gold, didn’t trust banks, so we checked the registers and sure enough, there are literally, there is gold there. So, it was unbelievable—and also some jewels.
Leigh Keno: But the show discovers objects. Leslie mentioned a range and variety as a huge stretch from China to …
Leslie Keno: …Chinese run vessels from the Ptolemaic period, you know, Han Dynasty that was just there literally in the middle of the table. The family had no idea, really what it was worth. A very important vessel so—
Leigh Keno: I think, Leslie, something I was told is okay to say—that it is in tens and tens, and tens of thousands. We’re talking about— We just can’t say the exact number…
Leslie Keno: Well’s there’s a number of pieces in the six figures. The amazing thing is that the family doesn’t know the value and doesn’t realize what they have, which is so exciting and so gratifying to obviously give the news. And that’s what we love. It’s a life change. I mean, this is really a treasure hunting show with a big heart, because we’re going in and we’re literally coming to the rescue.
These are families who are in sometimes in dire need of financial help for many reasons. In one case, the owner was going to lose his home, can’t pay the mortgage and ends up having—lost his job and has grandchildren and children. … treasures in the basement and worth tens of thousands.
Leigh Keno: And another one, a lady lost her entire stable, very sadly, with the breeding horses in it. All the horses—they were like her children, but also her livelihood burnt to the ground and this is a desperate situation and with the electricity is about to be turned off in her place.
There is a lot of emotion on the show because of that, because not only, obviously, from the people who certainly are in dire need, but then find out that they may or may not have an incredible treasure that could change their lives financially and really save them, but also from the two of us, because we’re a little bit sappy, I guess.
We’re excited with people and we share that excitement and also share some sad moments. But, the great thing is that the show is like a roller coaster ride emotionally. And, you get some highs and then your lows. And you never really know what is going to happen next.
On where most people find treasures:
Leigh Keno: Well, it really depends. It’s quite a range. It’s sometimes people have the item in their attic or basement so they had no idea that it was even there. You know, it’s been there. They inherited the place and it’s just sitting there waiting for its moment in the sun.
Leslie Keno: Well, there are heirlooms also–another way people inherit items. Last time we found a couple and he loves antiques. She doesn’t. It’s kind of a human interest story. And they are very much in love. Married, I think, about five years.
Well, when he buys things and he loves, loves, to do detective work and research, and he is a retired detective. So, he buys these treasures and hides them away because she sells them on eBay or just throws them out. So, he has to hide his treasure. He goes to flea markets. He gets them all in flea markets, and or tag sales….
Leigh Keno: In this case, we went in and we can’t say what eventually happened, but he had a painting worth potentially tens of millions of dollars. So, it’s really—it’s an exciting journey and it’s amazing. And again, it’s real reality. When Les and I go to the go the home, we have never met the people except for one instance where we knew the person had been there briefly years ago. I had been.
But, we haven’t met the people, so it’s not like we’ve been in the house and looked around. We really don’t know except for some photographs that were sent to us either by email or hard mail what might be in there. You know, we just have a – and often times, it’s only one or two photos that we think, well, this one has a chance. And then we go to the house and of course there’s a whole other group of things that are there that we had no idea about.
Leslie Keno: Or, they’ll take a room shot. It won’t be the piece in the center that the family thinks is maybe good, but it will be that piece way in the back. Look at that—is that a Goddard leg on a table? And that sort of thing.So, we just, mum’s the word until we arrive and it’s just great.
On the ratio of major scores to average junk:
Leslie Keno: Yeah, I mean, the reality is and you’ll see this on the show, there are in fact, we have to give disappointing news, a good part of the time because that’s what our job is to separate the treasures from the trash.
We go through a house and we obviously are appraising a value. So, we have to break the news softly, you know. It doesn’t feel good to do that and say, somebody thinks something’s a treasure and we have to let them down softly and say it’s a reproduction, it’s a fake, it’s got—whatever it is.
But, the good news is on that journey, which is like Leigh described, it is like a roller coaster. It goes down in the depths and then it comes up and all of a sudden—you know, that piece in the attic is worth whatever, tens of thousands—life changing.
So, but there is a bit of disappointing news and that’s always part of this. It’s important for viewers to learn and we think—you know, we’re learning every day where students have—a day goes by we don’t learn.
And, we hope the viewers will learn what a fake is and we actually bring a CSI laboratory in to determine if something is, in fact, authentic or not and in a number of those shows, you’ll see we literally come and set up a laboratory at the owner’s home. And it’s in the garage. It’s pretty amazing.
Leigh Keno: I think what, hopefully, viewers are finding exciting is that they go online on the journey with us in discovering and making sure that something is either fake or real and it sometimes it takes more than just a quick look. And as Leslie said, we use the lab and we bring in, in some instances, the world’s top experts in a specific area just to be absolutely sure. So, because of the range of objects, and paintings and jewelry and—
Leslie Keno: Features from every part of the world, really.
Leigh Keno: Sorry, but I think it’s just having those top experts who are, many of whom are friends of ours, we’ve known for years around the world, really helps. Because, you’re getting, not the final word, but just about the final word on a piece and—
On finding treasures they might want to keep for themselves:
Leslie Keno: Well on this show, there are number of things I covet. I mean Leigh and I love so many things that are so beautiful that in so many areas we covered—but in our own careers, we get and both of us at separate auction houses—we get to enjoy pieces even if for three months they’re here and enjoy them, but not necessarily own them.
We just remind ourselves we’re all just borrowing these pieces anyway. So, we just enjoy them for a short time. And they’re owned by somebody else, but we do love the objects and that’s one thing that I know we can’t help it. So, when we’re around in—a great car for instance, in this one episode with a rare automobile that comes out of the garage from the 1920s—this wonderful rare vehicle—and, it’s so exciting. We can’t help ourselves because we’re car nuts, and also we just want to crawl under and get greasy.
And we do get pretty greasy, so but just looking it over. In fact, we’re leaving tomorrow for Pebble Beach to judge at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, the car show. So, it’s just like judging furniture in our—but they’re rare Bugattis, Ferraris, the greatest cars in the world. But, that’s just wonderful.
We’re obviously not going in there for any other reason, but to help a family. It’s not for any commercial reasons. We want to give them advice and we’re more than the catalysts. We’re catalysts, certainly, but we are offering it. In fact, our best advice on how to best offer and sell that object for the most money possible and realize, sometimes realize their dreams. In one case, a piece we found was literally a family in really big need of money.
They spend all of their money taking care of their parents. The father of the family was sort of semi-retired. Son wanted to go to medical school and this antique turned out to be his medical tuition, probably for three or four years. And they broke down in tears. It was unbelievable.
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