Though auctioneer Alison Ross has made a career of wheeling and dealing on the showroom floor, she’s anxious to see her reality TV debut on the second season of Pawnathon Canada, which premières tonight on History Television.
“I’m filled with sort of a combination of excitement and dread,” confessed Ross, who owns Kilshaw’s, an auction house on Fort Street in Victoria. “It’ll be as new to me as it will be to everybody else, because I haven’t seen any of the episodes.”
The show – basically a cross between Antiques Roadshow and Dragons’ Den – pits antiques experts against each other as they vie for relics that Canadians bring in for appraisal.
Ross, 43, is the newest of its five pawn masters.
Though she’s not sure how finished product will look, Ross expects the result to be more thrilling than the genre’s older entries, such as PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.
“Some of the early shows were more educational and people would bat around some figures as to what things were worth. But nobody really had to put their money where their mouth was.”
Pawnathon Canada, in contrast, pushes its experts to take risks.
“In most cases, one of us will make an offer,” she said. “And for the really elite items, the pawn masters will actually bid against each other.”
Ross’s involvement began in February when she received a mysterious call while at work.
“I had no idea who was phoning and they sort of acted like they were a customer,” she recalled. “I chatted with them for five minutes or so and some of the questions were really weird.
“And finally, I said, ‘What is it that you have that you want to sell?’ “
As it turned out, Pawnathon Canada’s producers were looking to sell her on joining their cast.
In March, Ross went to Toronto for two weeks, which included eight days of frenzied filming.
She said she believes producers were drawn to her because they wanted a charismatic female to complement the four male judges already on board.
“I think they like the idea of having that sort of feminine element on there,” she said. “I think there are a lot of very smart ladies in the business, but a lot of them work behind the scenes and aren’t used to being in the public eye.”
Ross’s specialties, she says, are old paintings and household antiques.
“And of course, being a female auctioneer, I love jewelry, particularly antique pieces.”
Ross’s entry into the business came about through a stint in academia.
In the mid-1990s, fresh from completing a graduate degree in history in art, she began lecturing at the University of Victoria.
“I was teaching my own course through community education on antiques and collectibles,” she says. “I got to know the Kilshaw family because I would bring my classes in here to see how the auctions work.”
In 1997, then-owner Don Kilshaw called to offer her a job, which she promptly accepted.
Newbie auctioneers, she notes, “don’t get to sell the big paintings off the bat.”
Her first sale was no different.
“It was just a box-load of china and glass and things like that,” she recalled. “It sold for less than $5 and the gentleman said he bought it just to put me out of my misery.”
Steadily, Ross’s sales tallies grew. In 2006, she bought Kilshaw’s and has since scored the outfit several headline-making deals.
In 2008, she sold a portrait of Russian Czar Alexander III to a museum in Estonia for $80,000. That same year, a buyer paid $200,000 for a landscape by Hudson River School painter Albert Bierstadt.
Though she’s nervous to see herself on TV, the seasoned saleswoman says she didn’t feel uncomfortable performing for the camera.
The greater challenge, she said, was having to sit still.
“In an auction house I am always moving – usually at fairly good speeds – through the showroom,” laughed Ross. “In this case, you had to wait for people to come to you.”
Ross mustn’t have felt too restricted, though; she says she would “definitely” like to return another season of Pawnathon Canada.
But a new instalment is not guaranteed, the auctioneer warns, right before entering into classic sales mode:
“You tell everybody in Victoria to watch the show because these decisions are all based on ratings.”