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Idaho Historian Talks Antiques

Historian Ken Swanson has the scoop on your heirlooms.

Ken Swanson with an 1873 Springfield rifle, image
Photo caption
Historian Ken Swanson shows off an 1873 Springfield rifle.

A historian specializing in antique firearms, Ken Swanson has seen everything from joy to dismay during the annual What’s It Worth? event at the Idaho State Historical Museum—Boise’s own Antiques Roadshow. On February 23, Swanson and colleagues will be on hand to reveal the history and value of heirlooms and attic finds.

Q A piece that really surprised you?
A A double-barreled shotgun that might have been one of Napoleon III’s personal possessions. An absolutely gorgeous piece—all gold-inlaid metalwork with a walnut stock. It’s the kind of thing you’d really only find in the museums in Europe, and here it was in a closet in Boise.

Q And the most valuable one?
A A young man came in with an old Colt Dragoon revolver. His greatgrandfather had been a sheriff in the West. When I told him the pistol was probably worth $15,000 to $20,000, he said, “Are you kidding me? I just had it sitting in a drawer.” That’s where these things usually come from.

Q Ever had to say that a precious “antique” is actually nothing special?
A Many times. I try to let people down gently using humor and history.

Q Do people ever bring in objects you might like to own yourself?
A All the time! But I just tell them about it and say, “Boy, you’re a lucky person.” It would be unethical for me to try to buy anything.

Q Any advice on what to bring in?
A Don’t discount anything. That mundane thing that’s been sitting in the kitchen cupboard for years might be the most valuable object in the house. Above all, keep an open mind.

Q A don’t-miss sight at the museum?
A The permanent exhibit on Lewis and Clark. They were so important to the Pacific Northwest and especially to Idaho.

Photography by Glenn Oakley

This article was first published in January 2014. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.