Sleuthing antiques is a double-header for the Keno twins

Antiques have been a way of life since childhood for Leigh and Leslie Keno, the twins who have achieved celebrity status as furniture appraisers on PBS's Antiques Roadshow.

What they call their family's "antiquing thing" began with their paternal grandmother, who collected cast-iron trivets. Their art-teacher father and antiques-dealer mother continued the tradition of collecting, exposing the boys early to the pleasures of flea markets, estate sales, and auctions in upstate New York, where they lived.

As 12-year-olds, the brothers began keeping a joint diary. In a boyish hand they wrote prophetically, "We are antique dealers." So confident were they that two years later, at 14, they paid $3,500 for a stoneware jug at a small country auction, setting what was then a world record for American stoneware.

That precocious purchase counts as one of many charming anecdotes in their engaging new book, "Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture" (Warner Books, $29.95). Part autobiography, part antiques history and auction lore, it captures the same irrepressible enthusiasm for American furniture that the two men exhibit on television. It also offers an insider's look at the world of antiques behind closed doors and beyond TV cameras.

And what insider stories the Kenos tell! Leslie, an executive at Sotheby's, and Leigh, owner of a New York antiques gallery, were both on hand when an 18th-century secretary made in Newport, R.I., sold for $8 million. They describe it as "the most significant piece of American furniture ever offered for sale in Sotheby's 255-year history."

It was Leigh who doggedly searched for missing splintered parts of two 18th-century chairs found in a chicken coop. Reassembled, they sold for six figures. He also delicately negotiated the $1 million sale of 18th-century Newport furniture that a telephone repairman spotted while checking an unassuming house on Long Island after a storm.

"Collecting is a universal impulse," the brothers write. They judge furniture by four factors: quality, rarity, condition, and provenance. Their father adds a fifth factor by asking, as they evaluate a new object, "Does it speak to you?"

For the Kenos, as for other antiques collectors, the answer to that question remains part of the thrill of the hunt. Who knows? The next hidden treasure could be just moments - or steps - away.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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