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Hand Crafts and Hand-Helds

'Antiques Roadshow's' Leslie Keno is immersed in the past, but he'd never give up his Palm VII.

April 26, 2001

Leslie Keno and his twin brother, Leigh, took an unusual path to becoming national celebrities--expertise in American antiques.

The effervescent Kenos, who at age 44 still look amazingly alike, are frequent guest appraisers on Public Broadcasting's "Antiques Roadshow," which encourages ordinary folks to bring in keepsakes and see whether they are of value. When the Kenos hit upon a treasure, they react with an enthusiasm that is infectious and has won them a large following on the popular show, now in its fifth season.

Leslie Keno's day job is as head of the American furniture and decorative arts division at Sotheby's in New York. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter.

DESKTOP: At Sotheby's I have no idea the make of computer I use, but it has certainly changed the way we do some aspects of our business. The ability to send images online has been incredibly helpful. Part of my job is to give evaluations and appraisals of objects from all over the world. I've had dealers go to a home or estate sale, take some photos, get them developed in an hour, scan the images and e-mail them to me. In a couple of hours after they first saw the object, I can be looking at a picture of it in New York and give them my advice.

At home we have a Sony Vaio with a flat screen. I can't tell you much about it in a technical sense. I could hardly describe myself as a computer wizard. But my daughter uses it. She's just 4 1/2.

She loves to sit in my lap and look at the learning games--we already have a huge collection of them on CD-ROM. We used to play a lot of the Fisher-Price games and "Reader Rabbit." Now we have advanced to the "Sesame Street" numbers.

HAND-HELD: I have a Palm VII and it's impossible to overestimate how important it has been to getting me organized. I used to carry in my wallet and pockets little pieces of paper with notes scribbled on them. Now I put everything on the Palm. I have terrible handwriting, and when I put something on the Palm, it's legible. When I am away from home, I use the folding keyboard they make for it, and it's great.

Q. Having that gadget is kind of ironic for someone who deals in antiques.

Absolutely. My everyday work life is immersed in 18th century hand craftsmanship.

Q. How would an 18th century person stay organized?

Often, the way people kept information and papers organized was with the use of the secretary desk. It generally had four drawers and on top of it a slanted section that could be opened to be a writing surface. Inside, there would be pigeonholes and drawers to organize accounts, documents and letters, just like we now store things on a computer.

The desk could be locked. It would take an iron key to open it, just like today when we use a password to get into the information on a computer.

Q. Would you give up your Palm to go back to one of those desks?

Absolutely not.

BOOKMARKED SITES: I am very impressed by search engines, at how fast they can go through all that information. The one I use most is Google. I've done research on furniture online and on other kinds of art that I love, like Old Masters.

I've bid on auctions on our own site, got a wonderful 17th century German pewter flagon, which is like a large tankard, that is almost 1 1/2 feet tall and now sits in my living room.

Q. How different are online art auctions compared with traditional ones?

Live auctions have been going on for centuries, and I hope they will never stop, but online bidding can also be exciting. And I think that pieces might go for higher prices online than they do at a live auction where decisions have to be made much more quickly. I talk to people all the time who regretted not going higher at a live auction. Online, an auction can go on for several days, and you have a long time to think seriously about how much you want to pay for a piece.

Q. Do you use the Web to do research on your hobby, racing cars?

Oh, yes. When my brother and I were considering buying a 1979 Ferrari 512BBLM--only 24 were built--we went onto Google and typed in BBLM. We got information from some automotive Web sites, and on one we could type in the chassis number to research that car. We were able to find out what races it was in, who were the drivers--it was incredible to have all that at your fingertips. We bought it.

HOME THEATER/STEREO: We have a TV we like a lot, but it's just a regular Sony, nothing really special. The stereo is a small JVC system.

Q. But what are they sitting on?

Ah. The stereo is in an early 18th century Dutch cabinet that was used for linens. It has two big drawers on top and more drawers on the bottom--the upper section is perfectly suited for the stereo.

The TV is on top of an 18th century American table. That sounds pretty decadent, but it's a very sturdy table.

--As told to DAVID COLKER

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