By his own description, Jeff Foxworthy grew up in a “lower middle class” home, which means his mother did not have a lighted, glass-cased walnut cabinet in the living room filled with her cherished collection of Dresden and Staffordshire figurines. Nor did his father have an impressive array of porcelain gasoline signs hanging from the rafters of the family’s spacious three-car garage. But that doesn’t mean that Foxworthy, who’s hosting a new show on A&E called What’s It Worth?, doesn’t understand the urge to collect.
“I went online and started looking them up, and I was like, Holy cow!”
“I had a friend,” he tells me over the phone, “whose grandmother’s house was filled with Elvis stuff, from Elvis salt-and-pepper shakers to spoons to platters to pictures to clocks. Every once in a while, he would take us over there to look at it, but we weren’t allowed to touch anything. I look back on that now and I’m like, Was any of it valuable, or was it all worth two bucks? Who knows.”
Worth, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. “There are two values,” Foxworthy says. “There’s what an object is worth to somebody else, and then there’s what it’s worth to you.” The Elvis stuff in his friend’s grandmother’s house probably falls into both categories, but speaking with Foxworthy, you get the strong sense that he’s most interested in objects whose value comes from one’s personal and emotional connection to a piece.
“My granddad was a fireman,” he continues, sharing an example of the latter. As a fireman, Foxworthy’s granddad kept to a schedule of working 24 hours straight, followed by 48 hours off. That gave him a lot of time for fishing.
“When he passed away, all I wanted was his old tackle box,” Foxworthy says. “I went through it, took out some of his old lures, and mounted them in a shadow box to show them off. One day, a buddy of mine said, You know, those old lures are probably worth something. Now, I would never get rid of them because they were my granddad’s, but I went online and started looking them up, and I was like, Holy cow! But for me, the personal value exceeds what I could get if I sold ’em.”
Also not likely to come up on the auction block any time soon is Foxworthy’s collection of autographed baseballs. We’re not talking about a vintage signed Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle. Instead, Foxworthy’s signed baseballs feature the signatures of his fellow comedians, music stars, and even a president.
“When I was a kid, I was a big baseball fan,” he begins. “So when I started going on The Tonight Show, hosting an awards show, or doing anything else in the business, I would keep a couple of baseballs in my backpack. I’d get the people I met to sign them. So now, in the comedian section of my collection, I have individual baseballs signed by Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, people like that. I’ve got all these musicians, too, because I hosted the Country Music Awards a ton. I have one baseball that was signed by Bill Monroe, Charlie Daniels, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, and Joe Diffie, all on one ball. That’s got to be the only one like it in the world, right?”
Unable to suppress a dad joke, I ask him if that was the year Monroe, Daniels, Lynn, Wagoner, Cash, and Diffie played infield for his hometown Atlanta Braves. Foxworthy doesn’t skip a beat. “Yeah, that’s right,” he agrees. “Loretta Lynn,” he adds, “played left field once in a while, but mostly third base.” That’ll teach me to try to match comedic wits with a pro.
Another baseball that Foxworthy is unlikely to part with is the one he used to throw out the first pitch at a Braves game. “It was during the playoffs,” Foxworthy remembers. After Foxworthy did his first-pitch duties, “Someone said, Stand here until they’re done with the national anthem, then you can go back to your seat. And as I’m standing there, I look over and there’s Jimmy Carter seated in the front row. I had the ball that I had just thrown out for the first pitch, so after the anthem, I turned around and said, Mr. President, would you sign this? And he wrote ‘To Jeff. Great first pitch! Jimmy Carter.’ Well, that’s a great memory of that night, and it’s one of those collectibles that has a story behind it.”
(“What’s It Worth?” premieres Tuesday, August 4 at 9pm ET/PT on A&E.)