Judith Miller obituary

Judith Miller, who has died aged 71, grew up with the ambition of becoming a history teacher. She never stepped inside a classroom in that capacity, but she said that channelling her energies into discovering the stories behind antiques enabled her to “touch” history. This came through co-founding Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, the book that has become the bible on the subject, and appearing on television as an expert on Antiques Roadshow and The House Detectives.

It was an interest she developed while studying at Edinburgh University, passing antiques and junk shops on her way to and from lectures. She bought plates to display in her student accommodation. “I couldn’t help but be drawn in,” she said, “and then drawn in particular to the bright colours of chinoiserie porcelain plates. I began to research them and very quickly I became hooked.”

In 1979, with her first husband, Martin Miller, she launched Miller’s Antiques Price Guide, illustrating each item alongside a description and how much it might be expected to fetch. The book, published annually and aimed at the general public – not just dealers – remains a bestseller.

In 2007 she joined the team on the BBC TV series Antiques Roadshow, which tours towns around Britain and invites locals to bring their “valuables” for assessment, as an expert on “miscellaneous and ceramics”. The treasures she declared herself most proud of identifying were put in front of her at Stanway House, Gloucestershire, in 2009 by a man who had paid 50p for a box of 100 advertising posters hidden under a table at a house sale when he was a boy in the early 1970s. “He only brought along four of the 100 to show me at the Roadshow,” recalled Miller, “so I can’t speak for the other 96, but I conservatively valued the four I saw – British art deco-period transport posters by [the French painter] Jean Dupas – at £40,000.”

Among Miller’s other favourite discoveries on Antiques Roadshow were a collection of 2,000 18th-century show buckles, 1930s Mickey and Minnie mice – and a toilet seat used by Winston Churchill.

Earlier, as a regular for the first four series of The House Detectives, from 1997 to 2000 (and the 1996 pilot), her orbit was a bit wider. Alongside the presenter, Juliet Morris, she was one of those descending on “ordinary” residences to unearth their historical secrets. A typical episode had Miller and other experts proving local guidebooks wrong when they discovered that a Tudor-style Herefordshire house thought to have been a tithe barn actually dated all the way back to the 13th century.

Miller continued sleuthing to find the human stories behind family heirlooms for an Antiques Roadshow spin-off series, Antiques Roadshow Detectives, in 2015.

Her own preferences for antiques included single chairs (“It’s a lot easier to buy a good-quality chair when you buy them singly,” she said. “I like to stroke them.”), 1920s and 1940s Monart glass, an 18th-century Worcester “guglet” shape bottle and costume jewellery.

Although her 1978 marriage to Martin ended in divorce in 1994 and they had sold Miller’s Antiques Price Guide to Mitchell Beazley for £2m in 1989, Miller later returned to an editing role on the book (retitled Miller’s Antiques Handbook & Price Guide).

Judith was born in Galashiels, Selkirkshire (now in the Scottish Borders), to Andrew Cairns, a raw wool buyer, and Bertha (nee Henderson), and said her parents were of the “Formica generation”, throwing away their own parents’ furniture because it was both old and “old-fashioned”. She attended Galashiels academy, studied both history and English at Edinburgh University (1969-73), and was a copywriter for WHT Advertising in Auckland, New Zealand (1973-74).

In 1974, after returning to Galashiels, she became an editorial assistant at Lyle Publications – her future husband’s first publishing company. She worked as an occupational guidance officer at the Department of Employment (1975-79) while he ran a bed and breakfast in Petworth, West Sussex. In 1979, they founded Miller Publications, which eventually operated from Chilston Park, a Grade I-listed house in Kent that they turned into a hotel.

After launching their price guide, the couple went on to produce increasingly specialist books on subjects ranging from porcelain, dolls and teddy bears to clocks, glassware, pottery and country furniture. Miller authored guides to period fireplaces, soft furnishings, art nouveau, arts and crafts, metal toys, perfume bottles, costume jewellery, handbags and other subjects, as well as The Antiques Roadshow A-Z of Antiques & Collectables (2007).

Shortly after her divorce, she wrote a novel, Blythe Spirit (1996), about a divorcee facing trials and treachery in trying to set up as a female auctioneer in a male-dominated industry.

Some of Miller’s early TV appearances on the BBC were in 1995 and 1996 episodes of the property makeover show Home Front and in The Art and Antiques Hour in 1997. With the gossip columnist Ross Benson, she jointly presented all eight series of The Antiques Trail (1995-2002), screened in ITV’s Meridian and HTV regions.

Wider popularity came with Antiques Roadshow. “I was approached by Simon Shaw, the producer, as I’d worked with him on Home Front. Initially, I said I was too busy, but agreed to do one. After that, I was totally hooked and wanted to do as many as I could.” Her last episode was screened in October 2022.

As well as lecturing on antiques at the V&A in London and the Smithsonian in Washington, she wrote columns for the Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman’s magazine, and features for other publications.

Miller is survived by her second husband, John Wainwright, whom she married in 2015, and their son, Tom; and two daughters, Cara and Kirsty, from her first marriage.