“Baggage Battles” dynamic duo Laurence and Sally Martin talk the thrill of the find

If you just returned from a trip but your luggage did not, somebody may be claiming new ownership of your stuff right now. And it’s perfectly legal.

Travel Channel’s newest reality extravaganza, Baggage Battles, lets you tag along with four “auction specialists” who’ve made a tidy living purchasing unclaimed baggage at sales and reselling the contents in their thrift and specialty stores. Trash-talking New Yorker Mark Meyer still lives with his folks, but has an eye for a buy that belies his 25 years. Dashing Billy Leroy — owner of the Big Apple’s iconic Billy’s Antiques & Props — talks a gunslinger’s game but is curiously cautious with his cash.

But most often, it’s Englishman Laurence Martin, a freewheeling former aerospace engineer, and his smiley MBA wife Sally  — both of whom favor hippie-rocker clothing and have a soft spot for oddities — who steal the show with their utter joie de vivre.

Watching this quartet of characters heft zip-locked suitcases, prod baggies full of jewelry and jockey for prized offerings is every bit as interesting as the dazzling array of items they land — items that are sometimes hilarious and often heartbreaking if you fret for the person who’s missing them.

Stars of Travel Channel's "Baggage Battles"

I spoke with the Martins (who were first featured on A&E’s Storage Wars) about the show, the business and their passion for their vocation — all of which demonstrate that one man’s baggage is another man’s or woman’s treasure. And every bit of it makes for great TV.

CGM: You two are such a dynamic, fun couple to watch — how did you meet? What is the love story?

Laurence Martin: We actually met a Labor Day party way back when, in a city called Manhattan Beach, and I guess it was love at first sight.

Sally Martin: It was!

LM: We were told to get a room straight away.

Laurence and Sally Martin on Travel Channel's "Baggage Battles"

CGM: Sally, you were a cable television executive for a long very time. When did you decide to trade in your corporate career for the antiques business fulltime?

SM: In 2000, I was generously laid off by my company [laughs]. Our son was just going into the first grade and I had tried to get some interviews to restart my corporate career, but it was the fourth quarter of the corporate year and it was hard to find a job. So I looked at Laurence and said, “How about we just try this for six months?”

LM: …because I had already been running the shop [El Segundo's Studio Anitiques] for quite a while.

SM: So we tried it for six months and it’s been 12 years now!

LM: I’ve been here 22 years, 25 years, something like that. The guy who sold me the shop, I’d been buying things from him and he’d been here 27 years and I thought, “How the hell could you be here 27 years?!” Now we’re about to overtake his haul of years and it’s quite amazing, really.

CGM: How were you approached to do the show?

LM: I got a phone call in the shop one day about a show that you’ve probably heard of called Storage Wars — which was just starting up — and somebody had let them down and they asked if I could stand in and do an appraisal. So I said, “Well, yeah, of course I could.” Yesterday we just got back from New York — so from that phone call we’ve been to several cities around the U.S. and it’s totally amazing how things have transpired. Now we’ve got our own show on the Travel Channel. It’s quite amazing, really!

CGM: Had you been taking part in baggage auctions before the show came along? I had no idea such a thing even existed!

LM: We really didn’t do a lot of auctions. I mean, I would travel around Europe, Australia, France, even China, buying containers full of stuff. I would go to a lot auctions in those countries and fill up a 40-foot container and then ship it back here to Studio Antiques. So it was kind of a mix-match of auctions that I went to.

SM: That’s been for decades. But part of why this show is so exciting is that we get to go to all parts of the country, and we go to London and things are different when we’re approaching each auction. We’re thinking about, “Where might these bags have come from? What might be in these bags?” And we almost tell a story in terms of our strategy.

For example, we could see a vintage case and presume that there might be some jewelry. So we decide, if they’re carrying this type of case, what kind of person might they be?

LM: The first show, we’re in Miami. Well over 100 airlines fly into Miami and I think they have well over 35 million passengers a year. So tens of thousands of bags get unclaimed. Hopefully you can get lucky with one of them. And that’s what this show’s about! We’ve spent beautiful money on a bag that we thought would be beautiful and it turned out to be full of traaaaaaash!

Laurence Martin makes a bid on Travel Channel's "Baggage Battles"

This last one in New York we lucked out and had our best haul yet, so you’ll have to watch and find out what that is!

But it’s not always easy, especially when people just come to the auction because they know we are filming. The prices go up a little bit on some of the bags we want to bid on and you wind up paying a price that you ordinarily wouldn’t if it wasn’t being filmed for the Travel Channel!

The one in Indianapolis, there was like a thousand people there bidding on these bags! That was a bit intimidating.

CGM: A thousand people!? How on earth do you keep something like that under control — and how do the cameramen keep track of you two, Mark and Billy in all of the hubbub?

SM: The auctioneer is a big part of the show — they’re very fun and they’re all different and that’s what comes out in the show. If you think about the woman in London, she was fabulous and that was her show. She was running the show and you better sit down and be quiet and follow her rules!

LM: And the one we just did in New York was a totally different concept altogether. That was a Customs and Judice auction, and because the merchandise was spread out around the country, you could look at it in warehouses in New York and in other cities all across the country and it was all done onscreen. They put a slide show up and you actually bid on the pictures of the stuff.

SM: These are real auctions. Nothing is staged at all.

LM: It’s fantastic! For the one in New York, we got to go to the docks and we got to go beyond no man has gone before. It was really, really exciting. But they’re all exciting!

CGM: Why do you think people don’t claim their bags when there are clearly valuable items inside?

LM: They probably don’t identify their baggage properly — they don’t put the tags on or the tags come off. They always tell you to put inside your bag another card with all your particulars on it. But how many people do that?

SM: And some of the items that we bid on aren’t just bags, but items people left behind in the airport — and it’s ridiculous the kinds of things that people leave behind. It can be things that you expect, like maybe they lost an earring or they left their watch in the bathroom. But when we were in Miami, we went into the lost property room and there was a bronze statue! Now how did somebody leave a statue in an airport!

LM: And sometimes you’ll take off your bracelet to go through the scanner and it gets lost there. So there’s always a good quantity of jewelry to bid on, too. And it can be left in the car park or places like that. It’s not always people dashing onto a plane.

CGM: I have to ask it — have either of you ever irreparably lost any luggage of your own?

LM [laughing]: Our bags never turned up in Indianapolis from Atlanta {while filming the show]! And then when we traveled back from Indianapolis back to Atlanta, I inadvertently put $3,000 in my bag, which I should have had in my pocket. Mark was like, “Martin, how can you be so flippin’ stupid?!” And then it turned out that he’d done even worse and just slipped $5,000 in the side of his bag where it wasn’t even locked up! So we figured, “We’re going to bidding on our own bags!”

So you can see how this happens, especially when you’re in such a hurry.

One time I traveled from London to Amsterdam and my bags never turned up, so I actually ran up one of those little shoots that the bags come down — this was obviously before 9/11 — so I ran up the little shoot, jumped down the other side and went looking for it!

CGM: Did you know Mark and Billy prior to the show?

SM: We didn’t know them!

LM: Billy, he’s a bit of a James Bond type. He’s a bit of mischievous one. He’s 007, that’s who he is! And Mark, he’s a young entrepreneur. He’s learned a lot and he’s very astute with his buying. He does a lot of research on the lots and the numbers in the catalogs, so he’s more on top of the game than the rest of us. We all get on pretty well, but …

SM: … it’s a competition!

Sally Martin and her husband Laurence on "Baggage Battles"

CGM: Were you as surprised as I was to learn that Billy is so conservative with his cash?

LM [laughing]: He’s as tight as a crab’s ass! He’s Jacob Marley!

CGM: Do you ever feel a little bit sad for the people who were the original owners — especially when you do find something that they must clearly be missing, such as the first-edition books in the pilot?

SM: I’m telling you, the minute I pulled that book out, my heart just stopped. And the same thing when we found that telescopic pencil. I was just in awe.

But the fabulous thing about the pencil is that it came with a bunch of postcards. We were able to so some research of those postcards and we were able to find a photo of the man who owned it wearing the pencil. So those kinds of things really, really touch our hearts, honestly. That’s the stuff that we like to find.

Laurence and Sally Martin appraise jewelry on "Baggage Battles"

LM: We like to keep a lot of things for posterity. When I go to house sales around here, I keep a lot of things that most people toss in the garbage because they’re getting up there. A hundred year old piece of whatever it is, a lot of people like that! You’d be surprised. You just toss it in a bin and it’s gone. Our shop is very, very interesting — you’ll find all kinds of stuff here!

CGM: What has been your favorite find — on the show or off?

SM: Mine’s the telescopic pencil and the watch fob.

LM: Yeah, that was a totally amazing piece. I’d have to back that up!

SM It’s ridiculous! You know, the pencil was made by Garrard — they make the crown jewels in England. And when that pencil was made, it has a hallmark that tells you the day and date that it was made. And it was made, I think, one of two years after they had made Queen Victoria’s new crown — I want to say 1882, if I remember correctly.

And the fact that it came with postcards that showed royalty, and an invitation to this gentleman’s son’s wedding — we were able to really create an entire picture. So it’s more that just a telescopic pencil and watch fob. We now know about these people because of this item.

What makes it interesting between Billy and Mark and Laurence and myself is that Mark, for example, has a thrift shop and what he really wants to go after is very different from what we want to go after — designer sunglasses and video games and things he can turn for a profit. His focus is primarily on money. The same kind of goes for Billy, but Billy is not much of a risk-taker. That’s why you see him walking away so often.

For us, we want to make money — but for us the item itself has value, too. It’s not just about, “What can I turn for a profit?” It’s what can be significant for our business. What our customers want to buy. For example, a few episodes like the book and the stuff at Greasby’s (in London), that reaches deeper down in side of us than just how much money it’s going to fetch.

LM: If you buy stuff that you don’t like and nobody else likes it either, you’re stuck with it! So you’re better off buying things that you like

SM: Not just stuff for stuff’s sake!

CGM: The gypsy ring from the London sale comes to mind, as well….

SM: I look for things that resonate with me and the gypsy ring absolutely is one of those things. In fact, Laurence is wearing it right now.

LM: Whooooo-oooo-oooo!

SM: Billy wants to buy it from us. But I don’t want Billy to have it, because it’s not about the money, it’s about what it means. And I said to Laurence, “That would be a great thing to pass down to our son — if the time comes.” [laughs] Not when, but if! I’m the sentimental sucker.

CGM: Seeing the stuff you guys come up with — like the pencil and the ring — I can’t help but be a little sad for the crap that future generations of auction specialists are probably going to be stuck with. “Oh yay, another iPhone …”

LM: The first iPhone will be very collectible sometime! The first one of anything is. And things don’t have to be very old to be worth a lot of money. If you look at the Harry Potter books for instance, some of the first Harry Potter books came out, they’re worth thousands of dollars already!

Baggage Battles premieres with back-to-back episodes Wed, April 11, at 10 pm ET/PT on Travel Channel.

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Photos and video: © 2011 Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved

About Lori Acken

Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.
This entry was posted in Interview, Magazine Archive, Reality TV, TV News & Program Updates and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Baggage Battles” dynamic duo Laurence and Sally Martin talk the thrill of the find

  1. Joey Manic says:

    Ah people who complain about Laurence obviously have no appreciation for the English and our mild eccentricity. You’d hate it here because you’re all so serious!

    They’re a cute couple. Mark and Billy are excellent too, a great show I reckon.

  2. agnes musu phillips says:

    I can NOT stand Laurence. Why does he have to act like a two year old? I like the show, but he turns me off with his whistle and his clown clothes. She too acts weird. She has a smile plastered on her face when there is no reason for a smile. Both need lessons on how to behave like adults in the real world.

  3. bb says:

    while Salley is a professional,laurence seems more like a monkey.She seems to have all the smarts while he has the enertainment value for TV(which isn’t much help when it comes to actually purchasing items.
    As said,he’s more like a monkey with his howling,etc.

  4. Ahren says:

    Hmmmm, tags fell off…or were “accidentally” taken off by the airline to make a small profit on luggage sales at these ridiculous auctions? Smells like bullshit to me. Maybe bags are “unclaimed” because people can’t afford to fly back to every city where there bag may not have gotten onto their plane.

  5. dennis o says:

    nice to see that the bags i’ve had lost by the airline and been paid maybe 200 dollars for get sold to low life scumbags… it’s pretty fucked up.. yeah i said it- fucked up

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