Man Buys Old Desk For Just $40 Before Uncovering Papers Stuck Within That Transform A Family’s Life

Bidding in an antique auction sometimes requires a willingness to take a chance. Appraisers can value something at a higher (or lower) price than anticipated, and there might be a few surprises—good or bad—hidden in an item you haven’t thoroughly inspected. Sometimes, it’s impossible to know exactly what you’re getting.

Phil LeClerc, for instance, thought he was acquiring an antique Governor Winthrop desk when he stopped by an auction in Holbrook, Massachusetts, in the fall of 2014. But he soon learned that the furniture concealed something that made it far more valuable than anyone anticipated…

When it comes to antiques, you get a lot more than you bargained for—and a handful of Massachusetts residents discovered that firsthand. It all began not too far from Boston, when a man decided to clean out his 94-year-old father’s house in order to raise the funds for assisted-living care.

Gordon M. Grant / The New York Times

The man contacted Marg-e Kelley, owner of Kelley Auctions, to help make a few extra dollars off the older furniture that decorated his father’s house. One of the items proposed for auction? A Governor Winthrop desk.

If anyone could secure the true worth of this item, it was Marg-e. She relayed a story to the man about the time she advised a woman against tossing out an antique rug only to have spectacular results: that rug was sold for $9,700! Marg-e’s credentials were impeccable, and the man wondered if his desk would bring him a similar payday.

Mark Leffingwell

To the trained eye of Marg-e, it didn’t appear that way—at least, not at first. The desk wore signs of its age and wasn’t exactly rare. “The desk that we took in,” Marg-e told WCVB-TV, “we see them every day practically.”

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

Nevertheless, Marg-e placed the Governor Winthrop desk and a few of the old man’s other items on auction in Holbrook. There, someone would determine the true value of the desk.

James Kelley / YouTube

That someone was Phil LeClerc. A local man from Weymouth—a town just 20 minutes from Holbrook—Phil fell in love with the antique desk, and he thought its classic design would look great in his home.

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

Drawers galore lined the base of the hutch and crevices were tucked between the various vertical panels. And that, Phil said, made it “notorious for hidden compartments.” Still, he recognized the desk had its flaws.

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

“It had a broken foot, the filial was missing,” he noted, and a knob had come off the drawers and gone missing into one of those aforementioned crevices. For these reasons, the desk, Phil assumed, wasn’t all that valuable. So he placed a low bid.

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

Apparently, not many other auction-goers wanted an ancient desk in disrepair, because Phil won the desk with a bid of just $40! A happy winner, he brought the desk home… and made an unbelievable discovery.

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

It happened when he was looking for the missing knob. “I banged the desk forward, and when the knob came out the envelope dropped.” Neither he, Marg-e, nor the ailing man’s son had seen it before the auction!

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

Understandably curious, Phil opened up the envelope and inspected the contents. His jaw dropped. “The first thing I saw,” he recalled, “was a $500 bond!” But the envelope contained so much more…

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

“It was absolutely amazing,” Phil said. “We found [fifties], and then we found [hundreds], [two-hundreds], [five-hundreds], and then we found a stack of six $10,000 bonds.” The money just kept coming out!

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

By the time Phil had finished collecting the bonds, he held $127,000 in matured United States Savings Bonds! Of course, since the bonds weren’t in his name, Phil couldn’t exactly cash them in—but he understood the value of what he was holding.

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

With that kind of money, you could buy a Jaguar F-Type SVR, a car capable of reaching 200 miles per hour. Or you could put a healthy down payment on a house in Weymouth. Or you could, say, afford assisted living for your 94-year-old ailing father…

Christopher Evans / Boston Herald

So Phil, the honest man that he was, did the right thing: just days before Thanksgiving 2014, he contacted Marg-e and explained what he’d found in his broken, $40 Governor Winthrop desk. She knew just what to do.

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

Marg-e contacted the man who’d been looking to put his father in an assisted-living community—and returned the entire $127,000 to him!  “He was so happy,” she recalled. “It could not have happened to a nicer guy. We love stories like this. It’s why we do what we do.”

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

As it turned out, the family had spent years looking for those bonds, and as time went on, they’d all but accepted that they were never going to see that money again. If only they’d checked their desk’s cracks and crevices!

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

“It’s a lot of money,” Marg-e said. “I mean, it’s going to change their lives, completely change their lives.” Thanks to Phil, assisted living certainly didn’t seem like such an impossible expenditure to the desk’s original owner now!

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

Marg-e recognized the timing of the discovery couldn’t have been more seasonally appropriate, either. “I said, ‘Happy Thanksgiving,'” she recalled, and “he said, ‘Oh, it will be now!'”

WCVB Channel 5 Boston / YouTube

You never know where you might find treasure! Thankfully, Phil did the right thing and took the steps to return those bonds to the family that needed them. Check out the video below for more on the story!

Thanks to the kindness of Phil LeClerc and the trustworthiness of Marg-e Kelley, one family had a very happy Thanksgiving! Sometimes, you just can’t know an object’s true value with a single inspection.

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