Man Buys $14 ‘Old Painting’ At A Thrift Store, Realizes It’s Worth Thousands

The thrill of the thrift — there’s nothing like it. And though luck doesn’t strike often, Zach Bodish is one of those frequent thrifters who hit the Goodwill jackpot. As he was searching for odds and ends at his local second-hand store, he found something exciting hiding in the stacks of frames. The interesting design drew his eye first, and then he noticed the signature in the corner.

Zach discovered his print at the Volunteers of America store in Clinton, Ohio. When items are donated, workers sift through them for high-quality stuff to sell for higher prices. This is one of the rare pieces they missed.

Looking at the picture, it’s easy to understand how it was missed by workers. “Thrift-store finds are few and far between, especially Picasso,” explained Todd Weyman, vice president of Swann Auction Galleries in New York City.

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Picasso’s bright red signature is what drew Zach to the print. It’s an advertisement for a 1958 Pablo Picasso show written in French with a face in the background. Zach assumed it was a reproduction.

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He paid $14.14 and left. Later, when he researched the print, he noticed his copy had the same bright red signature that appeared on the original copies used to advertise the exhibition in the ’50s.

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Zach’s print was marked 6/100 and was authenticated by a French inspector. It’s a linocut. When Picasso made the face, he carved it into linoleum, pressed that in ink, and applied it to paper.

Lisa Florman, Ohio State University history of art professor, examined the print, and determined that it had multiple signs that the proof was done by Picasso himself. She was confident that it was an original.

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“It’s one that the artist looked at carefully, not one of the subsequent, in this case, 94 that were just run off by a printer,” Lisa said. The lower the number, the higher the value.

The print promoted a display of Picasso’s ceramic work in Vallauris, in southern France, in the spring of 1958. And the group behind the event asked Picasso to design the artwork to advertise for it.

This wasn’t a well-known piece, but it’s associated with a famous name, which always brings a higher value. When Zach realized what he’d bought, he was overcome with emotion. “I started shaking a little bit,” he said.

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Zach isn’t an art collector, but has an avid interest in the subject. “I realized it wasn’t going to make me rich, but still, how often do you find a Picasso?” he said. It’s the thrill of the find — just like we said.

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While Zach could earn $6,000 from auctioning his art, he isn’t sure what he’ll do. “There’s a good chance I’ll probably sell it,” he said. “I want to keep it, but money is tight.” He’s still looking for another full-time job.

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In the meantime, he works part-time refurbishing vintage furniture he finds at thrift store. Zach won’t feel too bad about selling the Picasso, if comes to that. “I have to admit brown is not my favorite color,” he said.

Picasso’s style is easily recognizable, and the artist is also quite famous. When people buy his art, they generally hold on to it. How did this one end up at the Volunteers of America store in Ohio?

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When Ed Zettler decided to clean his basement, he saw the print he’d wrapped in newspaper for safekeeping. He’d received it from his friend in the ’60s. Ed thought the frame was nice and paid $25 for it.

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Ed moved with the print several times and eventually tired of it, storing it in the basement. He saw the signature, but thought it was fake. Finally, he donated it to the Volunteer of America store.

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He forgot about this until he was watching his local news and saw a story about another Clinton man who’d purchased a Picasso print — a very familiar-looking Picasso print. Ed was astonished. 

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Ed said he swore and then, “I sat and thought, ‘Oh, well,’” he said. He may be able to claim the painting’s value on an upcoming tax return — which is better than nothing. Ed took the entire situation pretty well. 

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“I’m glad that the guy that got it recognized something about it,” Ed said. “I am pleased for him.” That was a very cool move, especially since Zach was worried that Ed might try to seize the discarded Picasso.

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After confirming that Ed wasn’t going to make some kind of legal claim on the artwork, Zach decided that he wanted to sell the print. Instead of going through an auction or selling it through a gallery, he found a private buyer.

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The man is from Upper Arlington and wanted to keep his identity secret. He agreed to buy the image for $7,000 — which is definitely impressive because Zach bought it for less than $20. That’s a big return, but Zach didn’t get quite as big a return on his thrift treasure as Andy Fields.

Back in 2010, Andy bought a stack of five paintings for $5 at the sale during a visit to Las Vegas with friends. Fields was from Devon, England, and loved spending time among garage sales — a very American concept.

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Andy was excited about one purchase: a portrait of William Hopalong Cassidy by Gertrude Stein, a prominent American author, poet, playwright, and art collector. He decided it deserved a place of honor.

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When Andy decided to reframe another portrait from his stack, he realized what had been in his home the entire time. Behind the painting, a small drawing fell out. It was labeled Rudy Vallee — a famous singer in the ’30s. That wasn’t the only thing written on the paper.

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In the corner was a signature: Andy Warhol. Could it really be him? “I […] saw a picture looking back at me and recognized the bright red lips of an Andy Warhol,” Andy recalled. That brought him back to an interesting detail of the sale.

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When Fields was shopping in Las Vegas, he chatted to person behind the sale, who had an interesting backstory. The man’s aunt had occasionally looked after a famous artist when he was growing up.

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His aunt watched Andy Warhol when he was in elementary school. And apparently Andy left behind various scribbles and sketches in his first artistic attempts. It wasn’t out of the question that the seller’s aunt lost track of them.

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The style of the sketch would make it significant to collectors. “The experts think it is of historical importance because Warhol did not do pop art properly until he was 23,” Andy said. But this piece dated to when Warhol was 10 years old!

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“It’s an incredibly important work. It redefines the works of one of the most famous artists of the last 100 years. It moves the birth of Pop Art back two decades, showing Warhol was already doing that sort of stuff at a far younger age,” Andy said.

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Fields doesn’t want to sell the painting. For now, he wants it displayed in a museum so anyone who’s interested has the chance to see the rare work. “It’s much better than putting it in a vault somewhere,” Andy said. 

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“I want to keep hold of it — I collect art — but I don’t want to sell it for a few years,” the art fan admitted. Of course, before making any moves, he had to verify that the piece was genuine.

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There are some detractors who think the work isn’t actually Warhol’s because the signature read “Andy Warhol.” The artist didn’t go by this moniker until he was older — as a child he was still Andy Warhola.

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Art collector Andy vehemently denies anything other than the complete authenticity of the work that was completed by pencil on a tattered sheet of paper. When he spoke to art experts, they thought the work must have been signed by the painter much later.

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“The way the experts have explained it is that Warhol never used to sign his early work,” Andy said. “When he gave work away many years later it is highly likely he would have been asked to sign it. I am happy to be grilled by any expert in the world.”

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One of the experts, Peter Bower, a forensic paper historian and analyst, tested the paper’s age. It’s his opinion that the piece is at least 60 years old. Peter wasn’t the only researcher to examine this find.

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Audrey Giles, forensic handwriting and document examiner, looked at the handwriting and determined that it most likely written by Warhol. Audrey’s analysis showed a clear connection between the signature and other authentic samples of his writing.

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If the drawing, which does seem to be authentic, is auctioned it could go for a modest two million, but it’s much more likely to be sold for a much higher amount. Andy claims to be willing to hold on to it for the time being.

This, and the portrait’s potential historical significance in the evolution of Warhol’s style, can draw more interest to the work, which can bump up its value. His early relic could top the biggest Warhol sales in recent history.

Other Warhol paintings have been auctioned off for millions of dollars. Soup Can (Tomato), sold for $6.6 million several years earlier. In 2007, Lemon Marilyn went for close to $20 million.

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A massive painting that spanned 12 ft, Eight Elvises was purchased for the staggering $100 million. We hope some of that money went to a good cause because that is too much money to responsibly spend on a painting.

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We’re not done though. Another Warhol, 200 One Dollar Bills went for $43.7 million and a self-portrait sold for $38.4 million in 2011. So, Fields knew he was sitting on a goldmine. He just hoped he didn’t fall into the same whirlpool of controversy as another thrifty collector.

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Funnily enough, the painting wasn’t what originally caught her eye. “I’d never seen a Paul Bunyan doll before,” Marcia “Martha” Fuqua said when recalling a trip to a Virginia thrift store. Though the doll was unique, it definitely wasn’t the most exciting thing in the box.

Martha looked at the painting, below, and decided to keep the art for its frame. She stuffed it in a white, plastic trash bag, and for a year-and-a-half she moved the bagged painting from one place to the next in her home.

When she finally decided to get the pesky picture from the frame, her mom, who is a former art teacher and painter, encouraged Martha to get the painting appraised by an art specialist. The frame, she said, had a pretty famous name on it.

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On the front of the image, there was a plaque that read “Renoir” — as in French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Martha took her mom’s advice and sought out the opinion of Anne Norton Craner, an expert at the Potomack Company Auction House in Virginia.

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“She took it out of her plastic bag and it really looked like the real thing,” Anne said. “There was beautiful light. It looked like a painting from 1879.” When Anne examined the painting, there was a label on the back.

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Anne used the label to search through Renoir’s catalogue raisonné, or comprehensive works, and got a hit. This is when Anne was almost certain the painting was the real deal — a Pierre-Auguste Renoir original. Still, she needed more evidence.

Public Domain

See, Anne suspected the painting Martha found and placed in a trash bag was Renoir’s Paysage Bords de Seine, or Landscape on the Banks of the Seine. While Renoir and his mistress, Lise Tréhot, were enjoying a meal along the Seine River, Renoir took his linen napkin and painted the beautiful picture for her.

…And the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and additional research by a Renoir expert confirmed it was real! Suddenly the conversation changed — Martha started seeing dollar signs.

Martha was absolutely delighted to find out the legitimacy of the painting, because the auction house valued it at $75,000 to $100,000. “I’m just glad I didn’t sell it at one of my yard sales,” she said. But this wasn’t a happy ending for Martha.

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While you may guess that the next part of this story involves Martha selling the Renoir and going on a nice vacation, that’s not what happened. Experts started looking into how the painting ended up at a thrift store. The answers were ugly for everyone.

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The journey started when Herbert May, a Renoir collector, purchased the painting from the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris, and he took the it stateside. His wife, Saidie, was a benefactor of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Anne Petersen

Saidie and Herbert lent this painting and a few others to the Baltimore museum in 1937. But, if the painting was hung in a museum in the ’30s in Maryland, how did it end up at a Virginia flea market in 2009?

Baltimore Museum of Art

When Saidie died in 1951, she donated the paintings to the museum. During some legal back-and-forth, the painting disappeared. An unknown person, probably a rabid Renoir fan, took it when they had the chance.

No one put any of this together until 2012, when Martha attempted to set up the auction for Paysage Bords de Seine. A reporter from the Washington Post discovered documentation that proved the artwork was stolen. Then the FBI Art Crime team stepped in and confiscated the image.

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Martha wasn’t pleased by this development and started a massive legal battle with the art museum. She thought she had the right to keep the painting because she didn’t know it was stolen. That’s not how it works, Martha.

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Judge Leonie Brinkema, sketched below, quickly dismissed the claim. “The museum has put forth an extensive amount of documentary evidence that the painting was stolen,” Brinkema said in her ruling. Under the law, the person who purchased a stolen museum item is not the rightful owner.

Eastern District, Virginia

“All the evidence is on the Baltimore museum’s side. You still have no evidence — no evidence — that this wasn’t stolen,” the judge told Martha’s legal team. And even if Martha could have kept the painting, it had a much lower price tag, according to the FBI.

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The FBI appraiser valued Paysage at $22,000 instead. The piece needed some restoration work, and most art collectors weren’t currently interested in Renoir because they considered his style to be “old-fashioned.”

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The Baltimore Museum of Art celebrated the painting’s return home as a part of the museum’s centennial party. No one knows what happened to the painting after the ’50s or how it arrived at the flea market.

Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun

The moral of the story is you can’t own something that was already stolen. Also, finding a famous painting in a flea market comes with baggage. Other painting thrifters were open to sharing their experiences with Martha. A prior theft isn’t the only pitfall.

Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun

Like Martha, Teri Horton didn’t like the painting she found thifting. There was, however, something about it that caught her attention. It was 1992, and she had just started her days as a self-proclaimed thrifter. She was stepping into a nightmare similar to Martha’s.

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For 20 years, Teri worked as a big-rig driver. She was forced into retirement after a trucking accident sent her to the hospital. Not one to stay idle, Teri began to frequent thrift stores in search of hidden treasures. In fact, she’d already had some success.

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Once while scavenging, Teri came across a gorgeous watch that she immediately brought to a pawn shop. It turned out to be a genuine Ebel worth $2,000! This find made Teri all the more cocky. She vowed this would be just the beginning of her incredible discoveries.

Watch Patrol

The painting at the thrift store was a bit eccentric for Teri’s taste. Still, she thought perhaps one of her friends might appreciate it. The $5 sale was quick and painless. Teri loaded the painting into her car, drove home, and called up her friend. However, there was a small issue.

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Her friend loved the painting, but it was too big to fit through her trailer door. Reluctantly, Teri kept the painting and hid it away. After all, it was a giant canvas with a bunch of splatters on it. Who’d want to see that? Years later, Teri decided to have a yard sale.

Terry Bone

Teri’s yard sale featured an array of trinkets and antiques she’d collected over the years. None of the offers, however, were meeting her expectations. Teri noticed a woman approach the $5 painting, and she rushed over to make an offer. The woman gave her a rather unexpected response.

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The woman insisted that Teri’s offer was too low. When asked why she felt that way, the woman told Teri she was an art teacher with a wealth of art history knowledge. Teri’s painting, the woman claimed, could potentially be worth millions.

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Millions? Teri knew she had a good eye, but didn’t think it was that good. Teri asked who might have made the painting. The woman claimed it was likely the work of the famous artist, Jackson Pollock. “Who the **** is Jackson Pollock?” Teri asked.

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An American painter in the early 1900s, Jackson Pollock was famous for abstract expressionism, which essentially means a lot of splattering. Don’t be fooled, though; he used different methods of pouring and splashing to create images that are… well, hard to explain. Take a look for yourself.

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Whether you appreciate Pollock’s work or not, which Teri did not, anyone can see how unique it is. There appear to be images of faces and shapes woven into the splatters that, upon closer inspection, simply disappear. Teri started to think this painting shouldn’t be sitting in her driveway.

Phil Roeder

Once home, Teri began researching this strange Pollock character. She saw the iconic work that the art teacher was describing and called her son into the room. With excitement, they hired a forensic expert to evaluate the piece. Thankfully, the expert was able to uncover some remaining fingerprints.

While the prints were being tested, the expert took a look at well-known pieces by Pollock to find similarities. After hours of searching, he came to Teri with an astounding discovery: Although the prints proved undeterminable, both Teri and her son were overjoyed by the expert’s proposition.

Susan Hoffman

The expert believed Teri’s $5 painting was remarkably similar to one of Pollock’s most famous pieces, “No. 5, 1948.” That title just sounded like gibberish to Teri. What she did understand, however, was the price it had sold for: $140 million. Even if Teri’s painting made that, her family would be rich!

LA Times

Unfortunately, art historians weren’t in agreement. Many were insulted by Teri’s insistence that this was a first draft of Pollock’s world-famous painting. Every museum she brought it to rejected the artwork, claiming there were too many lingering questions. For example, how could the piece have traveled so far without ever being noticed?

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Teri lived in California, while Pollock had lived on the other side of the country. Perhaps, Teri suggested, this painting was a throwaway that Pollock gifted to his brother who also lived in California. However, this was unlikely, as Pollock’s brother was aware of his sibling’s fame. Then there was another glaring issue.

Fine Art Shippers

The painting lacked a signature, which would have been the key to its identification. Teri couldn’t even backtrack the sales records as the thrift store had shut down years ago. With so many obstacles in her way, Teri had to think bigger.

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Teri decided to hire a professional art dealer. This way, she figured she could get around the art snobs and nail down the price she deserved. Not long after, Teri received offers from private dealers as high as $2 million! But she couldn’t get $140 million out of her head. She insisted on more.

U.S. Air Force

The painting soon caught the attention of a Saudi art collector. This time, Teri was offered $9 million! To her son’s dismay, Teri denied this gargantuan offer without blinking an eye. She said, “I know what it’s worth and I’m not gonna sell for something less than it should go for.” So, what happened next?

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To this day, Teri is holding out for the best offer. She’s appeared on talk shows, spoken out against art elitism, and become something of a pop sensation with the release of a documentary appropriately titled, “Who the $&% Is Jackson Pollock?” Director Harry Moses sides with Teri, as he explained to New York Times:

“It’s a story of the art world looking down its collective nose at this woman with an eighth-grade education.” Think you’d hold out as long as Teri Horton or would you have spent that $5 on a coffee? She’s not the only one who believes to have discovered a lost artistic masterpiece.

Gapp

Antique collectors love getting their hands on piles of junk. If it’s been sitting in an attic, untouched for years, covered in dust with a distinct mold smell, they’ll take it. It’s not mold poisoning that compels them. Many junk lovers are simply looking to hit it big, just like Rick Norsigian.

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The 64-year-old Rick spent his spare time driving around his neighborhood in search of yard sales. As a carpenter and painter, he enjoyed repurposing antiques. In 2000, he was driving by a garage sale in Fresno when a barber’s chair caught his eye.

After determining the chair was useless, Rick ended up browsing the other items. He opened a few lids and found a collection of film negatives packed into two boxes. They were being sold as a set for $75. Back then, Rick thought the price was much too high, which now makes him laugh.

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Rick haggled with the seller, who’d bought them in the 1940s at a Los Angeles warehouse. Rick pointed out problems with the boxes, such as obvious wear and smoke damage. Reluctantly, the seller knocked the price down to $45, which turned out to be his biggest mistake.

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Back at home, Rick counted 65 negatives. With his 65th birthday coming up, he figured it was destiny. Proud of his purchase, Rick stored the boxes safely under his pool table. Once in a while, he’d pull out the negatives to show his friends, knowing full-well what the images depicted.

Having worked there as a kid, Rick had no doubt that these photos were of the world-famous Yosemite mountains. Two years after his purchase, Rick began to suspect more. He decided to move the negatives to a secure bank vault. If he were correct about their origin, he could become a very wealthy man.

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Now, if Rick were wrong about his suspicions, there would be legal consequences to pay. But he’d done his research and even consulted with professionals who claimed these prints could actually belong to the father of American photography himself.

Andy Holzman

Ansel Adams is a beloved name. His black-and-white photos of the American West inspired environmentalist efforts, including the preservation of what are now the US National Parks. He even helped establish photography as an official discipline in higher education. However, his early career faced an unfortunate tragedy.

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Years of Ansel Adam’s work from the early 1930s had gone missing from the records. Most experts believed the entirety of these photographs, which would have shown his transition from amateur to master, were lost for good. How could so much of the photographer’s work disappear?

Ansel Adams

In 1937, there was a fire at Ansel’s studio, burning up thousands of his stills. When Rick claimed these negatives were the missing link to Ansel Adam’s pioneering career, he was met with harsh backlash from every side, including art directors, historians, and the Adams estate itself. Rick needed back up.

Columbia Pictures

Rick hired a lawyer named Arnold Peter who claimed he could make up to $200 million from his find! Arnold quoted many experts, including a former FBI agent and a US attorney, who said, “no reasonable person would have any doubt that these, in fact, were the long-lost images of Ansel Adams.”

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You don’t just march into a museum and demand $200 million for your box of junk. Arnold, who was eager to represent Rick, needed to prove authentication. He told reporters they were putting these negatives “on trial.” He found a team of experts in art, forensics, handwriting, and even weather to explore the possibilities.

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“It truly is a missing link of Ansel Adams and history and his career,” said art dealer David Streets. “This is going to show the world the evolution of his eye, of his talent, of his skill, his gift, but also his legacy.” The media remained skeptical of these expert opinions. Criticisms started getting personal.

Art Listings

The managing director of the Ansel Adams Trust, who is in charge of copyrighting anything to do with the famed photographer, told news channels that these so-called experts were “crooks” and “con men.” Nevertheless, Rick was determined to win.

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Why would these negatives be left in an LA warehouse? Arnold’s photography expert, Patrick, suspected they were used for teaching purposes, namely “to show students how to not let their negatives be engulfed in a fire.” Still, experts were skeptical. To end the legal battles, Arnold had Rick sign an agreement.

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Rick agreed to have a company called Media Partners Global sell the prints on his behalf, barring him from legal responsibility. They were eventually sued, but not before the company made an enormous profit. Once the company was forced to stop using the Ansel Adams name, Rick realized something was off.

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News reports indicated the company made $1.8 million in profit, but Rick didn’t get his fair cut. As time went on, more officials denounced the authenticity of the negatives, claiming they actually belonged to a photographer named Earn Brooks. After looking into it, Rick made a troubling discovery.

Lawrence K. Ho

The company selling his prints, Media Partners Global, was owned by none other than Arnold Peter! The attorney pocketed a majority of the $1.8 million in profits behind Rick’s back. He used confusing legal jargon to put loopholes in their agreement. Even the people he hired were scammers!

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One of the appraisers, David Streets, turned out to be a convicted felon! He, along with the other “experts,” had been hired by Arnold to fake authentication of Rick’s negatives. Naturally, Rick hired new attorneys — ones he actually vetted — to sue Arnold. By that point, it was too late.

Ansel Adams

Swindled out of the chance to make millions, Rick is limited to selling the prints online only under the title of “The Lost Negatives.” With printing technology these days, however, business isn’t exactly booming. But his misery hasn’t deterred other antique hunters from looking for famous relics.

Robert Durell

One of the most special items Antiques Roadshow has ever seen really doesn’t seem like much. In fact, at first glance, it looks like a dime-a-dozen wooden box your grandmother once used to store things like bobby pins or fancy soap…

But this wooden box goes back further than bobby pins. In fact, it goes back even further than your own grandmother. The small box, which can fit in the palm of your hand, is engraved with the year 1785 — almost 235 years ago. 

Nitrate Ville

Still, its age isn’t what makes this box so special. The truly captivating characteristic of the box is the numbers engraved around the lid. They made for a beautiful design, but as it turned out, they were much more than just decoration.

When Antiques Roadshow-viewer Paul Wisken started the episode featuring the box, he figured it would be like any other — except it wasn’t. As soon as the mysterious box appeared on screen, he was intrigued. The numbers stood out to him.

Meanwhile, the box’s owner and Antiques Roadshow experts answered the easy questions: It was a Georgian cosmetics box, and as the tradition of that romantic time period goes, it was probably a gift given from a gentleman to his lover.

Moreover, the box was purchased for around 20 pounds (AKA 30 dollars) by the owner’s father. That was all they knew about the box’s lineage of owners. Then, they looked to the outside of the box, where a romantic message was clearly engraved.

“The ring is round and hath no end, so unto my love, now my friend,” the engraving read. What left even the Antiques Roadshow experts stumped, though, were the weird assemblage of numbers on the lid of the box. 

The said, Antiques Roadshow expert Jon Baddeley was able to give some insight as to the box’s centuries-old origin. He knew it once held rouge or makeup patches, and Jon was even able to confirm the name of the original gift-giver.

BBC

The name was J Jones. As for the numbers, Jon was as flummoxed as everyone else. “You’ve brought in this tiny little box and many many questions,” Jon told the owner. He was forced to say something no historian ever wants to say.

“I think with this one I’m going to be at a bit of a loss,” he said. He estimated the box’s value at $1,500, adding that it had “sentimental value.” Everyone wondered if cracking the code would add to the monetary value, but there was no Rosetta Stone to reveal the answers.

There was Paul, though, who, back at home, had hatched a plan. “As soon as I heard them say ‘we can’t solve it,’ I thought, ‘I bet I can,’” Paul said. As confident as he was, the retired engineer had his work cut out for him.

His natural affinity for numbers and his love of crossword puzzles made this “too much of a challenge to resist, ”as Paul said. He hoped that his lifetime of amateur code-cracking would help him solve the puzzle once and for all.

Kevin Van Paassen

The grandfather created a system to match digits with letters, starting with double 8s he assumed represented LLs. From there, his complex number system grew. J Jones kept floating into his mind — what was he trying to conceal? 

Even after 5 hours of work, Paul was unconvinced that he had cracked the code. He had a smattering of words, including “small” and “love,” but couldn’t figure out what the message truly said. Days went by, and still Paul was stumped…

Until a few nights later, that is. He woke up “with a click,” as he said, and realized the word that had eluded him: “gift.” As a whole, the message read, “The gift is small but love is all.”

Finally cracking the code was a triumphant moment for Paul, but he was modest about his accomplishment. “It was a beautiful challenge thrown in my lap,” he said, and he even proclaimed himself as “a bit of a nerd.” 

The fact that the message could be cracked at all was important, since secret codes are pretty much created to be broken. This certainly brought to light even more questions about the lovers who first exchanged this small gift. 

The biggest question is, why hide the lovely message behind code? The only answer that made much sense in this case — or, at least, the answer that had the juiciest implications — was that the couple was in an illicit relationship. 

When Antiques Roadshow was informed of Paul’s discovery, they dubbed him a “genius” — and estimated an added 10-20% to the monetary value of the box. Still, Jon thinks that the box’s significance goes beyond money.

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He feels that the cracked code adds even more to the box’s incredible story. With a backstory involving mysterious codes, centuries of secrets, and possible illicit lovers, the vintage box spun quite a mystery!

Variety

And Paul knew what an exciting backstory could do for an item. Given his interest in antique appraisal, he likely heard the story of the junk-bowl-turned-priceless artifact a New York man bought from a 2007 garage sale.

The piece in question was this beautifully crafted bowl, which they quickly purchased from the yard sale for a measly $3. Much to their surprise, this seemingly ordinary purchase turned out to be the best investment of their lives…

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Upon a close inspection of the bowl, you can see there was quite a lot going on with it. Fine details like the lotus patterns carved into the interior were one of many reasons the family placed the bowl on their mantle for all to see.

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For six years, the bowl sat on the mantle, relatively untouched, save for the occasional dusting. Eventually, though, the intricacies of the bowl piqued their interest, and the family suspected that they had more than just a $3 cereal bowl on their hands.

They brought their garage sale purchase to various experts, hoping to confirm their suspicions. The couple ended up at Sotheby’s, a broker with a sterling reputation for appraising the finer things in life: art, jewelry, collectibles, and more.

If anyone knew art, it was Sotheby’s. In 2012, the publicly traded corporation managed to auction off Edvard Munch’s most iconic work, The Scream, for almost $120 million. In other words, if the garage shoppers’ bowl was worth something, Sotheby’s would know.

Jennifer S. Altman / The New York Times

When the family brought the bowl to Sotheby’s for appraisal, they were told it was a thousand years old—and it actually originated from China’s Song dynasty. Unbeknownst to them, they’d been living with an ancient Chinese artifact all along!

The crazy revelations didn’t stop there. When the auctioneers at Sotheby’s crunched the numbers, they concluded that the bowl was worth anywhere between $200,000 and $300,000! But that was just an estimate…

Sotheby’s

Before the family made a dime off their $3 garage sale purchase, however, someone would have to pay for it at auction. But with Sotheby’s slinging all kinds of impressive fine art, would a five-inch bowl really make $200,000? They’d have to wait and see.

Julie Gamble Smith

The auction took place on March 19, 2013. The family anxiously waited for the live bidding to start, and they didn’t realize just how many people were hungrily eyeing their ancient bowl. One of those people happened to be Giuseppe Eskenazi, a man considered to be the world’s foremost dealer of Chinese art.

Just eight years earlier, Giuseppe proved he wasn’t afraid to shell out some serious money for valuable antiques when he purchased a 14th-century jar for $23.5 million! His next target? That New York family’s Song dynasty bowl.

When the bidding started, there were five prospective buyers, including Giuseppe. They went back and forth, trying to outspend one another on the ornate artifact. After a few minutes of furious bidding, the auction was over. The final bid was astronomical…

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Giuseppe managed to win the bowl after dropping $2.2 million on it. The family—who purchased the bowl for $3—definitely made their money back! If it’s hard to believe this modest dish could’ve fetched such a high price, there’s one thing you’re not considering…

Sotheby’s

This bowl was worth far more than any other because of one particular reason. After the auction, CNN’s Richard Roth spoke with both Giuseppe Eskenaz and the Sotheby’s auctioneer, Henry Howard Sneyd, to find out why…

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When asked what made the bowl so special, Giuseppe put it simply: “There’s only one other,” he said. “It’s also in perfect condition; considering its past history, it’s a miracle.” No kidding. The bowl even survived a garage sale!

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Giuseppe continued explaining what made the bowl so unique. “It’s decorated both on the inside and outside, which is also very, very rare,” he said. Auctioneer Henry echoed his sentiments…

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“The moment the box [containing the bowl] lid was opened,” Henry said, “I knew that I was looking at something completely special.” He described the carver’s precise and beautiful work as “a little bit like Mozart.” Talk about high praise!

As a final note, Giuseppe made it clear just how special the bowl was. “I can’t think of another bowl—except for [the one at] the British Museum [pictured]—that is as sophisticated as this one.” Again, this was no cereal bowl.

So how did a bowl so priceless end up as $3 yard sale purchase? That remained a mystery. The bowl, Henry said, “has come out of the blue in terms of being a complete discovery.” But for as much as it sold for, you couldn’t put a price tag on the seller’s reaction…

“I got back to my desk after the auction,” Henry recalled, “and I found an email, which was in capital letters: WOW. And then a new line: WOW. And then a line of exclamation marks.” And with a profit of over $2 million, there couldn’t be a more fitting reaction!

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Turns out there’s plenty of old items lying around, just waiting to be noticed for there value! And apparently, it’s a lot easier to find these things than most people think. You might have these undiscovered treasures laying around your own home!

1. When students Skyer Ashworth and Talia Rappa were looking through clothes at a thrift store in Florida, they couldn’t help but notice six NASA spacesuits on the rack. They purchased the official 1980s-era suits for a mere 20 cents each, only to discover later that they were actually worth much more: $5,000 per suit!

2. Zachary Bodish was immediately drawn to this reproduction Picasso poster when he spotted it at a thrift store near Columbus, Ohio, and he purchased it for $14. Not long after, he discovered that it wasn’t a replica at all, but a linocut made by Picasso himself. He eventually sold it to a private buyer for $7,000!

3. Vinyl collector Warren Hill always kept his eyes peeled for rare records selling at New York City street sales, though he never had much luck. That is, until he stumbled upon a Velvet Underground test-pressing that was only intended to be seen by the record label and the distributor. He later sold it on eBay for a stunning $25,000!

4. Jennifer Thompson purchased the Nintendo game Stadium Events from a North Carolina thrift store for just $8. Little did she know that it was highly coveted by collectors. She couldn’t believe it when someone purchased it from her for $25,000!

5. A German student returned home with a $215 foldable couch she’d picked up at a flea market, only to have a rare painting fall from its crease. Created between 1605 and 1620 by an unknown artist, it depicted Italian master Carlo Saraceni. Despite the nameless artist, it eventually auctioned for $27,630!

6. A woman shopping at a thrift store in Somerset, England, was happy to pay $3 for this metal bowl. When she brought it to have appraised, the experts instantly knew it was a Chinese tripod censer that dated to the 18th century Qianlong period. That could certainly help explain why it eventually fetched $30,000 at auction!

7. When Zach Norris went to a Phoenix thrift store in search of a cheap golf trolley, he got much more than he bargained for. He forked over $5.99 for a neat-looking watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre. It wound up being worth a whopping $35,000!

8. A couple from Knoxville, Tennessee, Sean and Rikki McEvoy, randomly purchased a black sports sweater from a thrift store. They had no idea it had once belonged to famed football coach Vince Lombardi. They paid just 58 cents for the item, though it was worth $43,000!

9. When an Australian man purchased this pretty item for $3 from a shop in Sydney, he had no idea it was actually an incredibly rare Chinese libation cup made of rhino horn. He later earned a cool $60,000 when the cup was auctioned by Sotheby’s.

10. In 1994, an avid golfer walked into a Toronto thrift store and found an eye-catching green jacket selling for just $5. The jacket turned out to be an authentic jacket from a 1950s Augusta National! Even without the golfer’s name stitched onto it, a memorabilia company purchased it for the high price of $139,349.

11. One British man spotted this watch at a parking lot sale and paid $35 for it. He was elated when he found out that it was the exact same watch Sean Connery wore when he starred as James Bond in the 1965 film Thunderball. Even better: he sold it for a staggering $145,000!

12. When this painting was donated to the Columbia-Williamette Goodwill, the staff priced it to sell for $10. It wasn’t long before someone recognized it as a watercolor by American artist Frank Weston Benson. It later sold for an astonishing $165,002!

13. A person was shopping at a flea market in Brooklyn when they stumbled upon a $15 necklace designed by American sculptor Alexander Calder. Though Calder wasn’t known for his jewelry, they couldn’t turn down such a deal. It’s a good thing they didn’t, because it turned out to be worth $267,750!

14. London man John Richard paid only $30 for this Andy Warhol print bag—featuring the likeness of Elvis Presley—at a local thrift store. After it was appraised, he learned that only 10 were ever made by designer Philip Treacy, which explains why it is rumored to be worth a grand total of $480,000!

15. When this item was donated to a charity shop in England, staff members quickly realized it might be worth something. As it turned out, it was a bamboo pot created between 1662 and 1672 by Gu Jue, a famed Chinese artist. Even though it needed to be restored, it sold for a whopping $500,000!

16. Claire Wiegan-Beckmann purchased a card table from a garage sale for $25 in the 1960s. Years later, she decided she would have it appraised on the TV program Antiques Roadshow. That’s when she discovered it was from the 1700s and worth $541,500!

17. In the 1980s, a ring caught a shopper’s eye at a parking lot sale at a London hospital. He purchased it for $14, and after wearing it for five years, he decided to have it officially appraised. That’s when he learned it was a 26.27 carat diamond! He eventually sold it for a staggering $915,000.

18. An Indiana man paid $30 for this painting hoping to use it to cover a hole in his wall. One day, while playing a board game based on art auctions, he noticed that one of the cards featured a similar painting. That’s when he discovered it was the “Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth” by Martin Johnson Heade… and it was worth $1.2 million!

19. In 1989, a man purchased a painting for $4 because he liked the frame. He removed the painting to put something else inside and discovered an original print of the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence. It was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1991 for $2,420,000!

Sothebys / Wikimedia commons

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