Service of Keep Your Eyes Peeled or Meet Me at the Goodwill Store

December 13th, 2012

Categories: Art

Years ago I was riveted by an article about a man who sued a garage sale organizer hired to clear out the remaining things in his deceased mother’s home. One of the paintings she’d priced at–and was sold for– $50-something subsequently brought $ hundreds of thousands at auction. [If I recall correctly, he lost the suit.]

About 10 years ago a friend of my husband’s paid $10 for a photo at an upstate New York tag sale. It featured a man in britches under a stone formation in what looked like a Western scene from the 1900s. The signature wasn’t recognizable and there was a salutation on the image. My husband brought it to Christie’s and the photo, appraised at $3,000- $4,000, sold for $4,200.

I thought about these instances when I read the December 4th news feed from ARTFIXdaily. Headlined “Goodwill Yields Alexander Calder,” the news brief in question noted that a woman paid $12+ change for a print she found at Goodwill and the lithograph was appraised for $9,000.

According to the article, “Goodwill officials say that other notable finds at their stores have been spotted by employees and sold at auction for high sums.” In Santa Rosa, a Maynard Dixon painting sold for over $70,000 in 2009 and a year before, near Baltimore, an Impressionist painting by Edouard-Leon Cortes brought $40,600. In 2006, a Portland, Ore. store benefited by approximately $165,000 from an anonymously donated Frank Weston Benson oil-not too shabby.

Don’t family members speak with one another? Has anything like this happened to you or to someone you know?

9 Responses to “Service of Keep Your Eyes Peeled or Meet Me at the Goodwill Store”

  1. DManzaluni Said:

    Yes, a pertinent story though in reverse

    I had been vaguely aware that the prices at Goodwill stores were becoming a bit high, as if whoever is setting them doesn’t have the faintest idea what he or she is doing

    Some months ago I suddenly received a coupon from Amazon local offering me 50% off at Goodwill stores! They really havent got the faintest idea about pricing! When I came to redeem it, I noticed a few interesting things. Firstly nothing in the stores seems to be of any value any more. It is as if whatever is brought in mysteriously disappears while only junk and Target returns is on sale. Secondly I found out that anything which seems even slightly worthwhile is now put on line for auction!

    Mind you, if whoever is processing it doesnt have any idea what it is and just puts a genuine Picasso on line as a print, it won’t make much difference to them, will it?

    (Yes, I did get my money back from Amazon Local after a few completely fruitless visits)

  2. Lucrezia Said:

    Sure family members speak to one another, but if no one knows diddly about art and or value of other collectibles, all the chatter in the world won’t help. Being a connaisseur is not a family member job description!

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good to know that someone combs the donations and puts the best for sale on line. BOOOOO. It makes me sad because it means that people who depend on Goodwill to dress their family will be left with the dregs which I don’t think was the point.

    If a Goodwill staffer or volunteer sells a valuable work of art for almost nothing through ebay, the person who picks it up will be in the same lucky spot as the person who might buy it in a store and later find out its worth.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good point. Shows how important wills or lawyers who are told that some items in a home are valuable. Had the woman in the first case identified what her painting was her son wouldn’t have given it away for $50.

  5. JBS Said:

    When I lost weight, going from a 22 to a 14, I had to buy an entire new wardrobe. I bought 90 percent of it at Consignment shops. In many cases, I got clothing that originally would have been beyond my budget…. like two St John outfits: a pant suit and a dress. I highly recommend them to anyone.

    I still buy something there occasionally, but I see beauiful things there (that are not my size) every time I visit a shop. Some shops carry mostly high end clothing and they are my favorites, but we have a “Second Debut” shop near me that sells only the “best” things that get turned into Goodwill, and I always check it out. You have go often, since the best things never last long, but I found stopping in frequently is easy since I’m retired. (It would have been much more difficult when I was working, but well worth the effort. I didn’t think of it until later when I was faced with buying an entire wardrobe.)

  6. JPM Said:

    Dmanzaluni’s comment caught my eye.

    Year’s ago, my wife was involved with a not-for-profit that traditionally had a holiday fair to which manufactures/retailers donated merchandise. An older, very prominent member used to make a point of volunteering to be a “helper” in setting up the event. About the only “work” she did was to “low ball” the prices on the items she liked, then buy them for herself before the fair opened. A charming woman — sadly she is dead now — she was sufficiently formidable, that none of her coworkers ever dared say anything to her.

    It goes on all the time.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    I have several friends who enjoy the thrill of the unexpected and the mystery of shopping in Good Will, Salvation Army and other thrift shops, as well as antique stores. They are knowledgeable and artistic souls who delight in small and large finds. They often know, or at least suspect that something they find at an amazingly low price is of greater value and significance.

    They also appreciate fine workmanship and good quality as they enjoy the (politically correct) idea of giving things a second life, a new existence or sharing them with others, as direct gifts or for charity once again. Occasionally they profit from them.

    They aren’t disconcerted knowing that professional “pickers” are determinedly searching their preferred venues with an unflinching commitment to uncovering overlooked treasures. The pleasure of the expeditions, the camaraderie that grows from frequenting the same places, the creativity and sharing of ideas and objects, useful and frivolous, give them immense gratification.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I love bargains too, Martha, but am squeamish so don’t think I could buy clothes from consignment shops or GoodWill which is inconsistent as I also love antiques. It also doesn’t make sense because unless it is sealed, no doubt someone else may have tried on much of what I buy at a discount or department store. I can’t dwell on that too much or I’ll have to learn to sew!! Ugh.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I know all sorts of people who try to fleece, who claim that they are what they aren’t to garner discounts, who squeeze vendors inappropriately and take advantage of a bad economy to twist even harder, who agree to one price and then haggle once the work is done. Writing about them turns my stomach juices to acid so I must stop. I hope that these people NEVER find a bargain at Goodwill or at a fair such as you describe.

    I also hope that the good people do although to be happy, these people don’t have to crush others to the financial quick. I’m pleased to postulate that the squeezers will never be happy nor satisfied.

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