Karen Mallet may like shopping thrift stores to find good deals, but she never thought she would come across a Alexander Calder “Red Nose” lithograph worth $9,000 on sale at a Goodwill for just over $12.
Mallet had purchased the art work in a Milwaukee Goodwill store, 1 of 2,700 stores the charity has across the country. After the find a Goodwill spokesman said that employee’s try to weed out the most valuable items donated to them so that they can auction them off to raise more money. However, she says some things slip through the cracks and are sold for well under the real value.
Last month, a Salvador Dali sketch found at a Goodwill shop in Tacoma, Wash., sold for $21,000. Last summer, a North Carolina woman pocketed more than $27,000 for a painting she bought for $9.99 at Goodwill. And last spring, a dusty jug donated in Buffalo, N.Y., was discovered to be a thousands-of-years-old American Indian artifact, it was returned to its tribe instead of being offered for sale.
“That’s kind of part of shopping at Goodwill — the thrill of the hunt,” said Cheryl Lightholder, communications manager for Goodwill in southeastern Wisconsin. “You never know what you’re going to find.”
As for Mallet she says that when she went into the Goodwill store last May she wasn’t interested in the big, black and white and red, abstract, Alexander Calder “Red Nose” art work and was instead happy about finding a set of steel knives.
“The big find that day was this great set of steel knives, in a block, for $18.99” by Wolfgang Puck, she said.
Mallet said when she glanced at the picture, she noticed the Calder signature and wondered if it was real or not.
“I thought, I don’t know if it’s real or not but it’s $12.99. I’ve wasted more on worse things,” she said. A discount for using her Goodwill loyalty card brought the price down to $12.34.
After getting home she did an internet search on Calder and found out before he died, he was well known for his mobiles and abstract sculptures at airports, office towers and other public places. Mallet’s piece was No. 55 of 75 lithographs and was made in 1969.
Jacob Fine Art Inc., in suburban Chicago, recently set its replacement value at $9,000.
“This happens very frequently — you can’t imagine,” the company’s owner, Jane Jacob, said of treasures found at thrift stores. “They don’t know what they have. They’re just not set up to understand art history.”