(Reading time 5 minutes)
I’m always amazed when I watch the Antiques and Art programs on TV. The skills of the expert appraisers are sometimes astounding and surprising to the owners, when real treasures are discovered. I know that feeling from personal experience.
My wife Winnie was driving home from shopping one day and came upon an estate yard sale. The front lawn of the house was full of household goods and furniture. She parked and went to examine the goods being offered. She noticed a framed picture leaning against a chair, painted by our daughter’s former professor at Moore College of Art, in Philadelphia. We always admired his work and the watercolor skills that he passed on to our daughter, Connie. It was a signed and numbered print by Ranulph Bye, lauded watercolor artist in Philadelphia. The very same picture, which hangs in my home, is viewed here in this story.
My wife asked, “How much?” It was obvious that the heirs of the former estate owners were unaware this was an artwork of value. They said, “Make us an offer.” Winnie said, “Five dollars.” The lady officiating at the sale, wearing a carpenters apron for the cash collected, said, “Sold!” Winnie came home with the watercolor, nicely matted and framed. The frame alone was worth at least $50.00 in the 1960’s. Have you ever thought of going to estate sales and buying pictures just for the frame’s value alone?
We displayed the picture in our living room where it remained for at least another 20 years. After living in two more homes during our life together, we finally moved into a retirement community in Ft. Myers, Florida. The picture came with us. We once again hung it in our retirement suite. In the moving process, the paper backing on the picture was torn. I noticed that the former owner had hand written on the paper backing in small letters. “This is for Marty.” It would seem that Marty was not advised, or he was unconcerned.
I made a mental note for myself that I would get the back recovered someday. That someday came. I took it off the wall, ready to transport it to a professional framing store close by. I removed the paper on the rear, and found a small envelope taped inside the frame, behind the picture. There was another handwritten note and the name, “Marty.” I opened the envelope and there were 10 brand new 50-dollar bills.
How many lessons can be learned from this experience?
1. Old frames are usually worth more, by themselves, than the price you pay for an old picture plus the old frame — especially at an estate or garage sale. It can be actually be a business for an ambitious person. Find a specialty, like old picture frames; go to garage sales; then find a place to market them. If you’re low on money, and find yourself high on free time…get smart, use the time. Make some money. Remember it’s “free time????”
2. The hidden envelope in this story never got to Marty. I got the $500 and I still have the picture. If this person put the money there to be passed on at death, it didn’t work. Only the deceased person knew where he or she hid it. How do you speak from the grave when you are gone?
3. A bank account in trust for Marty would have been better. No one else could have gotten it.
4. The person at the estate sale on this day had no idea of its intrinsic value. Professional Estate Sale persons are usually a better choice, but would still not have known of the hidden envelope. They bargain with the buyers. They get a commission, aiming for the highest price. I speak from experience.
5. Advertise in newspaper and on local radio the day of and before the sale.
6. Don’t hide anything. Professional burglars know more hiding places than you can imagine. Hiding places are what prisoners exchange at yard seminars in prison.
7. My sister-in-law wrapped $2,000 around a roast, under butcher’s paper, and kept it in the refrigerator. She died. The electricity was turned off. The roast spoiled, smelled putrid, and was thrown out. Her only cash savings of $2,000 went with it.
You can’t be smart doing dumb things.