It's fairly common to find unusual and rather old objects at a thrift store, but sometimes thrifters strike gold. Some savvy or simply lucky thrift store shoppers have discovered items that are worth far more than they initially thought. This is exactly what happened to an anonymous woman in Manchester, New Hampshire, recently. After purchasing a framed work of art in a bundle for $4 at a local thrift store in 2017, she put the painting away and forgot about it until she cleaned her house in spring 2023. Believing that the artwork might be of some value, she shared some images on Facebook. This led to the amazing realization that the forgotten find was actually a genuine N.C. Wyeth painting from the early 1900s.
American artist Newell Convers Wyeth (1882–1945) was a prominent figure in the Golden Age of Illustration, creating over 100 illustrations for books and 4,000 paintings. The piece found at Savers was identified as a frontispiece illustration for a 1939 edition of the book Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson (originally published in 1884). Wyeth's rendering depicts the characters Señora Gonzaga Moreno and Ramona in an interior scene.
The finder of the painting posted images to an N.C. Wyeth Facebook page. There, it was spotted by conservator Lauren Lewis, who works at the Wyeth Study Center at the Farnsworth Museum in Maine. She was drawn to the photo on the back of the painting, which featured a prominent label. “N.C. Wyeth painted commonly on a brand of panel called Renaissance Panel made by the Weber company,” Lewis says. Also affixed to the back was a label attributing the piece to Wyeth and the novel, Ramona. Later, the painting was brought to an expert on Wyeth who gave final confirmation on the artist's handiwork.
Although purchased for just $4 by the woman in New Hampshire, the rare Wyeth work is estimated to sell for between $150,000 and $250,000, perhaps even higher. If the sale goes through, the funds would be life-changing for the finder of the piece. Lewis adds that she hopes the buyer will make the work available for the general public to see. “There's nothing like seeing an original painting,” she says. “I do hope that it remains in a collection that will be willing to lend it—or even give it to a museum.”
The painting will go for auction on September 19, 2023 through the international auction house Bonhams Skinner.