American Picker

Background Notes for this Post:

1) For my international readers, Goodwill Industries International, host of the site "ShopGoodwill" that I discuss in this post, is a non-profit active in the US and Canada that focuses on helping to employ folks.  They are very active in assisting persons with disabilities find meaningful work. 

2) Though the item described below is a religious item, I did not select it specifically to condone such a practice.  It just so happens that the item best illustrated my lesson.

3) I did not receive any compensation or benefit from mentioning the site ShopGoodwill in today's post.  Actually, I'll probably be in the doghouse when older son learns that I describe his favorite treasure hunting website--thinking that it will somehow increase the number of bidders there.

Ok, now that is out of the way...
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Though my interest in crime and investigations are generally not an appropriate topic for our ten-year-old son, it still does not mean that the same approach to solving mysteries cannot be used in other areas of life.

His most recent hobby is to pretend he is a "picker" and visit yard sales looking for a discarded item that is really a hidden treasure.

One of the local dog and cat rescue organizations recently had an indoor yard sale, and he came home with a few vintage toys, lamps, and an old Looney Tunes watch.  These items were purchased for pocket change, but are worth much more.

To help him understand how real pickers research and assign value to items, I used this example involving a painting that just sold on ShopGoodwill's auction site--a place online where Goodwill sells items that were donated to their organization.

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ITEM: Original Framed Painting

ITEM DESCRIPTION: 1918 Crown of Thorns Oil Ptg. Signed Hagenaber. First initial appears to be an "R", but I am uncertain. Condition issues: one scratch resulting in loss of paint on upper right edge; square indentation to canvas caused by stretcher bars; two white marks on left portion of image; whitish residue on lower edge; canvas loose within frame....piece measures approx. 14 1/8" x 19 3/4", framed.



So, it is appears to be an old painting by an unknown artist.

Step #1: Examine the Artist's Signature

It is important to realize that the good folks at Goodwill do the best they can, but they are not experts and spend the day busily posting items for sale online.  They have limited time to research paintings and other potential antiques--as there is a pile of stuff waiting to be processed for sale. 

So, to learn more about this painting and the artist, start with the signature: "Hagenaber." 


In the photo, the letters are difficult to decipher.  Maybe it is Hagenaber, maybe not.

Step #2: Search for the Artist

When the name "Hagenaber" is Googled, the results reveal, well, nothing.  No painter.  No artist.  Actually no information on anyone by that name.  A red flag. 

If the name is spelled correctly, certainly someone somewhere with that name would have been returned. 

Step #3: (if Step #2 reveals nothing) Modify the Artist's Name and Conduct Additional Searches

So, begin trying other possible combinations of the letters.

With a keen eye and/or some luck, the name "Hagenauer" is tried, and we learn there was an artist by that name with the first initial "R."

One of the search records reveals this gem of information:


Smithsonian Institution
Painter: Hagenauer, R.
Medium:oil: Oil on canvas. canvas
Type:Paintings
Date:1800-1914
Topic:Religion--New Testament--Christ
Control number:IAP 9A450004
Notes:Owner, 1990, 1997
Summary:Half-length figure of Christ in white and red robe; stigmata evident on Christ's palms

So, none other than the Smithsonian Institute possesses an oil painting by R. Hagenauer, and the theme of the work is Christian.

Unfortunately, there is no image online where one could compare the signatures, but it is strong circumstantial evidence (name, time frame, technique, subject matter, etc.) that the painting at Goodwill and the one in the Smithsonian's collection are by the same artist.

Step #4: Assign a Value

Obviously, this is difficult.

E-Bay's selling history database or other tools can be used to determine what folks have paid for specific works of art. Also, one could find current selling prices for paintings by the artist to get a feel for value (remembering that what people pay for something and the price on an unsold item are two very different concepts).

In this case, that information does not appear to be available online, so using a pay-for art research service or having an expert examine it would be a next step if valuation is necessary.

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I do believe that the Shop Goodwill buyer of this early 20th Century work by "R. Hagenauer" got a fantastic deal in that the purchase price was a whopping $21.

Twenty-one bucks for an artist whose work is featured in the Smithsonian?

I'd say that was an overlooked treasure; and not the last to be found at yard sales or online, if someone uses a well-designed approach and has the patience. 

And the son had fun with this exercise as well.

28 comments:

Sorta Southern Single Mom said...

Excellent lesson. I never find stuff like that... but then, I've never been a very patient picker!

I had a yard sale after my divorce and was getting rid of many of the things I'd received wedding gifts. I just wanted to get rid of them... one many was buying a Lenox vase I'd priced at $1 and he was arguing with me because he wanted to pay me more. Finally, I said, 'Sir, I know what it is and how much it's worth, but I just don't want it!" He took it, but I swear he stuffed money in my mailbox later!

The Blonde Duck said...

You remind me of that Auction show on A&E, Storage Wars!

Pat Hatt said...

Great exercise, yeah you can find lots of things. But the main trick is finding the write buyer too, most anything can sell for more than one bought it for, they just have find the right "sucker" errrm umm buyer who wants it..haha

Momma Fargo said...

How much fun it that? Sounds like you need your own tv show!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

What a great exercise for your son. I wonder if the person who bought the painting knew of it's value too. Or if it was just a lucky purchase.

Elena said...

Hmmm, I'm a huge Goodwill supporter via donations, but have never shopped there...perhaps it's time I gave it a go!

Brian Miller said...

nice...there are some cool treasures to be found out there...i dont proclaim to know what i am doing but we have def scored

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

This post was super fascinating!
I'm way too lazy, though, to ever be a picker

Lydia Kang said...

What could be better than treasure hunting? :)

Christina Lee said...

Oh my gosh!! I wonder if...

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

What a fun lesson and activity. Your son is going to be so smart :)

Hilary said...

Wonderful post. I love yard sales and have found many treasures which are more valuable to me than anyone else. This sort of sleuthing sure is fun though.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

That's so cool. :) I wish I'd done stuff like that when I was younger!

Lisa said...

Wow! This was a great post. If that painting was one from that artist, the buyer certainly got an amazing deal. The sad truth is whoever bought it probably doesn't have a clue what they might really have!

jodeeluna said...

Now you've got me wondering what that painting is really worth. It could be a famous piece of artwork that just sold for $21. Your post tempted me to become a picker.

Maxi said...

Good job by your son in finding those vintage items; he may want to check out that Looney Tunes watch.

Michael Offutt said...

Thanks for this lesson in finding out the value of things. I sometimes tune into that show "Antiques Road Show". They've had them come here to Salt Lake City where I live but I never went down to it. Anyway, it always amazes me the kinds of stuff people find. Furthermore, what I look at and say "that's junk" another says, "that's worth $50,000." I wonder how much that painting you found of Christ is worth. It's probably worth more than what the Goodwill guy paid for it. Myself...I love art, especially oils and acrylics, but do not care for the religious themed art in homes, and I don't understand those that do. It just seems kind of odd to me even trying to look at it objectively (which I think I can do because it is just art). For example, I went to a client's home last year...it was a big home with a grand entrance. There in the entrance was what I'm thinking might be a twelve-foot mural of Christ done really well gazing down upon me and I thought it established a very "creepy" vibe for a home. I don't understand why someone would want a 12-foot mural of Christ commissioned for their home. But meh. I guess as long as I don't have to live there.

Janna Qualman said...

A good (and fun!) lesson, methinks.

I love a good bargain.

Carol Kilgore said...

Great lesson! Husband loves that "picker" show. What a find with that painting. I usually find mismatched socks. With holes.

Wendster said...

I just learned something.

You are good!

JJ.in.Phila said...

This might be a work by the same artist: http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/r-hagenauer-twentieth-century-minnehaha-paddling

The price is $200-$400.

WomanHonorThyself said...

hey Slam...but it seems most of them don't accept Paypal..that's a shame..thanks for the post and the tips..your'e the best.Have an awesome Sunday my friend~! :-)

Stephen Tremp said...

Very interesting post. Now with smartphones, people can research stuff at garage sales in real time and better help determine the value of an item. Thanks for the info. I love the show American Pickers. You never know what you'll find for sale that looks like junk but is really a small fortune.

Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl said...

Wow, this was so interesting to read!! Goes to show that a little patience and a keen eye can take you far. Thanks a lot for this post! I'm going to keep this in mind if I ever shop for antics, whether online or otherwise.

Audrey Allure said...

Reminds me of that show, Antiques Road Show. Really interesting to discover such fun treasures!

secret agent woman said...

Great way to learn. My son is doing an exercise in his HS Econ class where they "inest" in stocks and track them. He invested in Sam Adams, reasoning that everyone drinks beer. Doing pretty well with it.

Bonnie said...

I am NOT a patient person. I'm the type of person who walks into a store and walks right back out within 60 seconds if I don't see anything on my immediate pan and scan. If I had some patience, I might find more treasures.

http://www.glamkittenslitterbox.com/
Twitter: @GlamKitten88

Rhiannon {Hey Gorg} said...

I must share this with my Mother :) She is a Goodwill QUEEN!