Ever walk into a thrift store, dreaming of a million dollar find (and maybe a few decorative items)? Admit it. We all have rummaged through dusty stacks and questionable items with that thought in the back of our heads. It’s happened, after all! And now, a vintage dealer had lightning strike. But unlike others who have discovered priceless items, she will not receive a million-dollar payoff. And she’s OK with that. As a dealer, Laura Young was used to looking at — and evaluating — antiques and vintage items. In 2018, while at a Goodwill store in Austin, Texas, she was drawn to a large bust on the floor, under a table. The yellow tag slapped on the bust’s cheek read $34.99, so she bought it. “I got it outside in the light,” she was quoted as saying. “He had chips to the base. He had clear repairs. He looks old. I’ve been to museums. I’ve seen Roman portrait heads before.” Her instincts were right. The stern-looking gentleman turned out to be an actual Roman bust from the late first century B.C. or early first century A.D., which had been part of a Bavarian king’s art collection from the 19th century until it was looted during World War II. It was probably brought to Texas by a U.S. soldier after the king’s villa was bombed by Allies.
She contacted two auction houses, Bonhams and Sotheby’s, both of which confirmed that her hunch was right: The bust was from ancient Rome. The bad news is that Young cannot keep the bust, believed to be either a son of Pompey the Great, or Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus. She can’t sell it either. It belongs to the Bavarian government.
At Young’s request, the San Antonio Museum of Art will display the bust until May 2023. After that, it will be returned to the Bavarian government.
Young, who may be receiving an undisclosed finder’s fee, will have one other acknowledgment of her thrift-shoppers dream discovery. There will be a notation of her involvement with its return to museum status, rather than being stuffed for posterity under a table at a Goodwill store, or in a Texas garden as a lawn ornament.
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