Did you hear about them? A guy bought 60 glass photographic negatives at a yard sale for $45. (Hell, I bought 3 flats of glass negatives at an auction last winter). Anyway he has been working to authenticate them for the past ten years. They had the BIG press conference earlier this week. The experts, including FBI handwriting analysts and a Yosemite Park historian, have concluded they they are the work of Ansel Adams. They are estimated to be worth as much as $200 million. Now that is the big treasure find.
I am happy to find something is worth what I paid for it. A profit is great. $200,000,000 is like finding three Van Gogh's (at $15 each). Oh my!
My best find, maybe, came from a very unusual place. I have this double sided porcelain BSA bicycle agency sign. I have been researching it for a couple of years and my correspondent in England and I are pretty certain that it is one of two known in existence. It ain't a $200 million item, but it may be a $10 thousand deal. I'm very happy with it.
The real story isn't the value of the sign, its how I came to own it. I was in Moscow in 2001. Headed home from a visit to the Russian interior. I looked out the window of our hotel and asked what the carnival area across the road was. It turned out that it was Russia's largest antique flea market. Oh Boy!!!!
My 13 year old interpreter and I flew across the street. We found a bunch of neat things. I have 1890's architectural drawings, glass magic lantern slides advertising Lenin, WWI photographs, 1900 transferware china plates from one of the royal potteries in St. Petersburg and other things. We sorted through piles that each of the sellers had set out on blankets.
My interpreter quickly grasped the process. He would ask and immediately reject the price without even consulting me. He would tell them to not to try that kind of price, just because I was an American, he was a Russian and wasn't going to take their crap. It was stunning. I just watched and nodded. Then about 3/4 of the way through I would let out a sentence or two in Russian. (The only Russian that I know) and watch the seller's jaw drop because now he thinks that I have understood everything that was being said.
We then encountered the BSA sign. The seller said that he found it in the wall of an old building that they were remodelling. We looked it over and damn it was old. England and Russia had significant trade relations prior to the Russian Revolution. Almost nothing after 1917. The sign was for a shop selling English bicycles in Moscow before 1917. I wanted it.
My interpreter/negotiator took over. How much? $200. Too much, its just a piece of rusty iron. Back and forth, da, da, nyet, nyet. I'm just nodding and looking thoughtful. He takes me to the side and says we're at $50. We should walk away and he'll come after us for $30. I said no, let's just buy it. He gave me his "crazy American" look, and we made the deal.
I brought it home in my carry-on luggage. (This was before 9/11). It is a very good treasure and it has the best provenance ever.