‘Gift from the thrifting gods’: $6 op-shop vase sold for $160,000

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There was something special about the green and burgundy striped vase selling for $6 at Goodwill that Jessica Vincent couldn’t put her finger on. She didn’t pick it up immediately, but circled back and planned to buy it – just as long as it wasn’t too expensive at $12 or $13.

After she bought it earlier this year from the store in Hanover County, Virginia, Vincent investigated the small “M” mark on the bottom of the vase, and suspected it was made in Murano, an Italian island near Venice that is known for its high-end glass.

Months after the vase was bought for $US3.99, it was officially identified as being part of Scarpa’s 1940s Pennellate series.Credit: Wright Auction House

“It was so big and it stood out to me with its colour, but I didn’t know what it was,” Vincent, 43, said. “I liked it and it was different, and I knew it would be part of my collection.”

But when the lifelong thrift-store shopper did some research, Vincent was stunned after she realised what she had purchased: An ultrarare piece from renowned Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa.

Months after the vase bought for $US3.99 ($6) was officially identified as being part of Scarpa’s 1940s Pennellate series, the piece sold for $US107,100 ($160,000) to an unidentified private art collector in Europe last week.

Jessica Vincent discovered a rare Carlo Scarpa vase at an op shop.Credit: Washington Post

“Knowing that Jessica went into this Goodwill [op shop] in Virginia and saw this glass vase sitting in a thrift store undamaged is unbelievable,” Richard Wright, president of Wright Auction House, said. “This was a gift from the thrifting gods.”

The low-risk purchase at Goodwill resulted in Vincent, who raises and trains polo horses with her partner, netting a life-changing sum of $US82,875, Wright said. The money from the vase’s sale will be put toward repairing an old farmhouse Vincent recently purchased, she said.

“It was pretty thrilling to think I sort of had a masterpiece on my hands. For me, it felt like a disappointing day thrift shopping, so this turned that day around quickly,” she said. “This is really going to help me so much. It just felt like the universe was conspiring to help me get down the road a little bit further.”

Though it is rare to find discarded items at thrift stores that sell for six figures at auctions, it does occasionally happen to the luckiest of shoppers. Six years after a New Hampshire woman bought a thrift-store painting for $US4 while rummaging through frames, her discovery was confirmed to be an N.C. Wyeth illustration that has been missing since the late 1930s. The oil painting sold for $US191,000 at a September auction.

Goodwill spokesperson Laura Faison said the Scarpa vase was given to Goodwill from an unknown donor sometime over the summer.

“At the time, we did not realise this was of great value, as thousands of things come in every day,” she said. “We are just as surprised, shocked and happy as everyone else.”

Vincent was uninspired when she went thrift-shopping in June at the Goodwill store in Ashland, Virginia. The store was crowded as she was going through the aisles with her partner, but she was struck by what she thought was a large, colourful bottle.

“I circled back because I wanted to go check that vase out – and it was still there,” Vincent said. “I knew that day it was coming home with me. I said, ‘Even if it’s $US8.99, I’m bringing it home’ – which is expensive, in my mind.”

She recalled her partner asking her an honest question asked at a thrift store: “Why are you buying that bottle?” Vincent was curious about the marking on the bottom, and was excited to learn about it.

The marking made her think it was from Murano, so she posted a photo of it to a Facebook group on Murano glass. It did not take long for Facebook fans to speculate that what Vincent had bought at Goodwill was designed by Scarpa, the influential Italian architect who masterfully blended ancient and modern materials.

The vase in question was designed by Scarpa as part of the rare Pennellate series for Venini, a glass workshop that produced Murano glass, in 1942. “Pennellate”, a technique that means “brushstroke”, was “achieved by adding coloured opaque glass to the vase as it was being blown, and dragging the material around the circumference of the piece until the level of desired transparency was achieved,” according to Wright Auction House.

“Carlo Scarpa glass is a considered to be the very best glass,” Wright said. “You can have some debate of others, but he is the top designer of Italian glass in that mid-century period.”

These suggestions on Facebook led Vincent to write an email to Wright, whose auction house has specialised in the sale of Italian glass for years. When Wright got the email on July 7, the images Vincent sent tipped him off immediately that it was real. He replied back quickly: “Can I call you?”

“I knew it was really good when he said that,” Vincent said.

Wright added, “I was like, ‘Oh my God, look at this thing!’ … She hadn’t even told me that she had gotten it from a thrift store, but I could tell she was authentic. As a result, I felt very confident the piece was real.”

She held off selling the vase to a Facebook user who offered her $10,000. After Wright sent two dedicated glass specialists from New York to Virginia to inspect the vase, the suspicions were confirmed: the piece was very real.

Then, last week, the vase went to auction estimated to be sold between $30,000 and $50,000. Instead, it went for more than $107,000.

“It was definitely the star of the auction,” said Wright, who was the auctioneer. “[Vincent] is a very cool person, and not everybody is as nice as her. I’ve done this a long time and this is a really sweet story.”

The money and the attention since the story got picked up across America has overwhelmed Vincent, who is thankful that the years she spent thrift-shopping led to restoring a long lost piece of art.

“It would have been tragedy if this got damaged or if someone took this home and plopped flowers in it,” she said. “There were so many people that day, and anyone could have picked it up. The fact that it was still there very much, for me, feels like a fairy tale.”

Washington Post

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