ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Friday, September 22, 2023

Thrift Store Makes a $250,000 Mistake, but That's No Excuse

Wyeth2021 was a great year for cases about undervalued goods.  In February, 2021, we posted about a Ming Dynasty bowl that someone bought for $35.  A month later, we covered the case of the valuable doors from the Chelsea hotel.  Nine months later, there was the case of a Dürer drawing picked up an estate sale for $30.  The law of mistake is pretty clear that the seller cannot undo the transaction.  They had possession of the good and could have had it appraised before sale.  

It's been a while, but this week, Matt Stevens writing in The New York Times  brings us yet another case of a valuable art find at a very low price.  This time, a shopper at Savers, in Manchester, New Hampshire found a small painting, for which she paid $4.  Years later, she became curious about the painting's origins, and so she posted a query on Facebook.  Eventually, an excited curator was nattering on about brushstrokes.  The painting was by N. C. Wyeth (above left).  It was the frontispiece illustration and part of a four-image set that Wyeth contributed for a 1939 novel “Ramona,” by Helen Hunt Jackson.  It is expected to fetch up to $250,000 at auction.  

Savers' current manager concedes that the staff members are not connoisseurs of paintings.  He was not with the company in 2017 when the sale took place, but he adopted a philosophical attitude:  “Obviously we missed the boat.”

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