Zachary Bodish, 46, of Columbus, Ohio, bought what he thought was a poster reproduction advertising an exhibit of Pablo Picasso for $14.14 in a thrift store. He now says he may have an authentic print signed by the artist himself -- and worth around $6,000.
Bodish, 46, said he went to a Volunteers of America store in Clintonville, Ohio on March 1. He was looking for mid-century furniture housewards or "kitschy art" to re-sell. He visits the store, which is next to his gym, about three times a week.
"I go to all the thrift stores in Columbus," said Bodish, who lost his job as a house manager at the Wexner Center for the Arts about two years ago.
Hidden behind a stack of artwork, that particular print was not in the store when he shopped there two days before, he said. He said the print struck him, even though there are "an awful lot of posters" in the thrift store.
"I see them all the time. There's really no value to them," he said. "But this one looked different because those posters usually have a glossy finish to them and this was matte -- and it was brown."
Even when Bodish inspected the print with a magnifying glass he carries in his wallet, he said, he overlooked the faint signature in red pencil on it. He thought it was a "careless mark" from the red grease pencil on the glass that indicated the $14.14 price.
It was only until he went home and Googled the image that he realized what he might have, later writing about the piece on his blog about thrift store finds, which the Columbus Dispatch newspaper eventually reported.
The owner who said he donated the piece to the thrift store reportedly came forward to the Columbus Dispatch, saying a friend gave the print to him as a gift in the 1960s. When he recently decided to re-arrange his home, he donated the work, not knowing its possible value.
Though Bodish has not yet had the print appraised, Picasso experts say the work is most likely a linocut for which Picasso carved a design into linoleum that was then pressed onto paper with ink by a printer.
Todd Weyman, vice president of Swann Auction Galleries in New York City, estimated that, if authentic, the print's fair market value at auction could be $4,000 to $6,000, based on sales of comparable works during the past 10 to 15 years.
Weyman said an auction for a similar linocut through Christie's in London sold for $4,700 in March 2007. Another was sold in March 2006 through Sotheby's of London for $4,600.
Swann Auction Galleries is planning an auction on April 25 for a Picasso linocut that has three colors, which he expects to bring in about $10,000 to $15,000.
Picasso created the "poster" for the annual pottery show for the city of Vallauris, France in 1958, according to Lisa Florman, an art professor at The Ohio State University. Picasso may have made prints for the annual exhibition every year from 1954 for several years.
In addition to the 100 numbered "original" linocuts, which were signed by the artist, it is possible some photolithographic reproductions were made, Florman said.
"These would have been what were plastered on walls throughout Vallauris and many neighboring towns in France," she said.
By that time, Picasso was one of the most famous artists in the world and a "real celebrity in France certainly," Florman said.
Bodish estimates that the printed area of the work measures 17 1/2 by 11 3/4 inches. Kobi Ledor who owns California-based Ledor Fine Art with his wife, Casey, who deal exclusively in works by Picasso, said the length and width should each be 1/4 inch longer to be an authentic piece.
"Though there is typically some variability in size," Ledor said, a 1/4-inch variance is at the "upper range of acceptability."
Ledor, who only viewed a digital photo of the print, said he has "doubts" about the authenticity of the signature, though the color may have been distorted photographically.
First, Ledor said that it was "odd" that the signature appears to have faded unevenly.
"They generally fade homogeneously, and I have seen no exceptions to that rule," he said.
Second, the color of the red pencil that Picasso typically used to sign his prints was "a red bordering on orange, which fades to orange, then yellow or pale yellowish/brown, then disappears."
"There are many authentic, original Picasso prints with forged signatures, so a forged signature on this find would not necessarily damn the artwork," he said. "A forger could have easily used the wrong type of pencil."
Last, Ledor said it is "unusual" that the "P" in Picasso's name dips below the underlining, "but there are a number of known exceptions to that."
Florman said in 1954, when he was 72, Picasso discovered the linocut technique and advertisements for the Vallauris ceramics exhibitions were among the very first sorts of linocuts he made.
"Most of his early ones used only a single color and were quite simple in design," she said. "In that sense, they are remarkably similar to his ceramic work, for which he also typically used only one or two colors at a time and kept things simple. The image on the 1958 Vallauris linocut is, I think, meant to depict a plate of the sort that Picasso often made -- the "pattern" being simply a human face."
Jeff Jeffers, principal auctioneer and owner of Garth's Auctioneers and Appraisers, in Delaware, Ohio, said he recommends Bodish take the piece to a trusted, certifed appraiser to find the true value, whether he keeps it or not, to determine the insured value and fair market value.
"Appraisal is a healthy mix of art and science," Jeffers said.
Weyman said the print was a "lucky find" for Bodish.
"You can't go wrong owning a Picasso," Weyman said. "It's one of those blue chips that should always hold its value."