The only items you’ll normally find in a picture frame are the artwork, mat board, backing board and glazing. For some lucky art collectors, thrift store shoppers and at-home framers, however, there was a little more to the frames than met the eye.
Declaration of Independence in a $4 Frame
Perhaps one of the most famous “found in a thrift shop” legends, the story of the Declaration of Independence hidden inside a flea market frame sounds too good to be true. But it is: in 1989, a Pennsylvania man bought a damaged painting at a flea market simply because he liked the frame.
Upon taking it apart, a document fell out — one of just 24 surviving copies of the so-called Dunlap broadsides, valued at $800,000 to $1 million. At auction, the copy of the Declaration of Independence fetched over $2 million, more than double the appraised value.
Banksy’s Hidden Message
The famous yet anonymous English street artist Banksy pulled off arguably one of the most expensive and artistic pranks in October 2018 when his Girl With Balloon spray paint canvas went up for auction at Sotheby’s in London. Hidden inside the ornate wood picture frame — chosen specifically by the artist, explained a Sotheby’s employee unwittingly before the auction in a video later posted by Banksy — was a shredder. Once the gavel struck at $1.4 million, the shredder was turned on and destroyed most of the painting, much to everyone’s surprise.
Apparently, Banksy had intended for the painting to be completely shredded. But the shredder failed, and part of the painting was preserved — perhaps making it even more valuable.
‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Movie Poster
In another thrift store find, a former antiques dealer discovered a framed print of 19th-century painting Shepherd’s Call at a shop in South Carolina. When she brought the print home and took apart the frame to clean it, she discovered something much rarer than the print she had purchased: a “window card” for 1930 movie All Quiet on the Western Front.
The movie poster was sandwiched between the print and the backing board. While the window card would not be as pricy as the one-sheet movie poster size, an appraiser informed her that it was a valuable and rare find.
Rembrandt in the Basement
A Rembrandt painting was hiding in plain sight in New Jersey — and it was the frame that disguised it. Tucked away in the basement, the 17th-century painting by the Dutch Old Master, titled The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell), was framed in a Victorian frame, which led its owners to believe the painting was from the 19th century. Only when it was put up for auction did art dealers begin to suspect the painting was part of the artist’s series on the five senses. The painting was sold and then resold again for a reported $4 million — a hefty price for a painting that was hidden away in a suburban basement.
Flemish Painting Revealed by Frame
While the frame in the Rembrandt case disguised the art, another picture frame gave away the valuable artwork hidden — yet again — in plain sight. When at a Goodwill store, a man spotted a painting with a frame “worth about $50” that housed an oil painting he guessed “was out of the 1800s because of the frame it was in.”
To his surprise, when he visited the Antiques Roadshow television program weeks later with the painting, he was told it was actually a 17th-century work from a Flemish school in Amsterdam, worth between $20,000 to $30,000.