There’s bargain shopping, and then there’s what happened to Laura Young of Texas. Young recently purchased an authentic ancient Roman bust, believed to have been created around the time Jesus was born, for under $35.
According to the New York Times, the bust at a Goodwill store in Austin “was resting on the floor, under a table, and had a yellow price tag slapped on its cheek: $34.99.”
But unlike most shoppers, Young knew the bust was special.
“I got it outside in the light,” she said. “He had chips to the base. He had clear repairs. He looks old. I’ve been to museums. I’ve seen Roman portrait heads before.”
And the artifact in front of her looked awfully similar. A few quick Google searches confirmed her suspicions: it was a genuine bust of a Roman soldier — perhaps a son of Pompey the Great or Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, according to the NYT.
The Bavarian government has since authenticated the piece, which is believed to be a bit of war booty itself, this time from WWII. How fitting.
According to the Bavarian government, Ludwig I of Bavaria once owned the bust and had it in his Romanesque villa, The Pompejanum. The villa was bombed during WWII when the bust went missing, and many familiar with the story believe that an American soldier “either stole or traded it after the war” and brought it with him back to the States, per the NYT.
Which put Ms. Young in a bind. She had stumbled upon every garage sale or Goodwill shopper’s dream — a priceless piece of art with a low, low price tag stuck to it. However, as “Germany had never sold the piece or abandoned the title to it,” according to the NYT, Young had no right to it. Plus, she didn’t want the bad vibes.
“Immediately, I was like, ‘OK, I cannot keep him and I also cannot sell him,’” Ms. Young said.
“Art theft, looting during a war, is a war crime. I can’t be a party to it.”
So, she agreed to return the bust to Germany for a “small finder’s fee.”
Which makes everyone a winner here. Germany has its art, Goodwill of Austin got some free publicity, and Young got a little something for her trouble.
All in all, a rock solid story.