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A woman's $34 Goodwill bargain buy ends up being a priceless ancient Roman artifact
Photo by Daniel Robert on Unsplash
human male statue

Ah, the Goodwill. Thrifting has become even more part of American culture since Macklemore’s mega hit “Thrift Shop” was released 10 years ago. You can find just about anything you want, from formal dresses to large furniture items and antiques. Walking out of a thrift store with goodies haphazardly thrown into crinkled recycled plastic bags makes you feel like you’ve just struck the jackpot, but for one woman, a jackpot is exactly what she struck. In 2018, art collector, Laura Young of Austin, Texas, was doing her usual thrift store run to look for hidden gems when she stumbled across a sculpture. The sculpture caught her eye, especially since she looks for undervalued or rare art pieces while thrifting. The sculpture was a steal at $34.99, so taking it home was a no-brainer.


She strapped the bust into her car seat with the seat belt. Safety first, even for old heavy sculptures of heads. After getting a closer look at the dirty sculpture, she realized that the bust looked quite old and this piqued her interest enough to start searching for where it could’ve come from. After rescuing the bust, Young consulted with experts in art history at the University of Texas at Austin and experts at auction houses around the country over the next couple of years.


To Laura’s delight and surprise she finally found an answer. Jörg Deterling, a consultant for Sotheby’s a fine arts brokerage, identified the bust as one that was in a German museum decades ago before putting her in touch with the German authorities. As luck would have it, the art collector had unwittingly bought a sculpture from the late first century B.C. to early first century A.D. You really can’t make this stuff up. The bust likely depicts a son of Pompey the Great. Yes, that Pompey, the one that was defeated by Julius Caesar. At least that’s what the museum believes, on the other hand The Art Newspaper reported that the bust is believed to be Roman commander Drusus Germanicus.

Either way, the bust is old and existed in a time where someone had to pose for a ridiculously long amount of time while someone else chipped away at rock to memorialize their face. The ancient bust once belonged to King Ludwig I of Bavaria who lived from 1786-1868. It was part of a full scale model he built of the house of Pompeii, called the Pompejanum, in Aschaffenburg, Germany, where it stood for nearly 200 years. The full-scale model was severely damaged in WWII by Allied bombers.

No one’s quite sure how the bust made its way from Rome to Germany and then shoved under the table at an Austin, Texas Goodwill, but it sure makes for an incredible story. Whether the bust is the son of Pompey or if it’s commander Drusus, it’s back in a place where it can be honored and cared for—a museum. The Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces agreed to the bust staying at the San Antonio Museum of Art until May 21, 2023, before it makes its way back to Germany.

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