How I found my First Treasure

by A Rambling Poet

During the mid and late eighties I lived on Long Island, New York, the community packed with art galleries, antique shops, bookstores (new and used), thrift stores and abundant tag sales, estate sales and yard sales. Even though I had a full-time job, I was lucky to have plenty of free time and I used it to familiarize myself with new neighborhood, took frequent short trips and plenty of photos; signed up for art classes, pottery classes and filled my life with pleasures of discovering the island and its active community.

It didn’t take long to stumble upon an interesting store, a shack really. I can’t honestly call it a barn because it was too small for that, or a store, since it was in a pretty dilapidated shape. It simply looked just like a shack, with several used chairs, tables and wooden crates displayed near the front door, and framed art sitting on the ground and leaning against the wooden walls. An older man in dungarees and plaid shirt moved in and out of the shack, rearranging the treasures. A wooden sign was nailed above the door, with handwritten words “Antiques”. This was perfect, it gave me the  needed confidence that I might afford to buy something from this seller.

Within minutes I entered the shack and after adjusting my eyesight to the low light I started to focus on various items stacked –everywhere! I mean this literally, there was hardly a foot of free space to step on, and I had to carefully move around to avoid breaking things or accidentally pulling a chandelier, candelabrum or a lamp over my head. A mass of dust particles streaming from a window illuminated my way around and between the shelves, cupboards, armoires and benches.

I immediately liked the old seller, and discovered later he was actually the owner and a very interesting man, he was the treasure himself, full of stories related to these objects accumulated inside his store. I crouched down to inspect several framed prints and an oil painting. The painting was very striking, it featured an elderly man smoking his pipe and I particularly liked his eyes, they were forget-me-not colored and full of tears. However, at the price tag of $ 50.00 it was unaffordable to me, and I turned my attention to prints. The first one was a landscape etching of an English countryside. It was lovely but it didn’t call my name.

The second one did!  It was very simple, just a scratched gray background with five or six flying birds silhouetted against it. I picked it up and turned toward the window to inspect it. There was a clear edge visible from a printing plate, minimal foxing on it, two tiny parallel lines crossing the lower part of the gray sky and no signature or number anywhere.  So, it wasn’t limited edition or signed, I was somewhat disappointed but I liked it enough to turn the frame around and check for any sign of recognition. Who was the artist? Who was the printer? When and where was this done, and most importantly, who did it and what was it?

Eureka! There it was, black on white, or rather black on faded-yellow paper label. As I read it, my smile widened and my heart skipped a beat, or so it felt, it probably just stopped beating completely for a moment. It wasn’t important!  This is what I read: “Birds in Flight by George Braque” ! And with that I probably started to breathe again, at least for as long it took to read the rest of the label which singed into my ears these lyrics: “The recent death of George Braque ended the career of one of the most influential artists of the century. The serene style Braque evolved in his later life is classically displayed in this lyric original etching from the cancelled plate “Birds in Flight.” Born in France in 1882- Braque, with Picasso, discovered, explored, and become the leading exponent of cubism. Acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest modern artists, Braque’s works can be viewed in every major museum in the world.  Below that was the raised seal and Authentication, the content of which I won’t repeat here now. Let the images below say the rest.

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I was so excited but managed to cover that with a poker-face when I asked the old man about the price, and when he said it was $ 25.00 I reached for a pocket and handed him the money. “Thank you Sir, I like this one”.  And I walked out with my print in hands. The following week I called Sotheby’s in New York –that is how important this treasure was to me – and asked them to tell me more about it, they requested a copy of the label and a photo of a print, which I mailed to them and in next several weeks waited for a response, which eventually arrived. They confirmed that this was an original etching by Braque, from a cancelled plate.  The original art was made to illustrate the book of poetry “Un poème dans chaque livre” by Paul Eluard  with 16 etchings and it was a collaborative work by several artists, one of which was Georges Braque.

Sotheby’s didn’t give me an evaluation because I didn’t ask for it and I wasn’t interested in selling.  I have seen this print few times sold on eBay and through some auction houses. Each time it sold for about $ 500.00- $ 600.00 , although from time to time I see it listed for larger amounts; they are exactly the same as mine, with two lines across it.  I will not sell it because in my heart I know that Georges  enjoys to see it on my wall. I care for it and keep it away from sunlight, dust the frame, clean the glass , adore it and always remember my first-found treasure.