Rescuing Valuable Art from the Trash

valuable art
valuable art

We’ve all heard the stories about a rare piece of art that was found at a secondhand store or yard sale and sold for thousands of dollars. In fact, I’m sure we’ve all wished, at one time or another, that we could stumble across a painting or valuable art piece sure to make us rich.


But, before you go treasure hunting at the local Goodwill, take a look through your own home. We regularly have consignors who are surprised that something they own could be valuable art, worth thousands of dollars.


We recently sold a signed Keith Haring lithograph for $6,600, including the buyer’s premium. The consignor had actually thrown the piece away, assuming it wasn’t worth anything. Her son rescued the lithograph from the trash – suggesting they have it appraised just in case it could be valuable.


They were surprised to learn the piece was one of only 1,000 that had been made and that it was hand signed by the artist.  


Before you decide to throw out a piece of art, be sure to check these five things:


  1. The artist. A painting or lithograph by a well-known artist is likely to be worth more than one from an unknown artist. A signature that is handwritten or is added to the piece with paint can increase the value.
  2. The back. Important information, such as the name of the painter, who previously owned the piece and even an artist’s signature are sometimes included on the back of a painting. You may also find a number indicating a print or lithograph was part of a limited series, which is likely to increase the value.
  3. The frame. High quality frames can increase the value of the painting. The age of a frame may also be a clue to the age of the painting. If nails hold the painting in place or if you notice empty nail holes, there’s a good chance the painting is from before the 1940s. Pieces of art created after the 1940s are more likely to use staples.
  4. The material. Paintings on canvas are typically worth more than those on paper. But, a quality lithograph on paper can also be quite valuable depending on the artist and piece.
  5. The texture. Authentic paintings are likely to have bumps, waves and texture on them from the paint. When looking at original art, you’ll notice the paper is a bit rough around major brush strokes. If the texture of a piece is smooth and looks like hundreds of small dots, it’s most likely a print. If you can’t tell, use a jeweler’s loop to see it up close.

If you’re not sure about the value of a piece of artwork, take advantage of a free appraisal fair or consult with a certified appraiser. If your piece ends up being worth thousands of dollars, you’ll be glad you took the extra time to have it appraised.


Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale. 

Contact him at, or


The Sopranos Stern Pinball Machine SOLD $6,000

c.1987 Robinson Pro 14 Old School BMX Bicycle SOLD $1,700

Platinum, 1.5ct Brilliant Diamond Pendant Necklace SOLD $5,500

Salvador Dali Signed Limited Edition Lithograph SOLD $1,100

1971 GMC C1500 Pickup Truck SOLD $12,750


18K Gold Dee Morris Navajo Cuff Bracelet SOLD $5,000

Yamaha Disklavier Baby Grand Player Piano SOLD $5,500

C. 1927 Buddy L #208 Steel Passenger Bus Coach SOLD $3,750

Ardeshir Mohassess (1938-2008) Signed Illustration SOLD $1,300