Jessica Vincent made her way in June through a busy Goodwill thrift store in Hanover County, Virginia, passing VCRs, lamps and glassware commonly sold at big-box retailers. Nothing really caught her eye until she saw an iridescent glass vase.
After doing a lap around the store, she returned to the bottle-shaped vase with red and green swirls. She noticed a small “M” on the bottom that she believed stood for Murano, an island off Venice and the historical home of Italian glassware.
She had a feeling it might be worth something.
“I had a sense that it might be a $1,000 or $2,000 piece,” she said, adding, “but I had no clue how good it actually was until I did a little bit more research.”
There was no price on the vase. Vincent, 43, told herself she’d pay $8.99 and no more. When the cashier rang her up, it was $3.99.
When she returned home from the Goodwill thrift store, she joined Facebook groups for glass identification to learn more about the vase. Some members told her it looked like it was designed by Carlo Scarpa, a renowned Italian architect, and they referred her to Wright Auction House.
She sent photos, and almost right away Richard Wright, president of the auction house, asked if he could call. “The minute I saw the photos I had a really good feeling,” he said.
On Dec. 13, the vase was auctioned for $107,100 to an unidentified private art collector in Europe. About $83,500 went to Vincent, and about $23,600 went to Wright Auction House.
Specialists who evaluated the piece determined it was part of the “Pennellate” series that Scarpa designed in the 1940s. It’s unclear how many vases of this kind were made, Wright said.
He said he was most impressed with the pristine condition of the glass.
“If it had a chip — even a small chip — it would have probably sold for under $10,000,” he said. “This was like a winning lottery ticket.”
It was unclear how the vase got to the Goodwill store.
“Pinpointing the exact donor of this piece would be nearly impossible,” said Laura Faison, a spokesperson for Goodwill of Central & Coastal Virginia, which she said processes more than 2 million donations a year.
Specialists from Wright Auction House initially estimated that the vase could fetch $30,000 to $50,000. Despite its monetary value, Vincent said she knew she didn’t want to keep it.
“When I did learn how rare they are and the value that it could be, it made me sort of nervous to have it because anything could happen to it,” she said. “When you have a piece so expensive it makes you think, ‘What if?’”
Her mind flashed to it getting knocked over, someone breaking in or it getting ruined in a fire or some sort of natural disaster.
“I knew I wanted to get it back in the art world. They didn’t know it existed,” Vincent said. “I feel like I saved it from obscurity.”
And in a way, it saved her, too, she said.
In January, Vincent, who trains polo horses, bought a farmhouse that was built in 1930. It needs major renovations, and for now, it is being warmed with two space heaters. With her newfound money, she hopes to upgrade her heating system, install a dishwasher and add fencing.
Vincent said she’s been visiting thrift stores with her mother since she was a girl and has developed an eye for hidden treasures over the years. Vincent also said that she is an avid “Antiques Roadshow” fan and loves to research her purchases.
In the past, she has bought items for a few dollars, such as a woodcarving from Bali and Burt Groedel lithographs, which she believes were worth a few thousand dollars.
In all of her years of thrift store shopping, though, she never expected a discovery to change her life, but that’s part of the fun of it, she said.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” Vincent said. “It’s the thrill of the hunt.”
c.2023 The New York Times Company. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.