Texas antiques dealer bought 2,000-year-old Roman bust for $35

Antiques dealer finds priceless 2,000 year-old Roman bust which disappeared from Germany after World War II for just $35 in a Texas thrift store

  • Laura Young, of Austin, discovery the bust in 2018 at a local Goodwill thrift store
  • She was notified by a Sotheby’s consultant that the Roman artifact was at least 2,000-years-old 
  • The bust is now on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art until next year
  • It will head back to the Pompejanum – an idealized replica of a Roman villa – in Aschaffenburg, Germany, afterward
  • The piece of art was likely stolen by an Allied soldier from Texas after WWII
  • The last record mentioning the Roman bust is from an 1833 inventory of King Ludwig I of Bavaria’s art collection
  • It most likely depicts Sextus Pompey, who throughout his life, upheld the death of his father, Pompey the Great, against Julius Caesar after losing a civil war
  • An antiques dealer may have found the bargain of the millennium after she found a priceless 2,000 year-old Roman bust – which was taken from Germany during the Second World War –  for just $35 at a Texas thrift store.

    Laura Young, of Austin, came across the 52-pound Roman bust at a local Goodwill store in her hometown in 2018 and didn’t think twice before acting on her intuition to buy it. Busts from a similar time period have been sold for practically $30,000, online auctions suggest.

    ‘He looked Roman. He looked old,’ Young told the San Antonio Express-News. ‘In the sunlight, it looked like something that could be very, very special.’

    Young’s instinct proved to be the right one. After acquiring the sculpture, Young contacted art experts at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as collectors and auction homes around the country to get a sense of its authenticity and origin.

    An unknown specialist confirmed it was an ancient Roman artifact, but Sotheby’s consultant Jorg Deterling was the one who resolved the era it was made in — dating back from the late 1st century BC to the early 1st century AD.

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    Laura Young bought the 52-pound, 2,000-year-old Roman bust at a local Goodwill thrift store in Austin, Texas, in 2018 for $35, decades after it had been privately stored during World War II

    Laura Young bought the 52-pound, 2,000-year-old Roman bust at a local Goodwill thrift store in Austin, Texas, in 2018 for $35, decades after it had been privately stored during World War II

    The antique 'disappeared' after the Allies bombed the German town of Aschaffenburg during World War II, seriously damaging the Pompejanum - a replica of a Pompeii home - in the process

    The antique ‘disappeared’ after the Allies bombed the German town of Aschaffenburg during World War II, seriously damaging the Pompejanum – a replica of a Pompeii home – in the process

    The sculpture is supposed to depict Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, who was assassinated in Egypt after losing a civil war against his former ally, Julius Caesar

    The sculpture is supposed to depict Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, who was assassinated in Egypt after losing a civil war against his former ally, Julius Caesar

    After years of consulting art experts, a Sotheby consultant told Young that her extraordinary find was sculpted sometime between the late first century BC to the early first century AD

    After years of consulting art experts, a Sotheby consultant told Young that her extraordinary find was sculpted sometime between the late first century BC to the early first century AD

    'I got attached to him in our house, right there in the entryway. You could see his reflection on the television. He became part of the house,' Young said after giving up the bust to the San Antonio Museum of Art, where it will remain until it heads back to Germany in 2023

    ‘I got attached to him in our house, right there in the entryway. You could see his reflection on the television. He became part of the house,’ Young said after giving up the bust to the San Antonio Museum of Art, where it will remain until it heads back to Germany in 2023 

    The bust, named ‘Portrait of a Man’ — was showcased on Wednesday at the San Antonio Museum, where it will remain until May 2023. The museum piece will then travel back to Germany, where it will reappear for the first time since the end of the Second World War.

    ‘It had once stood in the town of Aschaffenburg, Germany, in a full-scale model of a house from Pompeii, called the Pompejanum, built [by] Ludwig I of Bavaria,’ the San Antonio Museum of Art said on its website. 

    The antique vanished after Aschaffenburg – the German city where it had stayed for decades – was heavily damaged by Allied area bombing during the Second World War, including the Pompejanum.

    The most likely explanation for the bust being stateside is that a US soldier returned home with it to Texas from Europe post-war, where it remained a hidden gem until four years ago.  

    Young said she ended up alerting the German government once it was confirmed that the antique was stolen from there. She made arrangements for the prestigious artwork to return to the Bavarian Administration of State-owned Palaces in May of next year, after art lovers from all over the country get a chance to see the bust with their own eyes. 

    ‘He’d been hidden for 70-to-80 years, I thought he deserved to be seen and studied,’ Young told the Express-News. She told DailyMail.com that she couldn’t comment on questions regarding potential compensation for her discovery. 

    Although it’s never been confirmed, the bust most likely portrays Sextus Pompey. He was a Roman military leader, who throughout his life, upheld the death of his father, Pompey the Great, against Julius Caesar and his supporters during the last civil wars of the Roman Republic.

    Pompey the Great, Sextus’ father, was killed in Egypt after he had fled Roman soil following defeat in a civil war against his former ally, Julius Caesar, who went on to become dictator of Rome from 49 BC until his assassination in 44 BC. 

    ‘It’s a portrait of an outlaw, a sort of enemy of the state,’ San Antonio Museum of Art curatorial fellow Lynley McAlpine told the Express News. 

    ‘It’s unusual to have something like this. It’s also interesting that someone preserved it and had it in their collection as a personal enemy to the emperor. That could be dangerous to display something like that,’ she added. 

    Young notified the German government of her finding and is scheduled to return it to the Bavarian Administration of State-owned Palaces next year, where it will be put back in its original place - the Pompejanum (pictured) - in Aschaffenburg, Germany

    Young notified the German government of her finding and is scheduled to return it to the Bavarian Administration of State-owned Palaces next year, where it will be put back in its original place – the Pompejanum (pictured) – in Aschaffenburg, Germany

    Prior to its discovery, the last record mentioning the Roman bust is from an 1833 inventory of King Ludwig I of Bavaria’s art collection. The royal stored the art piece in a model home, supposedly depicting Pompeii around the eruption of the Vesuvio during Roman times, dubbed the Pompejanum. 

    Young, a former state disability examiner, said she would have never come across the antique had she not gotten into the business of selling them in 2011, through her business, Temple of Vintage.

    ‘It was really, really exciting to see him in a museum,’ she said after seeing the bust for the first time on Wednesday at the San Antonio Museum of Art. ‘It was kind of surreal; he had been in our living room for over three years.’ 

    However, she still feels bittersweet about the finding. 

    ‘I liked him,’ Young added. ‘I got attached to him in our house, right there in the entryway. You could see his reflection on the television. He became part of the house.’

    The only other known portrait of Sextus Pompey is in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. 

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