Auctions can be exciting events. After all, there’s a chance you might pick up something that looks like a piece of junk but turns out to be a priceless antique. Phil LeClerc may have had that in mind when he spent $40 on a secondhand desk at Kelley Auctions in Holbrook, Massachusetts. However, what he found inside it would actually dramatically change a family’s life.
Marg-e Kelley, who ran Kelley Auctions with her family, knows just how exciting auctions can be. In an interview with The Boston Globe in October 2014, coincidentally just a month before LeClerc bought his $40 desk, she was asked what was the highest price she’d sold an item for at auction.
In answer to the question, Kelley replied, “A Gustav Stickley desk organizer in 2007, with inlay by Harvey Ellis; there were only six made. It went for $214,500. The lady who brought it in tried to sell it to us for a few hundred dollars, but we said we’d auction it for her.”
Describing the dark arts that some auction houses indulge in, Kelley continued, “Someone else could have bought it and flipped it, but we wouldn’t do that; my brother and I were raised right.” In other words, the Kelley family business was more interested in honest dealing than sharp practice.
Kelley also remembered a second occasion when a client didn’t appreciate the true value of an item. “Another time we were doing a house clean-out for a client and found an antique rug in the dumpster,” she recalled. “We got $9,700 for the client, who threw it out because he thought it was a piece… with holes in it. You never know.”
Phil LeClerc of Weymouth, MA, won his vintage desk in November 2014 with a bid of just $40. The item is what is known as a Governor Winthrop desk, said to be named for John Winthrop, an Englishman who was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.
In fact, the desk’s name is somewhat confusing, since this particular type of furnishing didn’t appear until many years after Winthrop’s death in 1649. It was the Winthrop Furniture Co. of Boston that introduced a Governor Winthrop desk in 1924. This was at a time when there was a vogue for colonial-style furniture.
In any case, this particular desk was obviously not a valuable antique as we can see from its bargain-basement price. In fact, it didn’t appear to be a rare item at all, something that Kelley herself accepted. “The desk that we took in, we see them every day practically,” she told WCVB Channel 5 Boston News.
A 94-year-old local man’s son had asked Kelley Auctions to clear out his father’s home. Happily for LeClerc, the old man’s effects would be auctioned off in Holbrook, MA, just a 20-minute drive from LeClerc’s home in Weymouth. The son was in the process of selling the house to raise funds towards the assisted-living unit his father was setting up home in.
One of the things that came from that house clearance was the Governor Winthrop desk. Marg-e Kelley was asked to clean it up and put it into one of her regular auctions. And when she did, it was snapped up by LeClerc. He seemed happy enough with his purchase.
“This desk is notorious for hidden compartments,” LeClerc later told WCVB Channel 5 Boston. And he was right: the desk did have some secret cubbyholes, but those were all empty. The piece of furniture needed some work, too. “It had a broken foot, the filial was missing,” explained LeClerc.
And that wasn’t all. One of its knobs had somehow got caught under one of the desk drawers, and it was this that led to an amazing discovery. Speaking to Wickedlocal.com, LeClerc remembered, “I banged the desk forward, and when the knob came out the envelope dropped.”
Moreover, what the envelope contained was utterly astonishing. From it, out tumbled the last thing you might expect to find in a battered old secondhand desk. “The first thing I saw was a $500 bond,” remembered LeClerc.
And that was far from all that this envelope contained. “It was absolutely amazing,” LeClerc said. “We found 50s, and then we found 100s, 200s, 500s, and then we found a stack of six $10,000 bonds.”
What LeClerc now had in his hands was no less than $127,000 in matured United States Savings Bonds, a handsome sum indeed. But LeClerc knew what he had to do. Clearly as honest as the day is long, he immediately contacted Kelley to try to trace the rightful owner of the bonds.
Happily, she was able to do just that. “The family had been looking for them for years,” Kelley said. And she described the moment she returned the bonds to the son. “He was so happy,” she recalled. “It could not have happened to a nicer guy. We love stories like this. It’s why we do what we do.”
So now, with the return of these lost bonds, the son would be in a much better position to look after his 94-year-old father. “It’s a lot of money,” Kelley said. “I mean, it’s going to change their lives, completely change their lives.”
And if you enjoyed that heartwarming story, here’s another with remarkable similarities. In 2013 Noach Muroff bought a secondhand desk from Craigslist. The rabbi from Newhaven, Connecticut, paid $150 for it. He told VIN News, “It fit perfectly into my van but when we got home, it was about a quarter of an inch too big to fit into my office.”
So Muroff was left with no alternative but to dismantle the desk to get it into the room. And that’s when he noticed a plastic bag jammed behind one of the drawers. What’s more, there was cash in it. A lot of cash. “We brought it to the table and counted it out and there was $98,000,” the rabbi recalled.
“My wife and I both knew immediately that we would return it,” said Muroff. And, much to the owner’s relief, they did just that. “She was speechless when we called her to tell her we had found it,” he continued. The faultless honesty of Rabbi Muroff and Phil LeClerc really is an example to us all. But what would you do if you found that much money?