Trash or Treasure: Sculpture a secondhand shop find

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News
Carol Leebove   shows off a decorative piece.

Carol Leebove recently shared a story with appraiser Brian Thomczek that many would treasure seekers (and their families) would understand.  “My grandfather liked secondhand and antique stores,” she reported at a recent appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. “Every time he brought something home my grandma would yell at him.”

Most of the time he’d spend “no more than a few dollars,” she added, commenting that he wouldn’t have paid much more for the small alabaster sculpture of a seated woman she brought in to be appraised. “I think he probably got this somewhere in the 1920s at one of the many stores he frequented,” she recounted.

She filled in the details in her email asking for help and advice. “Bought by my grandfather about 55 years ago from a secondhand shop in Detroit. Signature shown on marble stand. Was advertised by Du Mouchelles for an upcoming auction.”

The piece, which she calls “Lady in a Chair,” shows a female figure in alabaster seated on an ornate cast metal chair with an alabaster or marble base. The figure is removable and is not attached to the chair.

The piece is signed J. C. Freisch, pointed out the appraiser as he looked at it more closely, adding that there is also a “Made in Italy” mark, both on the base. “It’s definitely Italian,” he told Leebove. “This is the kind of work they would have been exporting at the time. I found a similar one that sold not long ago at DuMouchelles.”

An internet search revealed little about the artist. While beautiful, the piece had one unfortunate defect: broken fingers. That decreases the value substantially, he says. In perfect shape, it would bring $1,000 to $1,500 at auction, said the appraiser. “But with broken bits, it would be more like $600 to $800,” adding that the number is still not bad if her grandfather only paid a few dollars for it. 

Leebove is happy she brought it in even if the value could be higher. “It was this close to ending up in the trash,” she added.

If it had been more valuable, she was planning to sell it and use the money to take a vacation, she told he appraiser. “I was hoping to go on a cruise,” she said with a laugh.

“It’s been on my desk. At that price, I’ll keep it since it doesn’t cover the price of a cruise.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.  

About this item

Item: Small sculpture

Owned by: Carol Leebove

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value:  $600 to $800