"I'm not sure whether he thought he's about to get caught and decided to start returning items, whether he felt remorse or wanted to make the situation better for himself," Teague said. "It was an interesting mystery for a couple of weeks."
The mystery started Feb. 23, Teague's birthday and the day after Ash Wednesday, when he found a box outside his shop at 5 S. Main St. Ricky Godinez, co-owner of Sidetracks Art Gallery in New Hope, received a box the same day that, like Teague's, contained three items wrapped in gift paper and black tape.
The first item Teague unwrapped was an oil painting of a 1940s pinup girl worth $200, from a series of 10 to 15 paintings he thought he had sold.
"I thought it was a joke, that someone who bought something five years ago was regifting it for my birthday," Teague said.
The second item was a ball bearing in a steel cage, worth $600 to $700. He thought he had sold all 15 to 20 such pieces about seven years ago, and again he suspected a regifting, he said.
The third item clued him in that he was looking at stolen goods. The World War I flare gun, which he had converted into a sculpture, was a $300 item that he reported stolen two years ago, he said.
Inside the box was scribbled the gallery's name, and Teague's first name and his cellphone number.
"It was very intriguing, to say the least," Teague said. "At my birthday party that night, there were 20 friends, and the wheels were spinning. Maybe it was something related to Lent . . . or a 12-step thing?"
One of those friends later spotted a post on Sidetracks' Facebook page about the similar return of a $4,000 soapstone sculpture and two $400 paintings of male nudes and forwarded it to Teague.
"That's when I realized it might not be related to my birthday," he said.
On Sunday, Lambertville Detective Michael Miloszar stopped by the gallery and showed Teague photos of dozens of pieces of art, including "lots of paintings that had been confiscated or found in the gentleman's apartment," he said.
There were no photos of Teague's three returned items or Sidetrack's sculpture, but he did recognize a vintage car hood ornament worth $125, he said.
Lambertville police told New Hope police they had a suspect in the case, New Hope Chief Michael Cummings said Monday.
He said police kept the box Sidetracks police had received and would process it for fingerprints.
Lambertville police said a second New Hope Gallery might have had a stolen piece returned, Cummings said.
"It hasn't been reported," he said. "We may have to go door to door" to the borough's dozen or so art and antiques shops.
Sidetracks found its three pieces much the way Teague did, except that the box had been left at a restaurant next door to the gallery on Stockton Avenue. The sculpture, Dream World, was the only piece the owners had reported stolen, and their insurance company paid the artist, Andre Gomes, $2,000 for his share of the work, which was being sold on consignment.
The owners are talking to the insurance company about paying the $2,000, less the $500 deductible they paid two years ago, to regain ownership of the sculpture, Godinez said Monday.
David Teague, owner of American Antiques & Design, tells about the stolen art that was returned last month at www.philly.com/stolenart
Contact Bill Reed at 215-801-2964 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @breedbucks. Read his blog, "BucksInq," at www.philly.com/bucksinq.