When told of the Milwaukee woman's find, a Goodwill spokeswoman said workers at its 2,700 stores try to spot valuables and auction them on the organization's online auction site to net more money for the charitable group. But things slip through the cracks, and the workers aren't art experts.
"That's kind of part of shopping at Goodwill - the thrill of the hunt," said Cheryl Lightholder, communications manager for Goodwill in southeastern Wisconsin.
Mallet, a media relations specialist for Georgetown University and others, didn't even like "Red Nose" when she first spotted it during one of her frequent Goodwill shopping trips in May.
"The big find that day was this great set of steel knives, in a block, for $18.99," by Wolfgang Puck, she said.
But the graphic black-and-white picture was striking. In lowbrow terms, it might be described as an abstract image of an ape with a hangover, with spiral swirls for eyes like the ones in cartoons when someone gets punched. A large red nose is the only color.
Then she saw the Calder signature.
"I thought, 'I don't know if it's real or not but it's $12.99. I've wasted more on worse things,' " she said. A discount for using her Goodwill loyalty card dropped the price to $12.34.
Once home, she searched the Internet and found similar lithographs by Calder, who died in 1976 and is widely known for his mobiles and abstract sculptures at airports, office towers, and other public places. Mallet's piece was No. 55 of 75 lithographs and was made in 1969.
Lauren Lawson-Zilai, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries International Inc. in Rockville, Md., gave these examples of art that Goodwill staff spotted and sold through the auction site:
In 2009, a painting by Utah artist Maynard Dixon donated in Santa Rosa, Calif., sold for $70,001.
In 2008, a Baltimore-area Goodwill store netted $40,600 from a Parisian street scene painted by Impressionist Edouard-Leon Cortes.
In 2006, a Frank Weston Benson oil painting donated anonymously in Portland, Ore., brought in $165,002 - Goodwill's top haul so far.