Last year in a middle-class New Jersey town, a couple of adult children decided to dispose of their late parents' belongings, apparently in anticipation of the sale of the family home.
The children called a representative from an auction house and asked him to appraise the value of items that none of the descendants wished to keep. There were various items, including family silver and, in the basement, a small oil painting in an old frame.
Based on the look of the painting, which was obscured by layers of dust, and its 19th century frame, the auctioneer estimated its value at somewhere between $500 and $800.
At auction, the painting's initial bid was set at $250. An art dealer, or probably several art dealers, recognized what the auctioneer did not. The price was bid up and up. Finally, the painting sold for $870,000.
In a cleaning afterward, a signature was uncovered -- that of Rembrandt van Rijn. Further research established that the nine-inch canvas was one of a series of five rendered by the Dutch artist in 1625, when he was 18 years old. The painting's title is An Allegory of The Sense of Smell.
The painting was resold for about $1 million to an American collector of Renaissance art. It has been loaned to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it joins three other paintings in the original Allegories of the Senses set.
Here's the thing: The last painting, a depiction of the sense of taste, never has been found.
I've looked around my house, and that painting is not here.
You might want to go through your old family duds just in case it is in your basement or your attic.